Portuguese farmers replaced their ox-drawn carts and ploughs with tractors a long time ago but much of the traditional farming equipment, including ox yokes, can still be found in their sheds or decorating restaurant walls up and down the country. Some of the farmhouses which have been converted into rural tourist accommodation display their old carts and tools in mini museums while other pieces form part of the collections in ethnographic museums.
I may not get wildly excited by cracked wooden carts and rusted, broken-toothed saws but I have been impressed by the decorative ox yokes I’ve seen, especially the ones in ethnographic museums. Some of them are far too pretty for use in the fields by peasant farmers. The introduction of corn to Portuguese agriculture made some farmers quite wealthy and when people have money, it’s only natural to want to have nicer things and to show off a little. Or a lot.
As a consequence, the yokes used on market days were carved with flower motifs and crosses and when the local festivals took place, it wasn’t just the villagers who dressed in all their finery. The animals would be scrubbed down and strapped into a luxury carved painted wooden yoke and paraded around for all to admire.
If you scour local Feiras de Velharias /Antiguidades (Antique fairs), you’ll probably find an original example or two but they won’t come cheap. Canny traders have realised their decorative value and hiked the prices accordingly. Alternatively, wander around any of the bigger markets in Portugal keeping an eye out for the farm equipment stalls and you might find some miniature reproduction yokes on sale at a lower price.
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