Wednesday, January 08, 2020

UK: Wassailing Morris men defend black face paint against racism claims

Morris dancers have defended blacking their faces to take part in a wassailing ceremony as they insist that the practice is part of their tradition and is not racist. 

Hundreds of people gathered in Westons Cider Mill in Much Marcle in Herefordshire this weekend to take part in the ancient tradition which is thought to bring luck to the apple orchards and ward off evil spirits. 

The Silurian Border Morrismen entertained the crowns with dancing and music and controversially some wore a full face of black paint as part of the ceremony.

But the troupe has defended themselves against criticism, writing on their website:  “Despite modern attempts to imply otherwise, the blackened face has no known racist origins.”

The wassail ceremony has its roots in paganism, the word coming from the Old English greeting wæs hæl, meaning “Be healthy” or “Your good health”.

The ceremony involves placing a cider-soaked piece of cake on the branches of an apple tree, pouring cider over the roots, dancing and singing the Wassail Song.

Accounts of the wassailing of fruit trees were recorded in St Albans in 1486 and Kent in 1586, while the 17th-century diarist John Aubrey wrote of the practice of toast being placed in trees.  Professional wassailers travelled from farm to farm and were usually paid in food and cider.

But there has been growing controversy over the black face paint which Morris dancers have been wearing since the 16th Century.

The Silurian Border Morrismen say that the “true origins of the blackened face are lost in the mists of time, but are widely believed to be simply a form of disguise, possibly to overcome the oppressive anti-begging laws of the 17th century, and the timeless embarrassment of being a morris man.”


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The perpetually offended are always ready to be offended.