The natural landscape and the terra (land) have played a key role in the articulation of Galician national and cultural identity since the late nineteenth century (López Sande 2008; Domingues 2009; Pérez Moreira 2010). Rosalía de Castro’s poetry collection Cantares gallegos [Galician Songs] (1863), a major text in the revival of the Galician language, began the sublimation and political use of nature in modern Galician literature (López Sande 2008: 98-116).
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the work of the members of the Nós [We] Generation also gave the landscape and the land [terra] a central position both in their literary texts and in their political essays. By contrast with the formal renovation of Galician culture carried out by this generation, their works tended towards a rejection of modernization as industrialism and urban civilization, therefore promoting a traditional view of the rural and of pre-capitalist society (Beramendi and Núñez Seixas 1996: 106).
A key member of this group is Alfonso Daniel Rodríguez Castelao, artist, writer and politician, and one of the founders of the Partido Galeguista [Galicianist Party] in 1931. In his seminal Sempre en Galiza [Forever in Galicia] (1944), considered a cornerstone in the articulation of Galician nationalism, he emphasises the importance of nature for the Galician identity and economy, to the extent of claiming that ‘vexo a miña Terra como unha soia cibdade, a cibdade-xardín máis fermosa do mundo, a cibdade ideal para os homes que queiran vivir a carón da Natureza’ (2004: 163) [‘I see my Homeland as one single city, the most beautiful garden city in the world, the ideal city for people who wish to live close to Nature]’ (2016: 143)]. In particular, Castelao identifies three natural elements as central to this vision: the tree, the cow and the fish. Firstly, ‘o albre é o símbolo do señorío espritual de Galiza (2004: 163)’, and at the same time ‘os albres son as minas galegas que nós saberemos esplotar cando a nosa Terra sexa nosa’, so therefore ‘a repoboación forestal será o patrimonio da nación galega e o mellor aforro da colectividade (2004: 164) [the tree is ‘the symbol of Galicia’s spiritual majesty’ and ‘the trees are Galician mines which we will be able to exploit when our Homeland becomes our very own’, so therefore ‘reforestation will be the heritage of the Galician nation and its best collective asset’ (2016: 144)]. Secondly, ‘a vaca é o símbolo da paz’ (2004: 164) and ‘se non fose polo leite das vacas a piolleira das cibdades morreríase desnutrida. A vaca é a ama de cría da Humanidade (2004: 165) [‘the cow is a symbol of peace’ and ‘if it were not for cows’ milk, the cities’ poorest wretches would die from undernourishment. The cow is humanity’s wet nurse’ (2016: 144-145)]. Finally, Castelao places great importance on traditional fishing, as opposed to new methods, since ‘agora péscase con dinamita…’ (2004: 166) [‘now we fish with dynamite’ (2016: 145)]. Castelao’s hoped for Galicia to be recognised as a nation and given full control of its natural resources, their best asset and therefore in need of being exploited in a sustainable way.
Nature also features prominently in the work by other members of this generation. Otero Pedrayo argues for a direct connection between the landscape and the ser [being or character] of the Galician people (López Sande 2008: 120). Vicente Risco, first theoretician of Galician nationalism, considered terra a fundamental aspect of the Galician volksgeist (Beramendi and Núñez Seixas 1996: 100), owing to the spiritual relationship between the land and Galicians, encapsulated in his notion of ‘vegetal patriotism’ (Pérez Prieto 1988: 142). The link between nature and spirituality (also present in Castelao’s work) connects these authors with the doctrine of Priscillian (340-385, born in Gallaecia, the Roman Province that included the territory of modern Galicia). Priscilianismo [‘Priscillianism’] has been associated with a pantheism influenced by Celtic practices (López Carreira 1996: 68), a spiritual connection between nature and the Galician ‘soul’ that reverberates in Risco’s ‘vegetal patriotism’ (Pérez Prieto 2010: 211), and in Pedrayo’s and Castelao’s understanding of Priscillian’s creed as a form of Celtic-Galician Christianity (Pérez Prieto 2010: 235; 246). In his famous speech ‘Alba de groria’ [Dawn of Glory] delivered in Buenos Aires in 1948, Castelao imagines a symbolical parade of Galician historical figures, and places Priscillian at the front, while referring to ‘tódalas cousas que na paisaxe se amostran o seu proprio esprito, co que pode dialogar o noso corazón antigo e panteísta’ (2018: 48) [‘all the things that in the landscape reveal their own spirit, and with which our ancient and pantheist hearts can dialogue’ (2016: 447)].
The brutal repression inflicted by the army led by Francisco Franco on anti-fascist Galicians during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) meant for many a separation from the terra in the form of exile (including for example Castelao). As a response to their exilic condition, nature was nostalgically reimagined in the texts by some of these writers, taking again pantheism and the communion with the land as one of their main motifs, but highlighting the painful separation they had to endure (Maceira Fernández 1995: 79). Some examples include the poetry collections Lonxe [Far Away] written in Argentina by Lorenzo Varela, and Ernesto Guerra da Cal’s Lua de alén–mar [Moon Beyond the Sea] (1959) and Rio de sonho e tempo [River of Dream and Time] (1963), both written in New York. Guerra da Cal’s poems not only include recurrent allusions to nature as a source of both melancholy and solace, but also a direct reference to Priscillian in the 1963 collection.
Furthermore, as a nation severely affected by migration waves that took thousands of Galicians away from their home in the 19th and 20th centuries, the longing for the terra not only became a commonplace and a stereotype about Galician migrants, but also entered popular culture. The repertoire of 1960s and 1970s pop bands such as Los Tamara, highly popular among the migrant community, made recurrent references to the terra and the nostalgia caused by separation from it, alluding again to the association between home and nature. Los Tamara’s hit song ‘A Santiago voy’ [I’m Going to Santiago] makes this explicit by personifying the Galician landscape: ‘vou subindo montañas, cruzando valles [sic], sempre cantando / O verde me acaricia porque a Galicia xa estoy chegando’ [I am going up mountains, crossing valleys, always singing. The greenery caresses me because I am arriving in Galicia]. This kind of images were also mocked by the sarcastic punk band Siniestro Total in their 1984 song ‘Miña terra galega’ [My Galician Land]. More recently, the land has featured again in ‘Terra’ (2022), the hit by neo-folk band Tanxugueiras – although this time the song does not include references to nature and is instead a celebration of Galician traditional music as cultural heritage.
Apart from cultural manifestations, the defence of the land has also taken the form of political activism, for example in the creation of ADEGA [Association for the Ecological Defence of Galicia] in 1974, the march against the construction of a nuclear plant in 1977 in Xove, or the campaigns by Nunca Máis [Nunca máis] to protest against the oil spill of the ship Prestige in 2002, and whose slogan was taken again to the streets when the Galician forests were devastated by fires in 2017.
The importance of the terra as a sustainable resource and its importance for local identity is also highlighted by the practice of monte veciñal en mán común [common hand community land], meaning land whose property is shared by all the inhabitants of a given local community. Although these pieces of land where confiscated by the Franco dictatorship (1939-1975), movements for their recuperation began in the late 1970s (Copena Rodríguez 2022). It is estimated that there are currently 2,800 communal forests (700.000 hectares) in Galicia (Xunta de Galicia), which are used for agriculture, livestock and even recognised as ICCA territory of life, such as the Froxán Common Woodlands (ICCA).
Beramendi, Justo G., and Xosé Manoel Núñez Seixas. O nacionalismo galego. Vigo: A Nosa Terra, 1996.
Copena Rodríguez, Damian, ‘Montes vecinales: así aprovechan algunos pueblos los recursos naturales respetando el medio ambiente’, The Conversation, 30/5/2022, <https://theconversation.com/montes-vecinales-asi-aprovechan-algunos-pueblos-los-recursos-naturales-respetando-el-medio-ambiente-181646>
De Castro, Rosalía, Cantares Gallegos (Vigo: Xerais, 2021).
Domingues, Carolina. “Paisaxe e identidade no discurso galeguista”. Olladas críticas sobre a paisaxe, edited by Francisco Díaz-Fierros Viqueira, and Federico López Silvestre. Santiago de Compostela: Consello da Cultura Galega, 2009, pp. 187-205
Guerra da Cal, Ernesto. Lua de alén–mar. Vigo: Galaxia, 1959.
___ . Rio de sonho e tempo. Vigo: Galaxia, 1963.
ICCAs, ‘Froxán Common Woodlands’ <https://www.iccaconsortium.org/2018/09/30/froxan-common-woodlands/>
Maceira Fernández, Xosé Manuel, A literatura galega no exilio. Consciencia e continuidade cultural. Vigo: Ediciós do Cumio, 1995.
López Carreira, Anselmo. “Idade Media.” Historia de Galicia, ed. by Francisco Carballo, Vigo: A Nosa Terra, 1996, pp. 61-133.
Los Tamara, ‘A Santiago voy’, written by Jorge Morel and Ricardo Ceratto (Zafiro, 1967).
López Sande, María. Paisaxe e nación. A creación discursiva do territorio. Vigo: Galaxia, 2008.
Pérez Moreira, Roxelio. “A descuberta cultural da paisaxe.” Cultura e paisaxe, edited by Roxelio Pérez Moreira, and Francisco Javier López González. Santiago de Compostela: Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, 2010, pp. 19-51.
Pérez Prieto, Victorino. A xeración “Nós”: galeguismo e relixión. Vigo: Galaxia, 1988.
___ . Prisciliano na cultura galega, Vigo: Galaxia, 2010.
Rodríguez Castelao, Alfonso Daniel. Sempre en Galiza (Vigo: Galaxia, 2004).
___. Forever in Galicia. Translated by Craig Patterson. London: Franis Boutle Publishing, 2016.
___. Alba de gloria. Ed. Henrique Monteagudo (Santiago de Compostela: Consello da Cultura Galega, 2018).
Siniestro Total, ‘Miña terra galega’, adaptation of “Sweet Home Alabama” written by Ed King, Gary Rossington, and Ronnie Van Zant (Dro, 1984).
Tanxugueiras, ‘Terra’, written by Tanxugueiras and Iago Pico (Calaverita Records and Playplan, 2022).
Varela, Lorenzo, Lonxe (Sada: Ediciós do Castro, 2005).