The scarecrow is a historical feature of American tradition that stands steady as time waxes on – even as Americans move from farm and field to cities and urban centers.
Truly, the scarecrow is rooted in the rural life style. Hay stuffed scarecrows grace pumpkin patches, corn fields and many agri-tourism destinations across rural America to this day and conjures up memories of childhood and the sillier, more simplisic times, of life on the farm. It is truly one of those iconic symbols that brings us all back to the simple life and reminds us of the primitive ways that served a purpose and also entertained.
Here are some of our own scarecrows we have used for decorations on our farm.
So, how old is this tradition and is it an American one? That is an interesting question!
The truth is, scarecrows have been used worldwide for over 3,000 years. For thousands of years scarecrows have helped humans save their crops from crows and other hungry mouths and provided an outlet for human creativity. In ancient times the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Japanese all used them, carrying their function into the Middle Ages. The Egyptians used the first scarecrows in recorded history to protect wheat fields along the Nile River from flocks of quail. Egyptian farmers installed wooden frames in their fields and covered them with nets. Then they hid in the fields, scared the quail into the nets and took them home to eat for dinner. Indeed, the scarecrow is one of society’s oldest technologies that is still deployed around the world even to this day. As reference, a technology is knowledge that deals with the creation and use of technical means and their interrelation with life, society, and the environment.
As one might guess, scarecrows carried a mystical element in ancient times. The ability to raise crops was almost a supernatural experience, as food was so vital and hard to come by and therefore raised the status of all the protectors of this pursuit.
Greek farmers in 2,500 B.C. carved wooden scarecrows to look like Priapus, the son of the god Dionysus and the goddess Aphrodite, who supposedly was ugly enough to scare birds away from the vineyards and ensure good harvests. They painted their wooden scarecrows purple and put a club in one hand to scare away the birds and a sickle in the other for a good harvest.
The Romans copied the Greek scarecrow custom and when Roman armies marched through Europe they introduced Priapus scarecrows to the people there. Almost simultaneously with the Greeks and Romans, Japanese farmers made scarecrows to protect their rice fields. They made scarecrows called kakashis, shaped like people. They dressed the kakashis in a raincoat and a round straw hat and often added bows and arrows to make them look more threatening. Kojiki, the oldest surviving Japanese book compiled in the year 712 features a scarecrow known as Kuebiko who appears as a deity who can’t walk yet knows everything about the world. Interestingly, if you research The Wizard Of Oz character the scarecrow, you will see almost the exact same journey in identity as you do with Kuebiko. Here is an excerpt from wikipedia on the scarecrow character in The Wizard Of Oz –
“The Scarecrow is a character in the fictional Land Of Oz created by American author L. Frank Baum and illustrator W.W. Denslow. In his first appearance, the Scarecrow reveals that he lacks a brain and desires above all else to have one. In reality, he is only two days old and merely ignorant. Throughout the course of the novel, he demonstrates that he already has the brains he seeks and is later recognized as “the wisest man in all of Oz,” although he continues to credit the Wizard for them. He is, however, wise enough to know his own limitations and all too happy to hand the rulership of Oz, passed to him by the Wizard, to Princess Ozma, to become one of her trusted advisors, though he typically spends more time playing games than advising.”
In Germany, scarecrows were made of wood and made to look like witches. These witches were allegied to help the coming of spring. In medieval Britain children were tasked with being live scarecrows to scare away the birds from vital crops. In the mid-1300s, the black plague killed nearly half the population of Britain and ended this vocation on a large scale. Stick forms became dominant once again.
In America, native American Indian tribes used scarecrows or bird scarers to help protect their crops, across the US. Pilgrams too used their children to scare the birds away even in Plymouth, MA in the 1600s. In the 1800s immigrants to America introduced different customs from their native lands to the fields of American farms by way of the scarecrow. In Pennsylvania, for example, German farmers made human-looking scarecrows called bootzamon or bogeyman. They were dressed in overalls, long-sleeved shirts or coats, woolen or straw hats and had large red handkerchiefs around their necks. Sometimes the German farmers added a second scarecrow called a bootzafrau or bogeywife, dressed in a long dress or coat and a sunbonnet. On our farm we always have a man, woman and children for scarecrows as we feel there always needs to be a scarecrow family in fields!
Scarecrows are still found around the world. Young and old love their ragged images and today they are used both to protect crops and for fall decorations.
The Scarecrow In The Pumpkin Patch (POEM)
Fall in our valley, the oranges pop forth.
The cold wind is blowing,
It is coming from the North.
The season, it is changing,
There is Autumn in the air.
We go pick out our pumpkins,
Thankful the scarecrow is still there.
He watched them all summer,
As summer turned to fall.
He was standing there protecting,
Watching it all.
Great protector and watcher
He works night and day.
It is that time of year again,
In this pumpkin patch we’ll play.
~ L. Davis, #thepoetfarmer