September 19th – The Scarecrow Visitation Festival

Tonight, if you are out late and you see someone watching you, standing stock still at the end of the road where the lamplight doesn’t quite reach, do not be alarmed; it’s probably just a scarecrow come to visit. Thousands of the things, their work now finished in the fields that surround Buentoille, will come to visit this fair City, to sample a life not spend protecting fields, before they are once more employed when the winter wheat is sown.

It’s mostly due to today’s festival that scarecrows are still used by the farming cooperatives that work the land around the City, as they tend not to be particularly effective, especially once the crows and other local animals have gotten used to their presence. And yet, most of the scarecrows who come to Buentoille today, and who number around two thousand, will be individually named, and well looked after by their owners. They might have had their straw replaced, their clothes darned or changed, the sticks that hold them up may have rotted away and new ones put in their place, but they remain the same scarecrows regardless. They say the human body entirely replaces itself every seven years.

Lampposts seem to be a favourite spot for these rustic visitors to lean up against, surveying the different pace of life in Buentoille, but then there are also those who engage in more active leisure activities; some are seated at cafés for the day, a single cup of tea or coffee growing cold, a bird perhaps helping itself to the biscuit laid out next to it. Some, perhaps looking for a better view, are seated atop walls or on roofs, or have got half way up a drainpipe and decided they need a rest. Some decide to spend their free time volunteering at the Wallmin Botanic Gardens, where they pose for photographs holding their watering cans and knelt down pruning the miniature trees. A few like to sit in boats chained to the pontoons on the Moway, perhaps with a glass of something or even a picnic hamper. There is one scarecrow called Andre who frequently visits the Jutêgarde Parish district, where he sits atop a church and dangles a fishing rod over the side. Nobody seems to think he’s ever caught anything, but he seems happy.

Whilst there is technically no group that has owned up to placing the scarecrows about the City in this manner, everyone knows that it is the Union of Reapers, Threshers and Allied Agricultural Workers (URTAAW) who stage these delightful intersections of the pastoral and urban. They officially deny any such suggestions, declaring that the scarecrows, who appear overnight and will disappear tomorrow in much the same way, make their way out of the fields themselves. The suspicion falls on the URTAAW primarily because of the circumstances under which the scarecrows first came to visit Buentoille.

The year was 1575 and the farm workers were agitating for change. At this point the URTAAW were frequently agitating and striking for better pay and conditions, and were winning various concessions. This state of affairs was obviously considered irksome by the landowners and the right-wing press who favoured their interests, and was constantly bemoaned by a Mr Killmore Ageb, in his Buentoilliçan Post column. On September the 17th, the hack wrote a satirical piece designed to humiliate the strikers and devalue their labour. It was a fake manifesto from the ‘Stoik Yewenyon of Scayrekrows and Alyd Farme Tools,’ which, amongst other demands considered ridiculous by Ageb, advocated for and eight hour day and reasonable holiday and sick pay. The manifesto also declared a strike the following day.

The next day, when he woke up in the morning, Mr Ageb was probably quite surprised to see an unruly mob of scarecrows outside his door, holding placards daubed with the manifesto demands he himself had written only hours before. They had also chained themselves to the railings outside the offices of the Buentoilliçan Post, and the sight of them greeted him on his way there. From the incandescent, rambling piece published the next day, it’s easy to see how much this ‘protest’ got under his skin. It was a feeling he was not able to forget, either, as URTAAW created similar scenes on the same day every year after. There’s no evidence to suggest that Ageb ever saw the funny side.

Over the years, the festival acted as a good way for the URTAAW to keep their political aims in the public eye, even when they weren’t actively striking, and thus they kept bussing in the scarecrows each year, well after Ageb ceased to be a target. Besides, it was fun, and it made people laugh, which certainly helped to make the Union appear more friendly and relatable. Eventually, there was little else for the URTAAW to agitate for, as their demands were eventually met, and, since the Revolution, their political representation at work is assured through the cooperative structures. As such, the scarecrows have slowly become less political, although you may still see one or two demanding ‘fresher straw’ or ‘less yobbish birds’ to contend with.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Delayed Satisfaction
  • The Arch of the Empty God Day
  • Moor Walk Day