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UNESCO-ranked parade under fire for ‘racist’ depictions

'The Savage' character of the Ducasse d'Ath folkloric parade is depicted by a white man in blackface. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Groups fighting against racial inequalities have called for a traditional Walloon parade to be stripped of its UNESCO credentials due to the way Belgium’s colonial past is depicted in the procession.

The Ducasse d’Ath parade sees residents of the Walloon town of the same name take part in a historical procession, which lasts several days and in which giant figures depicting local and national history are carried through the town.

The parade, which takes place each year on the fourth Sunday of August, was in 2008 recognised by UNESCO as one of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

One of the characters, known as “The Savage,” is meant to depict Belgium’s colonial past, which in past editions of the parade is played by a man in blackface.

As the town prepares to celebrate the parade, Bruxelles Panthères, a Brussels-based group fighting against racial inequalities called out the presence of the character on Facebook.

« Bruxelles Panthères dénonce ce qu’elle appelle du « black face » : « L’une des attractions est celle du «Sauvage ,…

Posted by Bruxelles Panthères on Sunday, August 11, 2019

At the time of its inscription on the Heritage of Humanity list, UNESCO officials had asked historians to “justify” the presence of this character on the procession, according to RTBF.

“One of the attractions [of the parade] is that of ‘the Savage’. Chained and agitated, it represents the search for exotism of the 19th Century,” the group wrote, pressing the United Nations’ cultural agency to remove the parade from the list.

In an interview in April, one of the manufacturers of the parade’s giant props told Le Soir that the “Savage” was a dear character to the people of Ath, which had interacted with them since their infancy.

“I can understand that someone who does not know the Ducasse can be surprised by what they see,” he told the outlet, adding “In that case, it must be explained to them that the ‘Savage’ today does not have the same meaning than when it was first created.”

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times

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