The legend of Sonerien Du
They chose their band name Sonerien Du (« the Black Pipers » in Breton) in tribute to the two legendary musicians from Lambour, Bigouden area (South Western Brittany) who were unjustly hung in 1786 in Pont-l’Abbé instead of two thieves who had been operating in the area at the same time.
In those days, people displayed their wealth on their costumes. The wealthier the person, the more embroidered the garments. The « black pipers » were poor and therefore they wore plain black drape suits, bearing no embroidery. These Sonerien Du were used to playing at weddings and other celebrations, only asking food and drink as wages. Never really tired of playing, their performances went on for days and nights on end. And they often fell asleep in ditches on their way back home, after having overindulged. It is also said that at this time, breton weddings wouldn’t end until the music stopped. The myth has it that the Sonerien Du made them last as long as 3 days and nights, and even longer.
Favoured by the common folk, the two pipers, one of whom was Pierre Canevet from Lambour, were the people’s favourite. However this situation was not to the taste of the local bourgeois who saw their workers spending too much time revelling and dancing at feasts instead of working. Neither did it please the priests because music and traditional dances were considered pagan and sinful.
One night, two highwaymen were caught by the constabulary after robbing a Plomeur farm on the night of February 25, 1786. Then the policemen came across the sleeping pipers, dead drunk in a ditch, it is said they accepted a handsome bribe from the thieves to allow them to switch places with the pipers.
Thus, without further ado, the two pipers were hung on the marketplace (Marchallac’h) in Pont-l’Abbé and their bodies exposed at the gallows on Bringall hill , at a place called « ar justiciou » (The Justice ) to the delight of the clergy and the Bigouden bourgeoisie. Of course, this news spread like wildfire across the country and the population was outraged.
At the same time, an outbreak of plague devastated the Bigouden area, and this was grafted onto the legend. Indeed, the bodies of the two excommunicated pipers, were left unburied, and legend had it that touching their bodies left one immune from the plague. So, the popular musicians evolved to the status of a lucky charm. From then, when Bigouden women broke plates, they would lay the broken pieces where the Sonerien Du had finally been buried, not far from « Ar justicioù » for good luck. These ceramic offerings were called « bravigoù » pretty things, jewels.
Yann Kaourintin Ar Gall, the famous Bigouden piper and founder of the group did some research on this legend, and called the band Sonerien Du. It was he who discovered the identity and details about the original pipers. Unfortunately, he took all this research with him when he passed away. Ironically enough, the Pont L’Abbé police station was built right behind « The justices »…
(Translation Louis-Jacques Suignard & Anna Suignard-Bouliou)
The stele « Ar Justicioù » (Pont l’Abbé) – Sculptor : Patrig Ar Goarnig (1996)