Masked men pin down young women and force them to wear blackface. The “Pschuuri” Ash Wednesday festival in eastern Switzerland is possibly the least politically correct custom in the world.
That said, as with other Swiss traditions that might raise eyebrows abroad – for example the cattle show where six-year-olds are allowed to smoke – everyone has a good time and there’s a happy ending involving a big meal.
“Pschuure” means “to blacken” in the local dialect and is an important part of carnival in Splügenexternal link, a village near the Italian border in canton Graubünden where all these images were taken on Wednesday.
The day begins with young children getting dressed up and harmlessly going from house with a basket around their neck begging for sweets.
In the afternoon, however, things get darker. Literally. Unmarried young men, “Pschuurirolli”, put on furs, masks and bells. Armed with a sackful of a greasy coal mixture, they hit the streets looking for children and, in particular, young women who are also single.
The bells give the “victims” a chance to flee but, if caught, they get their faces covered in black greasepaint, the exact recipe of which is a closely guarded secret.
The Pschuurirolli have until sunset to do their “painting”.
After that, pairs of young males, disguised as “Männli” (men) and “Wibli” (women), go through the villages begging for eggs and inviting blacked-up girls to an egg-heavy feast in a barn, which begins after midnight. “Resimäda” is the drink of the evening, a local speciality made from wine, various other ingredients – and eggs.
According to tradition, all this drinking and egg-eating improves the fertility both of people “of marrying age” and of the fields.