El Cinorrio: Art and Activism in Defense of Goatherding.

Autor Maia Hoetink
Folkloric sketch performed by Resonante, one of the El Cinorrio groups

El Cinorrio is the project founded by Lucas Rodríguez, with the help of the Distributed Citizen’s Laboratories program at the prestigious cultural center Medialab Prado in Madrid. It seeks to recover the profession of the goatherd in the Sierra de Gredos through dialogue, collaboration and community work. This Extremaduran, native of Villanueva de la Vera, is part of a generation of young entrepreneurs who vindicate Spain’s rural culture and heritage. After studying in Canada, Granada and Madrid, and spending a year in Brussels and half a year in Cáceres, Lucas has returned to his hometown, Villanueva de la Vera, to give value to country life and the rural community.

“It is difficult to achieve sustainable and quality tourism.”

Question: La Vera is a fairly unknown area, although that can also have its advantages.

Answer: Well, I don’t know if it is so unknown. It is difficult to achieve sustainable and quality tourism. Because one thing is to know a place where you are going to spend a weekend and that’s it, and another thing is to create that link between the tourist and the community and the territory.

Q: Do you notice the abandonment of the country side that has been taking place throughout Spain?

A: This is not the case in Villanueva. Villanueva is growing. There are entrepreneurs, new projects are emerging, there are bars… Which seems silly, but without bars there is no village. I have been in a conference with Nacho Sánchez Amor, who is a Deputy in the European Parliament and comes from Jaraíz de la Vera, and he said “when the last bar closes in a village, that village has died.” As a region, I think it has a lot of potential. What happens is that, at a political level, the region of La Vera has always been seen as the “rich” region, with which they receive much fewer extra resources. But it doesn’t make sense because, even if we have resources, in order to exploit them we need support from the Administration, right?

Q: Is the loss of goats in the area due to this lack of support?

A: They have been lost due to the existence of negative measures regarding sanitary laws. The Public Administration does nothing to regulate this. In principle this is not a political issue but a health-related one, but the Administration could offer different kinds of support that would allow to reverse these consequences of certain sanitary laws. One example is tuberculosis: if a percentage of your herd has it, they make you sacrifice the whole herd. If this happens to you as a goatherd, they give you some financial support, but they have taken away your livelihood. And this prevents a generational replacement. It does not allow the older goatherds to see that their goats are going to continue to be cared for by younger people, because we the young are terrified.

Q: The profession of the goatherd is somewhat stigmatized, does that also have an influence?

A: It has been a highly maligned profession for a long time. This lack of empathy, even though now they are no longer treated like this, has meant that they are still internally reviled. How many people do you know of our generation who are interested in dedicating themselves to livestock? Nobody. Is it because it is not an interesting profession? I suppose that, from a romantic Instagram point of view, it looks like living in the mountains taking care of animals and being self-sufficient. You can sell that in Malasaña (the hipster neighborhood in Madrid) and fill a bus with people who want to go there.

“On the one hand, we have responsibility towards our culture. Because we are citizens and we have a commitment to the conservation of our heritage. And, on the other hand, we have an environmental responsibility.”

Lucas laughs, wondering what his role and responsibility are in all this: “On the one hand, we have responsibility towards our culture. Because we are citizens and we have a commitment to the conservation of our heritage. And, on the other hand, we have an environmental responsibility. That’s where the project originated,” he explains while sipping his beer. The founding team of the El Cinorrio project worked at Medialab Prado in Madrid, a citizen laboratory that functions as a meeting place for the creation of open cultural projects that are structured in working groups, collaborative research and learning communities around very diverse topics. “We have been able to absorb their methodology: citizen participation, community culture, and so on. We have come to realize that this works,” he assures with enthusiasm. Proof of this is the work that began last year in his hometown, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Q: How do you counter the prejudices against everything related to country life?

A: We thought about how to turn the situation around and decided to create a citizen laboratory and see what happens. We give importance to each and every one of the voices and each and every one of the ideas. There is no promoter or boss, it works horizontally. But a horizontality of “here we all come to work.” And in a village, it is very stimulating to see people who normally would never even have a beer together because of the complete generational mix, in groups of six around a table talking about the same thing but every one from his/her perspective and knowledge, contributing to develop a common project. In the end what we have done, unintentionally, is to create a community of people who are continuously in contact to improve this situation, to raise awareness about these issues, so that we can all know what it is really like to be a goatherd, because nobody knows it anymore. Through mediation, community culture, conversation and listening.

Q: How has the project been received in the village?

A: The reception of El Cinorrino was amazing. At first people were reluctant, they didn’t really know it was all about. In the end, very cool things happened and 160 people attended the presentation. And in the middle of the pandemic, just before Christmas.

Q: What were your references for the project?

A: My reference is Medialab Prado Madrid. I owe them my life. My intention is not to set up a MediaLab Prado here in the village, but I think that many people should be interested in overcoming their fear of sharing and integration.

One of the projects the team is currently working on is El Cinorrino, the citizen laboratory presented at the Villanueva de la Vera high school to 14-year-old students. “We discussed their preferences and concerns. Concerns related to the project and the goatherds, and we were really amazed with the things that came up, such as the solitude of the goatherds in the mountains or the tourist overcrowding the rock pools in summer and preventing the goats from going down the mountain,” explains Lucas, still impressed with the knowledge of the youngsters. Taking into account their preferences, ideas have arisen such as relating the goatherd routes with the cleaning of the country side and the practice of sports, or the creation of a playlist to listen to while walking the goatherd routes. “Later, in the summer, we will allow the students to present all these projects to the rest of the high school to attract more volunteers for their execution,” he explains.

“I don’t see La Vera as merely a tourist destination, I see it as an activity destination. A creative, young, dynamic and green region. And a united region.”

Looking towards the future, Lucas is excited about the growth and development of the region. “I see the region as a leader in social and cultural dynamics because it has a lot of potential. I would like to see it as a young region, attractive for people like us to start up projects there. I don’t see it as merely a tourist destination, I see it as an activity destination. A creative, young, dynamic and green region. And a united region. That’s how I see the future. It’s not that this is what I want, I think I’m really going to see it like this,” he adds enthusiastically. It depends on the involvement of the entire community, but the path taken so far gives reason to believe that this vision will become a reality.

Lucas Rodríguez

Has it already been possible to attract new goatherds? “No, but there is a project, Camila, to make a community flock that is recruiting people to support it. People who will own community goats, who are already goatherds but now only have their five goats. They are trying to create that community to be able to buy more and get better profits, both economically and environmentally. When you work together, the positive effect of each effort is amplified. The idea is that goatherding can be reconciled with family life, with advantages for other jobs to be carried out. There are a thousand ways to support the livestock sector: though art, communication… You can continue with your current occupation, but offer support. This is how a young region is formed. Let’s see if it works. I do believe that there will be more goatherds,” he assures with all the enthusiasm and optimism necessary to make his objectives come true.

El Cinorrio: http://elcinorrio.net/

Medialab Prado: https://www.medialab-prado.es/

El Cinorrino: http://elcinorrio.net/index.php/el-cinorrino/

Camila: http://elcinorrio.net/index.php/camila/

Instagram: @el_cinorrio

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elcinorrio