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Thread: Kulning: Ancient Swedish Calls

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    To Call the Cows Home: A Selection of Swedish Kulning - by Sheila Louise Wright

    Swedish kulning is a form of singing used mainly by herding girls (and occasionally herdsmen), who live in the mountain fäbodar (mountain villages) during the spring and summer months. The term kulning is generally used to describe all kinds of Scandinavian high pitched herding calls, but it specifically refers to “cow calls” and is a term specifically from the region of Dalarna. Kula is also known by many other dialect terms but for the purpose of this paper, I will use kulning, kula, and “herding call” or “herding tune/song” in reference to other herding type songs.

    A kula is specifically used to call cows (“ko” in Swedish, “ku” in Norwegian) and is usually sung in longer, melismatic phrases, whereas calls for goats and sheep are usually sung in shorter phrases, sometimes even spoken or interjected with animal noises such as barking, bleating and bird like sounds.

    Kula are mainly sung without words on syllables like “dee”, “do”, “oo”, “ee”, “hoh” and so forth. Sometimes a kula may also contain actual words, particularly in the case of warning or distress calls, or in herding songs. At one time kulning (‘kool-ning’ - cow calls) were found in all areas of Scandinavia and Iceland and today is still used in regions including Sweden, Norway and some areas of the Ural Mountains in Russia. However it is most prevalent in the regions of Bohuslän, Värmland, Dalarna and middle Uppland, Sweden.

    The herding girls (vallpiga or vallkulla) who drive the herds to the summer alpine pastures live in relative isolation and use kulning to communicate with each other and with their flocks over great distances. It is used to send the herds out in the morning, to call them back in in the evening, to entertain oneself while alone in the forests and meadows, as a means of scaring off predators, and as a means of communication with other herders and fäbodar especially in the evening to signal bufred, that all was well and then herd safely home. “Women herders learned this art form through ‘unbroken oral tradition’ which continues to this day, taught from one woman to another.”

    “Fäbod music [pasture music] is the oldest tradition richest and most developed form of pastoral music used in the Nordic countries... It is therefore one of the most interesting examples we know of communication between humans and animals.”

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