The last untouchable in Europe





Sitting in her little house near Tarbes, in the French Pyrenees, Marie-Pierre Manet-Beauzac is talking about her ancestry.

For most people this would be agreeable, perhaps even pleasurable. For the 40-something mother-of-three, the story of her bloodline is marked with a unique sadness: because she belongs to an extraordinary tribe of hidden pariahs, repressed in France for a thousand years.

Marie-Pierre is a Cagot.

If the word "Cagot" means nothing to you, that is not surprising. The history of the Cagot people is obscure; some assert it has been deliberately erased. Marie certainly believes that: "To talk about the Cagots is still a bad thing in the mountains. The French are ashamed of what they did to us, the Cagots are ashamed of what they were. That is why no one, these days, will confess they are of Cagot descent."

Except, uniquely, for Marie-Pierre herself. She is probably the only person in the world willing to admit she is of Cagot blood. But it took her many years to realise what that meant. "When I first had children, I wanted to know where they came from – which means where I came from. And so I started researching, I traced my family tree back through the generations – through many villages and towns in the Pyrenees.

"And that's when I noticed certain names and trades in my background, lots of humble carpenters, basket-makers, poor people, people who lived in the 'wrong' parts of town. Soon I realised I was a Cagot. Though many argue what that really means."


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