Saturday, July 30

sete galinhas

seven chickens

Not very far away from where I live, in a region called the Alentejo, is a set of standing stones, known as the Sete Galinha-Mulheres de Migalha (the seven chicken women of Migalha) that for many years were hidden in undergrowth at the edge of a large corn field, until about a hundred and fifty years ago, when they were discovered by a shepherd out looking for a lost sheep.

They are known as the chicken women as they are huddled together in a group as if they are gossiping and some of them have small stones next to them, like eggs, believed to represent children. There are only three eggs left now, as the others have been stolen and there is an official reward offered by the President's office for anyone who finds any of the eggs, as the stones have become an official "tesouro nacional" (national treasure).

There are many standing stones in Portgual, a well known treasure trove for paleolithic archaeology, but these are held in extra high regard by everyone, even worshipped by some "chicken" pagans as they are laughingly called here, as everyone knows (anyone who's ever eaten at Nando's) that the Portuguese love their chicken.

It is widely believed that the national taste for chicken was in part shaped by the chicken women stones, because of a fashion in the 1860s of pilgrimage by upper class ladies to the stones, shortly after their discovery. Previously chicken was regarded as mere peasant food, but the ever socially aspirant Portuguese saw the nobs taking an interest in the chicken stones and started to eat more chicken and chicken related products.

The seven stones are now seen everywhere on egg boxes and chicken packaging and there is even a "Parque da Galinha" theme park and historical centre being built on the other side of the field at the moment (though it is taking a while....they're still waiting for planning permision, in what has become a national scandal with headlines like "let the chickens run free!" and "the eggs are for planting" which don't mean much in English, but you have to remember that the Portuguese have an awful lot more proverbs than we could eve come up with), and there is talk of placing replicas of the chicken stones near several rural towns as talismens for good crops.

And that was your lesson in Portuguse history for today.


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