The Betruf – prayers by megaphone

29. October 2019 - How Alpine herders give thanks to God

Alpine herdsman Franz Häcki walks deliberately from his Alpine hut to a wooden cross higher up the mountain. He is carrying an old-fashioned megaphone – the Betrufvolle. He gazes across the valley: the surrounding peaks are gleaming in the golden light cast by the final rays of sun. His work on the Alpine pasture is done for the day. It is time to pause, take stock, and thank the Lord for healthy cows and a day free from mishap. Franz raises the smaller end of the wooden funnel to his lips and begins the Betruf, the evening prayer or "Alpine blessing".

The Betruf is probably the oldest tradition in Engelberg that is still kept alive to this day. If you listen closely to the herders from different places as they call out their singsong prayers, you will notice slight differences: the wordings and litany chanted in Engelberg, for example, differ from those in Trübsee, just a few hundred metres away by air. There are also differences in key. However, the melody of the Betruf is very similar throughout the region. The prayers chanted at Trübsee and at Stoffelberg, for example, follow a very similar pattern: each syllable of the text is given a particular note, and the syllable at the end of each verse is usually embellished with additional notes.

In recent years, the tradition of this evening prayer has been strongly upheld by the younger generation of Alpine farmers. That wasn’t always so. Indeed, it once seemed that the Engelberg Alps would not ring to the sound of the Betruf for much longer. Thankfully, in 1936 a farsighted local woman left a legacy for the “Alpine blessing foundation”, with the idea that the interest from the legacy could be shared among the “Betrufer” – those herdsmen that chanted the prayers.

But Franz Häcki has never been in it for the money. He has been a dedicated Betrufer since his early youth, and always closes his prayer with a joyful whoop. Then, Betrufvolle in hand, he wends his way back down to his hut, enjoying the tranquillity of the mountainside – a silence broken only by the rhythmic sound of the bells worn by the grazing herds. By now, the sun has slipped beyond the horizon, and it’s time for Franz to hit the hay.

Images & Written by: Beat Christen


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