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Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?

GUEST,Howard Jones 10 Jan 09 - 04:07 PM
Steve Gardham 10 Jan 09 - 04:21 PM
The Borchester Echo 10 Jan 09 - 04:50 PM
McGrath of Harlow 10 Jan 09 - 05:25 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 10 Jan 09 - 05:26 PM
Liz the Squeak 10 Jan 09 - 05:39 PM
GUEST,Ebor_fiddler 10 Jan 09 - 05:54 PM
Azizi 10 Jan 09 - 05:55 PM
Azizi 10 Jan 09 - 05:59 PM
Jack Blandiver 10 Jan 09 - 06:04 PM
Snuffy 10 Jan 09 - 06:54 PM
GUEST,Howard Jones 10 Jan 09 - 07:46 PM
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The Borchester Echo 11 Jan 09 - 07:50 PM
Azizi 11 Jan 09 - 08:46 PM
Dead Horse 12 Jan 09 - 02:06 AM
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Subject: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: GUEST,Howard Jones
Date: 10 Jan 09 - 04:07 PM

I was prompted to ask this question by comments in the Morris Dodo thread.

Blacking-up is a feature of some morris styles, as well as some mummers plays. Modern morris dancers accept and repeat the viewpoint that this was simply a means of disguise, and there is no racial connotation - indeed, they are rather put out at the suggestion that there might be any racial connection.

But it is also suggested that it came from the "Nigger Minstrel" craze which was wildly popular in the later part of the 19th Century. If that is the case, then there is a racial connection, however unintentional.

I have some doubts over this second interpretation. For a start, although a number of Cotswold sides adopted minstrel tunes, they didn't start blacking up. Even in the traditions which do black up, they don't seem to have adopted anything else from the minstrel shows, with the possible exception of the bones which are occasionally seen in old photos (but bones and similar percussion instruments are among the oldest musical instruments in the world and are found in most cultures).

On the other hand, blacking up isn't all that effective as a disguise, especially in a small community when the individuals would be known anyway. However, it may have been more to do with taking on a different persona - anyone who has worn any kind of uniform will recognise the change that comes over you when you put it on - and soot or burned cork would be more readily available than other colours - although there are records of sides where the leader, for example, wore a different colour while the others blacked up.

So, are there any records of morris dancers and/or mummers blacking up before the minstrel craze came along?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 10 Jan 09 - 04:21 PM

The use of minstrel songs probably was suggested by the blacking up rather than the other way round. Minstrel songs were used by plough lads in the East Riding in the early 20th century, but the use of disguise in all forms of folk drama and dance are well documented long before the minstrel innovation. If the East Riding is anything to go by the disguise was essential because of some of the tricks they got upto and at various times this form of 'begging' was actually illegal. Blacking up wasn't the only option. Goathland Ploughstots used red as well.

The derivation of 'morris' from 'morisco' or 'moorish' has never been proved and is highly unlikely. The morris as we know it today is largely a product of the 19th century. If you look at earlier pictures of morris dancers you'll see something quite different, something attached to official pageants.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: The Borchester Echo
Date: 10 Jan 09 - 04:50 PM

My grandfather who'd been a Morris musician since he was a boy in the 1880 /90s in North Yorkshire right up to the outbreak of WWI said that, like the Ploughstots, they used red earth on their faces. This is also the case in the East Midlands so I suppose they just used what was readily available. My grandfather's side also wore beekeeping veils to dance (a tradition recently revived by the Flag & Bone Gang) which would also have served as a disguise when they were out begging at this time of year when there was little work on the land. It's now 50 years since he died but I can't recall him ever referring to the "nigger minstrel" craze or that it influenced them.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 10 Jan 09 - 05:25 PM

The blacking up of Rochester sweeps is to do with being covered in soot, and that's something associated with sweeps as a trade since long before the Mistrels came along.

And the term "guysing" in relation to mummers plays and so forth woudl appear to be cognate with the word "disguising",


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 10 Jan 09 - 05:26 PM

Blackface American minstrels were popular in England from the 1850s, but blackface in mummers and morris dancers (see Steve, above) seems to have been well-established earlier- a change in persona if not a disguise.
If any racial connotation was there, it more likely would have to do with the Moors, but impersonation and mime traditions involving them are only documented for European areas formerly governed by the Moors, or for areas such as Mexico-southwestern U. S. where Spanish immigrants settled in the 16th-18th c.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 10 Jan 09 - 05:39 PM

Although you say that 'blacking up' is not an effective form of disguise, I would challenge you to recognise a close friend if they were to appear at your door one night, blacked up and wearing a costume you'd never seen. It's incredible the difference that a blackened face and limited light will make to facial features, hair or eye colour. An example is my old friend Bob. I would have sworn Bob had ash blonde/dark grey hair. The day I saw him 'blacked up', it was pure white... he looked like a badly poured pint of Guiness, and I only realised it was him when he put his glasses on.

Disguise or 'guise' is indeed related to 'guising' or 'guysing', the act of going around in disguise - and is the origin of the word 'guiser' or as we spell it now, geezer.

LTS


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: GUEST,Ebor_fiddler
Date: 10 Jan 09 - 05:54 PM

There are several African traditions, on both sides of the continent, where participants in rituals "white up" as disguise (or are they being racist too?). I think that this is suggestive of good evidence for the probable traditional origin of our "blacking up", rather than from the Minstrel Show.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Azizi
Date: 10 Jan 09 - 05:55 PM

I posted a number of comments about the custom of "blacking up" in this thread:

Padstow Darkie Days

Fwiw, I cringe when i read the word "n****r" that is found in a couple of the posts in this thread. I wish there was some warning ahead of time that that word would be used. But I guess I should have prepared myself given the title of this thread.

I don't feel the need to repeat what I said in that thread whose link I provided. But I will offer my theory that the origin of "blackening up" is connected at least in part to the ancient reverence for ashes/soot and, by association, the connection of chimney sweeps with good luck..

See this excerpt:

"That [chimney] weeps bring luck is implied by the Jack-in-the-Green, known since the late 18th century, and is explicitly stated in many texts from the 1880s to the present. On seeing a sweep in the street in his working clothes and with his face blackened, one had to bow, raise one's hat, curtsey, or call out a greeting; some of the references show that this belief was particularly strong among coachmen and race-goers (Opie and Tatem, 1989: 71-2).

Still common is the custom of having a sweep outside the church at a wedding to kiss the bride and shake hands with the groom, generally interpreted as a means of ensuring fertility. A recent press report (Sunday Telegraph (28 Dec. 1997), 17) states that sweeps can earn £60 for this, as against £25 for a cleaning job, and that many do two or three weddings every weekend; they generally attend in pairs, wearing top hat and tails, carrying their brushes, and with their faces blacked. They claim that George II decreed that sweeps would 'bring good luck to the land' after his life was saved by one who managed to halt his carriage horses when they bolted, and that this is generally known: 'Old people have always come up to us in the street and touched us for good luck, and since the National Lottery began everybody has been doing it.'"

http://www.answers.com/topic/chimney-sweep

Also, see this article which I will post in its entirety since I'm concerned its link might go bad long before Mudcat's:

"'A chimney sweep's lucky as lucky can be...'

Many people will be able to sing along with that song from the Walt Disney version of Mary P. Travers' "Mary Poppins," but not as many know that In Germany, Austria, Hungary, and contiguous regions, the chimney sweep is considered a particularly auspicious omen of good luck if you meet with him on New Year's Day.

The postcard shown here is inscribed in Hungarian "Boldog Ujevet" (which, according to reader Marcell Revisnyei, means "Happy New Year"). It was postally used on January 1st, 1938. It is typical of Central and Eastern European New Year's postcards in which a chimney sweep -- often a blond child -- is shown frolicking in the snow, tossing out lucky talismans by the basketful.

The imagery on this card is unusual to American eyes because the slipshod young chimney sweep is not only sprinkling the ground with four-leaf clovers, he is equally generous in his distribution of toxic red and white Amanita muscaria mushrooms. This is not as strange as it seems, however, for while the four-leaf clover is considered lucky throughout Europe and North America, the Amanita muscaria or "gluckpilz" ("lucky mushroom" in German) is deemed fortuitous in Central and Eastern Europe, where there are remnants of respect for its ancient use as a shamanic hallucinogen.

When i asked my mother Lilo Glozer, who was born in Germany, about the chimney sweep as a bringer of New Year's luck, she replied:

New Year's was not celebrated in Germany until the l7th century, according to an old book I have on German folklore, so originally, this took place on Christmas or Saint Nicholas' Day, but anyway, gifts were given on New Year's Day to people who delivered bread or did household chores that were not performed by live-in servants. In exchange, these purveyors of services often handed out little cards with a blessing or good wishes.
Meeting a chimney sweep -- called a Schornsteinfeger or Schlotfeger -- at New Year's meant good luck for the year, especially if he would give you his card. However, by the time my sister and I were children, in the 1910s and 1920s, chimney sweeps were sufficiently rare that meeting one at any time of the year was considered lucky.

Chimney sweeps can also be found in the form of silver bracelet charms, small figurines, Good Luck Semi-Sweet Chocolate labels like the one shown here (which also depicts a lucky horseshoe), and even edible mid-winter gifts in which the chimney sweep's body is made of dried prunes.
Other European postcards in my collection show chimney sweeps giving people money bags, riding in toboggans with lucky pigs, and strewing about prodigious amounts of four-leaf clovers and Amanita muscaria mushrooms.

Perhaps i am fingerpainting here, but i see in this sooty New year's mushroom-bringer the folkloric remains of a shamanic Winter Solstice tradition now long lost to history".

http://www.luckymojo.com/chimneysweep.html

[Reproductions of greeting cards featuring chimney sweeps are found on this page]


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Azizi
Date: 10 Jan 09 - 05:59 PM

My apologies.

The sentence in the first except of my 10 Jan 09 - 05:55 PM post should read "That [chimney] sweeps bring luck is implied by the Jack-in-the-Green, known since the late 18th century, and is explicitly stated in many texts from the 1880s to the present.

-snip-

I would very much appreciate it if Joe Offer or another moderator would make that correction.

Thank you.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 10 Jan 09 - 06:04 PM

Owing to a shortage of open fires, our old chimney sweep in Co. Durham did a lucrative side-line in weddings. And I once met our coal man in the pub and didn't recognise him without the black face.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Snuffy
Date: 10 Jan 09 - 06:54 PM

As a mummer who "blacks up" quite often, I've never thought that it was a particularly effective disguise. Till last month.

On St Nicholas' night (Dec 6th) I was playing two roles as we were a mummer short. Along with us were a couple: he had joined our morris side a couple of weeks earlier with no previous experience. At the last pub of the evening's tour he was persuaded to take the smaller of my roles, and went off to the gents to put on his face and costume. He returned to the bar before the performance started, and his own wife did not know who it was! (But I did)


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: GUEST,Howard Jones
Date: 10 Jan 09 - 07:46 PM

I've never been entirely convinced by the theory of minstrel influence, but while the "disguise" argument is regularly put forward (including by me) I've never been sure whether there was actual evidence or whether it was just received wisdom. So much of the historical information appears to come from a time after the minstrel craze, and I was seeking historical records before that period.

Diane's comment about using red earth, although coming from a time after the minstrels, seems to support the disguise argument - the colour was incidental. I believe raddle (a red dye used to mark sheep) was also used, but soot or burnt cork would have been most readily and cheaply available so black was widely used.

Azizi, apologies if you took offence, but in the specific context in which I used the word I didn't really know what else to put - I didn't use it unthinkingly, but I don't think you should hide from history. So far as I am aware, that was the generic term used, from a time when sensitivities were different from today. Using asterisks is, with respect, a cop-out since everyone knows what you are referring to.

Blacking up is an effective disguise if you see someone unexpectedly, or for the first time. But when it is someone who regularly blacks up as a dancer or mummer, and you are used to seeing them like that, it doesn't really work, in my experience. Morris was a regular seasonal event, involving only a small group of individuals (sometimes limited to particular families), and I think everyone in the community would have known who they really were.

I feel that blacking up (or whiting up for that matter) is more to do with taking on a different persona rather than trying to hide the person's identity (although that's probably part of it, especially in the more aggressive begging customs such as the ploughboys on Plough Monday). I used to be a Cotswold dancer so I didn't black up myself, but I know that just putting on the kit makes you feel different - it immediately sets you apart.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Snuffy
Date: 10 Jan 09 - 08:06 PM

Morris was a regular seasonal event, involving only a small group of individuals (sometimes limited to particular families), and I think everyone in the community would have known who they really were.

Isn't it all a typically English way of going about it? It's all about communal pretending in order to save face and dignity all round. Consider the following scenario;
  • In winter there was little work to do on the farms
  • No work meant no wages
  • No wages meant starvation
  • Beggars were frowned upon as the "undeserving poor"
  • But providing entertainment was approved, as it was providing value for money, thus deserving of payment.
  • But there was still a residual shame about being forced to resort to such measures.
  • So they disguised themselves
  • And the rest of the community agreed not to recognise them.
  • So the poor got fed, and the community survived with everybody's dignity intact


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: The Borchester Echo
Date: 11 Jan 09 - 07:50 PM

Azizi is objecting to the term "nigger minstrel" but I really don't think she should, It is an established term for a distinct musical genre used by the musicians themselves. A banjo player friend (he is white but doesn't black up) has had this problem over pieces he has written for music mags about banjo history, This is as inappropriate as the objections of those who object to strikebreakers being called "blacklegs" on the (wrong) assumption that "black is being used negatively to mean "bad" when there are no racial connotations but merely a reference to dark clothing as a cover for surreptitious activity.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Azizi
Date: 11 Jan 09 - 08:46 PM

Diane, yes I find that term offensive {or "objectionable" as you phrased it}. I have a visceral reaction everytime I hear it or read it regardless who says it or who writes it. It's like a very unpleasant electric jolt {I added the words "very unpleasant" since I suppose some electric jolts might be pleasant for some people}.

I posted a number of comments about the subject of blacking up in that other thread whose link I provided. I don't intend to post any more to this thread.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Dead Horse
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 02:06 AM

There is a whole load of facinating stuff to do with ancient rituals and their connection with fire.
Blacking up is one of them. The ashes from a bone-fire applied to the face would convey the magic of the fire to the person wearing them, and to those he "blessed". I say HE because this magic was mans stuff, tho the actual tending of a fire was considered womans work. Hence the man/woman Molly (tho for some reason SHE is usually the only one NOT blacked up in black face morris sides, go figure)
The "Moorish" connotation should be well and truly debunked, as should the use of the "n" word which in any right thinking society, not cowed by misplaced guilt or preconcieved notions of racism, would be seen as merely another term to describe people of colour.
Black is a colour. Brown is a colour. Mulatto is a colour. It's only the association it has been given by racists which make it a "bad word" and subject to what is, after all, senseless sensorship.
I am not in any way racist, and I deplore racism in any form.
By I object to being told I cannot use a word in its proper context because it offends the sensibilities of the ignorant.
Having said that, I am not going to use the "n word" gratuitously, to shock, or to hurt. I use it when I sing sea shanties that were sung by ..................people of colour...........non white.........of African stock............or whatever word DOES suit my readers/listeners.
Sorry if this sounds a bit over the top, merely putting my own personal feelings out there.
It sickens me to know that folks take exception to what was a perfectly normal word 100 or less years ago. And all because of bloody racists.
P.S. I just LOVE cajun AND zydeco music, and make no distinctions of black or white in that area either.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: GUEST,Howard Jones
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 04:03 AM

I don't want this to divert into yet another discussion of the "N" word. I realise that many find it offensive, however I do feel it is necessary to distinguish between using it today and its use in a historical context. I was also using it in an English context, where it didn't pack quite the same punch it did in America - but I realise this is an international forum with different sensibilities.

It is not a word I would dream of using in normal conversation, but in the specific context in which I used it I really can't think of an alternative.

As an observation, when I was growing up it would have been considered offensive to call someone "black" - now it is the accepted term.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: davyr
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 05:19 AM

The British government in 1723 obviously thought blacking-up was an effective disguise - they introduced an Act of Parliamnet forbidding it in certain contexts (admittedly to do with poaching and/or affray rather than Morris):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Act


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Will Fly
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 05:42 AM

Slightly off-topic, with apologies. When I started to perform Gus Elen's "A Nice Quiet Day" (written around 1890) in public, I had a long debate with myself over the very first line which, in the original, goes:

"I works just like a nigger, but I isn't very strong, and I'm mostly on me trotters all the time".

I reasoned that, when I performed this in a folk club where people might appreciate that I was reproducing the song faithfully, they would understand that my intention was not to denigrate, but to preserve the original reading of the song. On the other hand, when I performed it to a non-folk club audience, I would substitute some other, more appropriate word such as "navvy", for example. In the end, however, I decided not to sing the original line anywhere. Just seemed to make more sense - and the original's on record if anyone want to hear it.

Relating this to the thread topic - is anyone actually offended by, say, the Bacup Britannia Coco-nut dancers, believing their blacking-up to be non PC?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 05:47 AM

I think Howard opened this thread partly in response to my reference to blacking up. I used the N word, in the thread concerning the survival or otherwise of Morris, to make a point about attitudes to what is traditional, what is revival and what is new.

Lots of people on that thread argued for the appropriateness of people creating sides and in some cases dances and costumes where none had previously existed. Howard made that point particularly well.

My point was that if Morris can evolve as it clearly has can it please evolve from blacking up to greening up or some other colour that does not have racist undertones (!).

Some people, black and white, are offended by white people blacking up. That's it really. It is no use saying they should not be offended, they simply are.

Now, what should be the Morris response? Do dances want to offend. I doubt that any Morris dancer ever meant to offend anyone. But they do. Do they offend many? Probably not. How many can be offended before it really counts?

Cheers

L in C


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Mr Red
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 05:51 AM

The hiding of identity is a tradtion well preserved in some sides .....................


For good reason.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Will Fly
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 05:53 AM

Now, what should be the Morris response? Do dances want to offend. I doubt that any Morris dancer ever meant to offend anyone. But they do. Do they offend many? Probably not. How many can be offended before it really counts?

Les - interesting comment. I'd personally never have thought of Morris dancing being offensive (in the sense of this thread) - just never occurred to me. Do we have evidence of this? And I ask the question in a genuine spirit of curiosity - not to stir up a heated argument.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 06:04 AM

Yes, I am offended and a number of my friends are and if you read the responses to the "Darkie Days" in Padstow you will see that other people are offended.

The usual response seems to be that we shouldn't be offended because it's not intentional or that we are PCGM (politically correct gone mad) imposing our views on others.

Cheers

Les


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Will Fly
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 06:11 AM

Thanks Les - understood. Glad I chose to perform my Gus Elen song with altered wording - regardless of venue!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 06:23 AM

The whole business of sensitivity in our country is tricky. I have Jewish friend who is very funny and can tell a good story in mixed company making fun of aspects of his own origins and culture and no one one takes offense or feels uncomfortable. But he feels distinctly uncomfortable when watching the Britannia Coconut Dancers.

This is not about crimes against humanity but blacking up offends some people.

L in C


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: melodeonboy
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 06:25 AM

"My point was that if Morris can evolve as it clearly has can it please evolve from blacking up to greening up or some other colour that does not have racist undertones (!)."

I must protest most strongly at the blatantly racist practice of "greening up". I intend to report you forthwith to the inter-galactic authorities.

Kev the Martian


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Sleepy Rosie
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 06:27 AM

Morris are so colourful, it seems that to slightly adjust the traditional 'sooty face' for something more creative which a) cannot be misconstrued by the casual observer, and b) which could also help to prevent any misappropriation of the tradition by 'undesirables', whilst c) nevertheless still fully remaining anchored in the spirit of the guising tradition, would be a pragmatic move?

A fellow poster here, told me of her villages BNP Morris Side... One wonders if the opportunity for such abuse of the tradition, is worth it's strict maintenance in pure historic form?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 06:27 AM

Goog point Kev.

or some other colour that does not have racist undertones (!)."
L in C


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: pavane
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 06:28 AM

Which colour to use? Surely someone will take traditional "redding up" as an insult to native Amercians.

But is it the description, or the actual activity of Blacking up which is being questioned? Or both?

I see no good reason why this traditional activity should be affected by a SUPPOSED or IMAGINED link. Are we going to prevent childrens face-painting, actors make-up, clowns, and all similar things?

It is similar to the thinking of the PC "gender police" who tried to ban the word MANAGER because it looks like it contains MAN.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: John MacKenzie
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 06:34 AM

Rewriting history is a power game.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 06:37 AM

Pavane,

I have tried my best to put the case simply.
1. Morris has been changing for 500 odd years its what happens.
2. Some of us are offended by white people blacking up.
3. We are no more gender or PC Police than dancers are racist.
4. Although as you can see from the post above we need to be careful.

Native Americans are not red they, like most people are variations of brown

Cheers

L in C


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: greg stephens
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 12:29 PM

You are quite right, Les, that Red Indians are not actually red, but black people are not generally really black, either.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 12:37 PM

True enough Greg, Black People use the term Black to describe who they are. But I am not sure how that relates to Morris sides who are prepared to change all kinds of things except the one thing that a number of people have pointed out offends some of us.

Cheers

Les


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Ruth Archer
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 01:08 PM

"A recent press report (Sunday Telegraph (28 Dec. 1997), 17) states that sweeps can earn £60 for this, as against £25 for a cleaning job,"

If someone can direct me to a sweep who will do my chimney for £25, I will be very grateful.

Just to clarify Rosie's point, the side I have spoken about in the past has two BNP members - it would be wrong of me to characterise it as "a BNP morris side", as I'm not sure the other members approve of the racism in their ranks. I do feel fairly sure they know about it.

I have to confess that I find the fact that this is a side that blacks up rather disturbing. Am I right to?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 01:18 PM

Ruth, this is an emotional thing, if it disturbs you, what does it do for all sorts of other people?

The BNP are evil racists. I am not suggesting for a second that Morris Dancers who black up are racists - I simply do not know.

Cheers

Les


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Ruth Archer
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 01:29 PM

what I meant, Les, is that I draw a connection, knowing what i do, between the BNP membership of two of the members and the fact that the side blacks up. My feeling is, it's bad enough they're morris dancers. That it's a black-face side seems to compound the insult.

But maybe my respose is totally inappropriate. I just don't know. I remember taking part in another long thread about Darkie Days, and minstrelsy, and blacking up, which didn't come to many conclusions...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Dead Horse
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 02:20 PM

So do we stop referring to cowards as "yellow"?
Is it wrong to call a defect a "chink"?
Is it racist to call sludge "gook"?

It soon will be if The Yellow Peril ever gain supremacy - nuke 'em now!

err       :-)

(just in case you thought I was serious)


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: The Borchester Echo
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 02:24 PM

I thought you were the ghost of Kenny Everett . . .


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 02:27 PM

Yes, we have all been here before. I feel sure that in keeping something alive that has survived for 500 odd years people are reluctant to change things. But I have seen Border Morris sides with bands that seem closer to New Orleans Jazz Bands than anything else and they still wont change from black to green/ red/ rainbow or a few of each.

You response is your response based on who you are and what you have experienced.

I taught in almost all white Gorton when I danced with Gorton, Northwest, no blacking up, and kids I taught saw me dancing and were always polite and interested and never gave me any trouble in school. I later taught in Hume in a school that was about 50/50 white and Afro-Caribbean. I think I know what the Black Kids would have had to say if I had danced blacked up.

Cheers

Les


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Sleepy Rosie
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 02:43 PM

My apologies for unintentionally misquoting you there Ruth.

There has been some highly enlightening discussion on this board regards the appropriation of English traditions by right-wing Nationalists.

Personally I see a threat to English traditional arts, arising from contamination by association to such groups, whose political agenda in 'blacking up' (amongst other things), may be quite utterly other than the innocent guising practice from which it origionally arose.

The question for me here, is about context. Our modern England is not the same place that it once was, and the symbolic language of our modern England is also not what it once was.

Holding to *some* traditional practices, may possibly muddy the tradition in a contemporary context, where such practices may be open to abuse of the most ugly kind.

Should folk traditions adapt to current contexts, in order to actually preserve their *integrity*?

This is an exceedingly interesting thread which addresses some very pertinant and current issues. I hope it will remain so.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: GUEST,Howard Jones
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 02:56 PM

Firstly, this thread is about blacking up for morris - Padstow Darkie Day is something rather different and has been discussed at length elsewhere.

The question of whether blacking up by modern sides may give offence is a tricky one. There is nothing else in the costume, music or dancing to even suggest any reference to black people.

Les, with respect I am a little surprised at your blanket taking offence at blacking up, regardless of circumstances. I understand it where it is clearly in imitation of a black person, but I should have thought you would have been able to differentiate other situations. What about military camouflage? What about a recent TV programme where two people used make-up to change race, to experience the other's situation? Since there is no racial element, what is different about morris?

It is true that some local authorities have raised objections, but they are notoriously quick to see imagined offence to ethnic minorities when none is actually taken (compare with nativity plays, carols and "Winterval" for example).

On the one hand, my instinct is to be defensive about our own traditions when people try to stop them on the grounds of a misunderstanding of the basis for blacking up. I don't think we should necessarily give in to the PC brigade.

On the other hand, we must recognise that we now live in a multi-racial society and that we should try to avoid giving offence, even where the offence is based on a misunderstanding. If someone is offended by seeing blacked up morris dancers they are unlikely to stick around for an explanation. Also, it is clear from the responses on this thread that the actual colour was of less significance than the masking aspect, so perhaps we shouldn't get too hung up over using black rather than other colours.

I think it is up to individual sides to decide whether to continue blacking up or to use another colour, on the basis of the response they receive from their audiences. The experience of a side based in a multi-cultural town or city is likely to be rather different from that of a rural side in a predominantly white area.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 03:09 PM

Thanks Howard - lots of salient points. It gives offense, thats it really. It's not the intention and it's not the fault of the dancers if they don't know it gives offense.

I think I will say it one more time, as I think you did yourself elsewhere, the Morris has changed in many many ways. Why are they so reluctant to change their faces?

Cheers

Les


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: The Villan
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 03:20 PM

Well I am definately not rascist.

However I love morris dancers blacking up and am not offended or even thought of it as being rascist until the politically correct brigade came along.

What a sad world we live in.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Ruth Archer
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 03:49 PM

Howard, I feel fairly certain I've read that many of the tunes appropriated by border sides came out of minstrelsy, and that there was little evidence that these sides had ever blacked up before minstrelsy. I think this is where the origins come into question.

What if morris gets into the opening ceremonies of the Olympics? Would everyone be happy to see blacked-up sides dancing for a world-wide audience?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 03:57 PM

Villain

"Well I am definately not rascist."

I don't doubt it

"However I love morris dancers blacking up and am not offended or even thought of it as being rascist"

Some people are offended

"until the politically correct brigade came along."

this might be true. Lenny Henry appeared in the Black and White Minstrel Show. He says he was young and didn't understand the significance of at all but wouldn't do it now.

What a sad world we live in. "

Not so Morris brings much joy and would bring a little bit more if they stopped blacking up

Cheers

L in C


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: John MacKenzie
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 03:58 PM

Well how about the understanding going both ways for a start?

We understand your concerns
You understand our traditions


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: The Villan
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 04:01 PM

>>What a sad world we live in. "

Not so Morris brings much joy and would bring a little bit more if they stopped blacking up

Cheers

L in C <<

Sorry Les. I don't want to fall out with you, but I don't agree.

Les in Faldingworth


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 04:01 PM

Given the history of the British and other European Empires, slavery and the treatment of black people in this and other European countries this is not likely to be an equal exchange.

Cheers

L in C


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 04:02 PM

Me neither Les but people are offended and that's not to be disagreed with is it?

Les


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: The Borchester Echo
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 04:03 PM

I used to save up scrap pictures of golliwogs from jam jars and send them away to get enamel golly badges.
Till somebody told Robertsons that such an image was racist and stopped them from supplying the badges.
And took the golly pics off the jars.
Sad.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 04:04 PM

Ruth, certainly some morris tunes came from the minstrels, but it wasn't just border - there are quite a few Cotswold tunes but there's no tradition there of blacking up. They were the pop songs of the time and it's not surprising they were adopted by folk musicians.

But that was the reason behind my OP, to try to establish whether there was actual evidence that sides blacked up before the minstrel craze. I'm told there is, although no one has said exactly what evidence.

However it is also apparent that other colours besides black were used, which suggests to me that they simply used whatever was readily available, including not only soot and burnt cork but also raddle, and that the actual colour was less important - which supports the view that it was a disguise and nothing to do with the minstrels.

In which case Les has a valid point, why should modern sides object to changing to a colour which is less open to misinterpretation?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Joybell
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 04:11 PM

Because it's come up -- again -- I feel it should be noted here that "darky days" refers to days and not people.
Cheers, Joy


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 04:28 PM

In a six-man team, how about one blue, one red, one green, one black, one yellow and one multicoloured? Let's start a new tradition.

The use of minstrel tunes in trad music has very little to do with disguise. Tunes were appropriated/assimilated from all manner of sources. Here's a good example, 'Buffalo Gals' has long been a traditional tune for 'Flamborough Longsword' under the guise of 'Old Johnny Walker'. I don't remember Flamborough ever using disguise even when they had their original military type uniform in the nineteenth century. A few miles away early twentieth century ploughlads were blacking up at New Year and singing 'We're the N's from the South Ya ha' but I'm certain the idea of using that particular minstrel song simply came to them because they were already blacking up to drag the plough round, and the disguise was very necessary because if the rich people didn't give them the appropriate response their lawns were ploughed up!










Stir, stir!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Sleepy Rosie
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 04:35 PM

There is indeed something 'sad' about the loss of loved traditions, especially innocent ones to which we have nothing but fond associations.

Was the Robertsons Golly innocent? My own assumption without further information, is that he is indeed an innocent figure, as innocent as my own deeply loved 'Golly' was when I was a child.

I do however feel that the pejorative term 'Wog' is better lost. A soft cuddly black dolly isn't intrinsically offensive - and neither is it's image. But the language of abuse to which it is unfortunately firmly associated, may be. And this is the situation that we find ourselves forced to address, with sensitivity and honesty.

It's a difficult one, because language, 'tradition' and commonly understood symbolic cultural shorthand, is an ever evolving thing. To what extent is it appropriate for cultural traditions to adapt to contemporary cultural contexts?

No doubt this is a subject which has been done to Hades and back again, and yet it is clearly one which nevertheless also remains perrenially pertinant.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 05:41 PM

I used to see a car around here and the last part of its registration number was WOG. The driver was black. So I suppose that's OK, although I was a bit surprised the DVLA had issued it in the first place (I can also claim to have seen the famous FU 2 numberplate, but that's a whole different subject)

When I was a child it never occurred to me to make the connection between golliwogs and black people. They were just a toy.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Dead Horse
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 09:43 AM

"In a six-man team, how about one blue, one red, one green, one black, one yellow and one multicoloured?"
That would give the impression that the colours represented races, which they definately do not.
If you see ignorance, you should educate, not cow down and accept it.
Even having this discussion reinforces the stupid idea that there is any racial connotations in blacking up.
There isnt. Now go forth and inform the ignorant.

In the meantime, I am off to Dixie to inform the Ku Klux Klan that instead of wearing capuchons they should black up instead.
A much more effective way of displaying their prejudices, huh?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Ruth Archer
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 10:11 AM

There was a more recent discussion about this issue here:

Blacking up discussion from 2007




Here's a post that I made at the rtime, referencing an article in English Dance and Song magazine about blacking up:

Les, a lot of Cats's points simply reiterate folklore and have no historical evidence.

I'm quoting from the article, written by Derek Schofield (EDS summer 2005):

"Forty years ago, the only English traditional, or revival, dance group who blacked up were the Britania Coco-nut Dancers from Bacup."

"There are references to people blacking up as a form of disguise in popular custom, although in Heaney and Forrest's book 'Annals of Early Morris', there is only one reference to black-faced morris dancers in the period they studied (up to 1750), and that is from the mid-sixteenth century."

The article goes on to discuss how black-faced minstrelsy took hold in America from the early 19th century, and eventually made its way to Britain and enjoyed huge popularity here by the turn of the 20th century: "no village concert was complete without a few minstrel songs."

The piece goes on to discuss the incorporation of blacking up into "traditional" events: "There would seem to be little doubt that the black faces of the traditional morris dance groups of the Welsh Border counties were at least influenced by minstrelsy. The occasional use of banjoes, bones and tambourines in these morris dances cannot be mere coincidence."

I apologise for the brief and piecemeal nature of these quotes, and for the lack of context (especially to Derek) - sadly the whole article is not available on-line. But I can tell you that it makes a pretty convincing case for the influence of minstrelsy on blacking up.

So then the question is, if blacking up and minstrelsy were once intrinsically linked, does it matter today?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: John MacKenzie
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 10:19 AM

No it's not. The question is.

Is the blacking up done with malice aforethought?
Answer.....NO
Has it by regular use become part of the tradition?
Answer.....YES

Next question

Should traditions be changed solely to satisfy raised consciousness?
Answer.....NO


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: pavane
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 10:22 AM

The essence of the argument, fully generalised, seems to be that we need to avoid giving ANY offence to ANYONE, whatever we do, even if unwittingly. And must change what we do to ensure this is the case.

Showing the soles of the feet is offensive to Muslims, so we should never take our shoes off on the beach in case someone is offended?

A hand gesture which is fine in some parts of the world is very offensive in others, so do we avoid making any hand gestures in case someone is offended?

So do continue we deal with it on a case by case basis, or just drop the whole and ultimately futile exercise?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 11:31 AM

Millions and millions of black Africans were taken into slavery, this country made massive financial gains. Those people and their kin have been exploited and discriminated against, often on the bases of their skin colour, in this and other countries ever since.

This is no trivial matter. Blacking up has been used theatrically to mock black people and demeans those who do it.

It is offensive and you know it.

many sides have changed all sorts of things in the last 40 years. Do the decent thing.

Best wishes

L in C


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: The Villan
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 11:57 AM

>>Blacking up has been used theatrically to mock black people and demeans those who do it<<

Come on Les, that is not correct.

I remember my Mom & dad couldn't wait for the Black & White Minstrels to come on each Saturday when I was young. They loved it, but there was never a thought to it being rascist. I never ever dreamt that it could be that way.

I never ever thought "Blacking Up" as being rascist, becuase it never entered my head to think of rascism.

I am one for keeping "Blacking Up" becuase as far as I am concerned its a tradition, not a rascist thing to me.

Of course I don't support rascism, but I object to PC brigade putting those ideas in my head.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 12:45 PM

Villian, I may have said this before, I don't think most Morris dancers are being intentionally racist.

Please read the words of the songs associated with "Minstrelsy" they made black people figues of fun.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: The Villan
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 12:58 PM

I think I am going to back outof this thread.

The reason being that

1. I am not rascist
2. I don't like people telling me what I should or shouldn't say or do, simply becuase it isn't politically correct.
3. I will never bow to PC stuck up your arse people.

However if I continue, I am likely to start flaming and I don't want to do that.

We all have our opinions, but please don't offend me by telling me what I should or shouldn't say.

I treat people the way i expect to get treated myself, unless they offend me and then I will fight my own battle. It's all to do with morality (which has now't to do with religion). My daughters know all about morality and they respect it and that pleases me as I know they will respect people as they go through life.
I wish a few more would concentrate on morality and less on words. We would all have a happier life.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 01:09 PM

Villian,

is you last post a response to my last post?

I have been pointing out that some people offended by blacking up and asking them think about that.

Les


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Megan L
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 01:11 PM

Why should I be offended by someone blacking up my uncles were all miners. By the way do people still do the cakewalk


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Sleepy Rosie
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 01:12 PM

Oh FFS, exactly WHO is this 'politically correct BRIGADE', this pejorative shorthand is beginning to get on my friggin tits!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: GUEST,Howard Jones
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 01:24 PM

Ruth, I'd seen references to Derek's article but as you say the piece itself is not on line. He is obviously an authoritative source. Nevertheless, if I'm understanding the parts you quote correctly, there appears to be a "black hole" (forgive the metaphor) in the record for the period between 1750 and the mid C19, precisely the period which is most relevant.

It sounds as if it's an important article, and given the amount of misunderstanding and misinformation which is spouted on this subject, it would be helpful if Derek or EDS could be persuaded to put it on line. The subject needs some scholarly background and not just speculation.

Whatever the origin, I think any connection there may once have been with the minstrels has long been lost. I doubt whether any morris dancers think they are representing or ridiculing black people when they black up, and I would be surprised if many people seeing a morris side would make that connection, as the overall appearance has nothing else to do with black culture, either in its contemporary form or as caricatured by the minstrels.

I think it does matter today. If we are to defend blacking up as part of an English tradition without racial connotations then we need to be sure of our ground. If it does originate from the minstrels, then many people will need to change their perceptions and decide how to deal with it.

Personally, I don't feel too strongly that the make-up has to be black, rather than any other colour. But I understand that some sides do, especially the Coconut Dancers for whom it is a long-standing tradition.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Dead Horse
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 01:26 PM

Let us just ban the morris anyway.
It's obviously a form of racism and white supremacy and it offends people, so we shouldn't do it.
I bow to the stupidity of (some of) my fellow men.
Bigots win.
I am out of here, too.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 01:35 PM

Dead Horse,

I have tried to keep to the point - some people are offended they don't decide to be offended, it's what happens.

White people blacking up and mocking black people has a very long and deep history in the American and English theatre. It's not funny it's racist.

I know, and have continually said so in this thread, that almost all Morris dancers are not racist.

Can you not accept any of our concerns?

Les


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Sleepy Rosie
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 01:49 PM

"I used to see a car around here and the last part of its registration number was WOG. The driver was black. So I suppose that's OK,"

Howard Jones, perhaps you are unaware of the practice of concsious re-appropriation of derogatory terms? This practice of 'owning' and effectively disembowling the aggression implicit in a usually abusive term, is one that the Black community have been actively engaged in for decades. Hence the 'Wog' numberplate you cite. It's important to be aware of potential irony, when observing a commmunity in the process of re-possessing a familiar term of abuse.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: The Borchester Echo
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 02:12 PM

Not speaking for Howard, but I'm pretty damn sure he knew that.
But as the deceased equine creature said, let's give up Morris and indeed any sort of tradarts (we're English after all and not supposed to care about these things, are we?)
Let's leave this forum to bland MOR tripe and those who want to wish each other 'happy birthday' and other such inane irrelevancies and waffle on about their tedious, empty (especially of music) lives. That's what they want. Sure as hell isn't what I come here for.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Sleepy Rosie
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 02:30 PM

"Let's leave this forum to bland MOR tripe and those who want to wish each other 'happy birthday' and other such inane irrelevancies!

Yes, a point well made.

But how do we retain the historic integrity of English Trad-Arts, while simultaniously ensuring their freedom from contamination from those contemporary political agendas which would seek to usurp them and utitise them to their cause?

Excuse me for sounding like a numbbnuts. I probably am one! ;-)


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: The Borchester Echo
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 02:46 PM

Keeping English tradarts from contamination and potential hijacking by those with warped political agendas is a completely different ballgame from having them diluted and emasculated by those with weird ideas of what is going to affront or otherwise offend those whom they are unqualified to speak for.

In other words, I sign up to the first but not the second.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Sleepy Rosie
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 02:59 PM

Fair do.

So the 'issue' there, is I suppose, for the Trad-Arts to forge via some genuine internal investigation, regards exactly from whence and for what purpose their traditions arose?

As I've said repeatedly on other threads, please kindly indulge my ignorant newby status.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: The Borchester Echo
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 03:07 PM

Ah Rosie, it's not you thst's going round spouting stuff from an HR Diversity training day.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Sleepy Rosie
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 03:35 PM

Aha, Ooops, I think I've err now 'got' some of the stuff I missed before...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Kampervan
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 04:01 PM

Dear Sleepy Rosie, methinks that the quality and content of your postings have reached the point where a phrase like 'please kindly indulge my ignorant newby status' is perhaps sounding a teeny bit disingenuous.

Are you a very fast learner or a bit of a sleeper?

Either way you've certainly made some great postings and asked some very apposite questions. Nice one.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Ruth Archer
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 05:07 PM

As this is are=hash of the discussion from 2 years ago, I might as well re-post some of my messages from then, as not much has changed in the interim. This was still in the context of the Darkie Days debate:


No one is claiming that other cultures are perfect, but this particular discussion is about an aspect of English traditional culture. It's not about trying to undermine or destroy tradition. If traditions are living things, then they grow and evolve and change with the times. And if there is an aspect of a tradition that has the potential for causing offence, what is so wrong with interrogating it? What are you afraid of, exactly?

I dsagree with you that the only 'we' in this discussion are the people of Padstow. Padstow is one blacking-up tradition. There are many. In this day and age, it is absolutely right that we should be debating whether this is a practice that is appropriate in 21st century Britain. I'm not saying that it necessarily ought to be abolished, funnily enough. I'm saying that it's a debate that ought to be allowed to happen, with the fullness of evidence and research to be called upon, rather than folklore, conjecture and apocrypha.

I'll tell you why I think it's important in the context of English traditional cultures: because this is such an interesting time in terms of defining the English identity. I work with schools comprised of children of different backgrounds and faiths, but we bring English traditional dance and song into those schools. I think it's very important that both children from indigenous backgrounds AND those from diverse cultures get to experience the traditions of this country, so that they understand that these traditions belong to them, and comprise part of their heritage, whether they were born here or not.

Now, would you be comfortable introducing a Black-British or British-Asian child to the many blacking-up traditions? What about those rooted in minstrelsy? The nigger songs? Come to think of it, is this something you'd like White British children to celebrate as part of their heritage?

No one is trying to "whitewash" anything. Yes, these things were once a very popular part of popular culture. But that doesn't mean they should be forever perpetuated. "Traditional" does not equal sacrosanct.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: John MacKenzie
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 05:12 PM

OK, let's all give up breathing.
After all, it's just a silly outdated tradition ;)


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 06:18 PM

I followed the Darkie Day thread, but I'm not sure that has anything to do with morris. It seems to me to be a quite different tradition and the only connection so far as I can see is the blacking up. However I don't really know anything about it so I'm reluctant to comment.

As Les says, white people blacking up and mocking black people has a very long and deep history. However here we are talking about white people blacking up for a purpose and in a fashion which has nothing to do with mocking black people.

I would be entirely happy about introducing black British people to our blacking up morris traditions, provided I am allowed to explain that it is not about "mocking black people" but has a quite different origin and function. However I would like to be more certain in my own mind that this assumption is correct.

On the one hand there seems to be little evidence of blacking up before the minstrel craze (but also little evidence the other way, if I understand correctly), on the other hand if it did come from the minstrels I would have expected the morris to have adopted many more aspects of the minstrel identity. This suggests to me that it blacking up had deeper roots - but that's just supposition on my part.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 06:34 PM

Blacking up in the Morris: Q and A.

Q: Is blacking-up in the tradition?
A: Yes... in some bits of it, in some parts of the country.

Q: Do those bits of the tradition go back to ancient immemorial folk customs the like of which we modern town-dwellers wot but little of?
A: No.

Q: Just No?
A: Well... disguise is a big thing all over the place. But disguise in the specific form of painting one's face black, not so much.

Q: Meaning?
A: Meaning it might be a relatively recent addition.

Q: Right. And have different elements been added to traditional practices in relatively recent times, or indeed taken away?
A: Yes, it goes on all the time. Living tradition and all that.

Q: So if those sides which currently black up were to agree to use (say) purple or dark blue face-paint (or beekeepers' veils), this would be quite in keeping with the Morris as a living tradition, and would not be any sort of break with the older folk traditions of 'guising' which blacking-up seems to echo?
A: Is that a question?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Ruth Archer
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 06:55 PM

Howard, the Padstow thread went on to encompass the practice of blacking up as a whole. It specifically talked about the minstrelsy inherent in the border morris tradition, including the practice mentioned by Dave Hunt of "going niggering".

More to the point, no one ever seemed to satisfactorily answer this question:

"I'll tell you why I think it's important in the context of English traditional cultures: because this is such an interesting time in terms of defining the English identity. I work with schools comprised of children of different backgrounds and faiths, but we bring English traditional dance and song into those schools. I think it's very important that both children from indigenous backgrounds AND those from diverse cultures get to experience the traditions of this country, so that they understand that these traditions belong to them, and comprise part of their heritage, whether they were born here or not.

Now, would you be comfortable introducing a Black-British or British-Asian child to the many blacking-up traditions? What about those rooted in minstrelsy? The nigger songs? Come to think of it, is this something you'd like White British children to celebrate as part of their heritage?"



Pip - makes sense to me.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 03:56 AM

Whilst I think the origins of blacking up for morris are still a bit obscure, there is certainly a weight of evidence that suggests it comes from the minstrels.

Which raises the question, where did the conventional wisdom that it is simply about disguise come from? That has been the accepted notion for as long as I can remember. Is it denial? Wishful thinking? Was there any historical evidence to support it, or is it one of those things, like morris being a pagan fertility rite, that emerged from someone's fevered imagination?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 04:45 AM

Is it denial? Wishful thinking? Was there any historical evidence to support it, or is it one of those things, like morris being a pagan fertility rite, that emerged from someone's fevered imagination?

My guess would be all of the above - fantasy driven by wishful thinking reinforced by denial, BUT based on a foundation of odd bits and pieces which genuinely do predate the minstrel shows (red earth, raddle, veils).


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Sleepy Rosie
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 04:50 AM

Sorry Kampervan, I see that probably sounds bluddy annoying! I guess I'm attempting to protect myself from potential disagreements online. And truthfully whilst a genuinely interested party in some of these topics, I don't know enough of either traditional arts or racial issues, to offer a substantial or well-informed opinion. I'll shut up now and let the thread get back on topic ;-)


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 05:29 AM

Well, apart from John Mackenzie, who can probably stop holding his breath now, we seem to be approaching some kind of concensus.

Can those sides who have changed the tunes, the band, the kit and the dances please change the colour of their faces?

No, I bet they wont and Howard and Pip Radish have a good stab at why,

Cheers

L in C


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: John MacKenzie
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 05:40 AM

If I were you Les, I wouldn't hold my breath while waiting for Newthink to change the world. ;)
I suppose you have heard the current news on nicknames as used by the British royal family and others?
I assume this makes them unfit for purpose in your book?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: GUEST,Black Hawk on works PC
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 06:10 AM

Just a view from an occasional Morris watcher.

I have never really thought about the blacking up being racist - I just assumed it was a mining area tradition as I see it in the Durham area.

As to disguise - I have some friends who dance Morris & remarked that I had never seen them dance.
Last year at a festival singaround one came & sat with me 'blacked up'.
It was then I realised why I had not seen them dance - or I should say, recognise them.
So on casual viewing (watching the dancing and not examining faces) the disguise factor works.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: pavane
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 06:20 AM

"disguising" was mentioned in records at least as far back as 1494


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 06:48 AM

Sorry,

Since nobody has commented on this:

"Can those sides who have changed the tunes, the band, the kit and the dances please change the colour of their faces?"

I guess it didn't appear in my earlier post?

Cheers

L in C


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 07:02 AM

Les, as I said in an earlier post, individual sides will make the decision based on their own experiences and the reactions of their audience. As I've also said before, even if there is connection with the minstrels I think that is now broken and I think that most people watching morris will simply view it as part of the "old and strange" thing without seeing a racial element.

What I don't know, because we've not had any replies from anyone identifying themselves as a black British person, is how black people themselves view it. I suspect that they're even less interested in morris than most white British, so maybe its not really an issue in practice. Sides that dance before a multi-racial audience will know whether they get an adverse reaction to blacking up and may then choose to use a different colour.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Gedi
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 08:37 AM

"I remember my Mom & dad couldn't wait for the Black & White Minstrels to come on each Saturday when I was young. They loved it, but there was never a thought to it being rascist. I never ever dreamt that it could be that way"

I too used to watch this programme with my family and never saw any racist connotations. However today I would feel distinctly uncomfortable watching it, especially if I had my best friend (who is black) with me at the time.

After reading the above I cannot see any real evidence that blacking up is all that traditional and tend to agree with Les that it does without doubt offend some people. On that basis surely it is not beyond the pale to change the colour to blue (which after all the Ancient Brits used to use and so could be seen as being very trad!) or some other colour with no racial connotations.

I also would like to say that I do not believe members of the Morris
to be racist, but why continue doing something knowing it to be offensive?

Ged


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: GUEST,Cats at work
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 08:55 AM

At the start of this thread someone asked for evidence of blacking up. I have copied this from a previous thread. Thjese are facts not opinions and not folklore.

All quotes from Professor Ronald Hutton in 'Stations of the Sun – a History of the Ritual Year in Britain'. He is at University of Bristol – the most prestigious history dept in any UK university.

8th c. Wassailing mentioned in Beowulf

1263       Mumming first recorded in Troyes where the corporation banned it among the populace.

1320       Peter de Langtoft written description of Wassailing

1347       Edward III introduces Mumming into the court using masks of women, men, angels, animal heads and wild men.

1377 The Common Council sends 130 men to salute Richard II ' to go Mumming with the said prince'

1405       Mumming banned from streets of London, Bristol and Chester as the 'combination of dark nights, dark faces and revellers in disguise afforded marvellous opportunity for crime'

1414       Lollard heretics plotted a coup at Eltham Palace ' under colour of Mumming'

1508 Scotland man hanged for stealing whilst under the guise of Mumming.

1599                a court at Elgin 'forbade guising' as this was the third time in 5 years people had stolen and 'every one of those before had been defied by revellers disguised by blackened faces'

1606       Mummers in Aberdeen 'they presume to mask or disguise themselves'

1655         Calne, Wiltshire dispute between ale house keeper over payment by mummers.


1657 reference to mummers from North Aston in Oxfordshire and Frome in Somerset

1659 Mummers in Weston Underwood, Bucks

I will add to this that the 1780 Mylor [Truro] Mummers Play has the charcter Black Sambo in it, again evidence of blacking up. No argument about the rights and wrongs from me. I have just responded to a request for evidence of blacking up.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: John MacKenzie
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 09:01 AM

There are none so easily offended, as those who look for all possible [and impossible]reasons to take offence


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 09:30 AM

Thanks, Cats. I think the quotes tell their own story. Compare
1599: revellers disguised by blackened faces
and
1780: Mylor [Truro] Mummers Play has the character Black Sambo in it

In the sixteenth century, nobody in England would make the connection from blackened faces to people with naturally dark skin, as the idea of people having dark skin was more or less unknown (witness the use of 'black' and 'brown' as adjectives for people, referring to their hair colour).

In the eighteenth century, the connection was there to be made, but in most cases there would be nobody watching who was likely to take offence (least of all in Cornwall).

200 years later, lots of people would make the connection, and quite a few of them would take offence.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Ruth Archer
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 10:49 AM

From Howard Jones:

'What I don't know, because we've not had any replies from anyone identifying themselves as a black British person, is how black people themselves view it.'



From the blacking-up discussion, 2007:

'Well, the article from EDS that I quoted earlier interviewed several people about the practice, including a dance caller named Nigel Hogg. This is what he had to say:

"I have watched many different dance groups around the country, and on certain occasions I have seen groups black up to perform. As a mixed race man I do find this tradition offensive because I see it as a parody mocking people of colour. I would imagine that the people who perform these dances are not racists, and on some levels the people involved have not even though about the implications these dances might have to people of colour.

The bottom line is that we now live in multicultural Britain, and although these forms are traditional, they are not really acceptable anymore. Times, attitiudes and trends move on, and now is time to move forward, not just in dance and song. If there was a display of this kind of dancing in an inner-city area, how would it go down? In my opinion it would be taken very badly and many people would be offended, because as i see it, it is a backward step. I do not think that blacking up to dance achieves multi-racial harmony."

So, not just us white middle class do-gooders finding it offensive, then. I don't know about you, but i am always really chuffed to see black and Asian people at traditional events, from festivals to calendar customs. I think it says something incredibly positive about the culture we live in. The idea of people of different backgrounds trying to engage positively with English traditional culture being confronted with a blacking-up tradition that has its roots in minstrelsy is incredibly depressing.'


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Ruth Archer
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 10:52 AM

I should add to the above post that, of course, British Black people are not a collective entity. Some won't have any problem with it at all. Some will.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: ard mhacha
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 01:15 PM

All is not lost, the England Rugby Union team are taking up Morris Dancing in opposition to the New Zeland `Haka`.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: GUEST,baz parkes
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 01:17 PM

I've sat and wondered whether I should post, but sorry, can't shut up!!

I danced blacked up for some 15 years...and when the knees gave up played blacked up for another five. So, my two pennorth

Howard...I do think there's some link with minstelry...I'm sure you know and play Clee Hill...i learned it as (those easily offended look away now) Clee Hill Niggering. On our second CD we use a picture of the Broseley Morris dancers... we chickened out of using the original name of the troupe because, yes it used the n word.

Les...the Ironmen spent many happy (and I don't think it was just the drink!!) hours following Gorton Rushcart. No one seemed offended.

The morris/moresco theory. Some twenty odd years ago we were in vited to dance in the Basque country. Most of the other teams were government supported performing arts groups. The Basque team were, like most British teams, used to dancing in the streets. On the last day of the festival we mananged it. The Basque team (the Basques are fiercly proud of the fact that the Moors didn't give them the pasting they gave the rest of "Spain") bought out what was, in fact, a giant jig doll...black face, tattered jacket, feathers in hat. Used as a morris team might use a hobby horse. What was it called...a Moresco. A nice story, if nothing else. BTW there were two or three afro-carib troupes represented who found the whole thing hilarious. The only grief we got was from the Quebecois, and I don't think that had anything to do with the blacking.

A theory I've not seen elsewhere on the thread links the tradition to the gypsies...follow the hop trail...Shropshire, Hereford and Worcester, Kent,...and you'll see blacking up...gypsies being darkes skinned. Again, a nice story.

To end on a lighter note...we used to use the following as a party line

Punter Why do you black your faces
Dancer It's a disguise
Confused Punter Oh
Dancer You don't recognise me do you
Punter No
Dancer It must work then.

When we got bored, or had drink taken, this would be abbreviated to

Why do you black your faces
To frighten the camels away
But there aren't any camels in (insert location)
It must work, then!!

Happy days.

I've just re read this and I'm happy to post. If you're offended sorry. Someone more knowledgable than me will be along in a minute

Baz


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 01:37 PM

Baz,

thanks for a good natured and well informed post on a difficult subject but I am not sure what conclusion to draw.

Since nobody has commented on this:

"Can those sides who have changed the tunes, the band, the kit and the dances please change the colour of their faces?"

I guess it didn't appear in my earlier post?

This makes a loint very well:

"Howard...I do think there's some link with minstelry...I'm sure you know and play Clee Hill...i learned it as (those easily offended look away now) Clee Hill Niggering."

So, if Ironmen and others can change the name of a tune and I guess a dance, who will be the first side to change the colour of their faces?

Gorton Rushcart was lots of fun and I understand it will be revived this year. For what it's worth it's the only folk event I have ever been to in around 45 years in which I witnessed violence, when a member of a North West mens side, on being mocked for dancing with women ( they were behind a women's side in the procession) thumped said mocker who left in an ambulance. No reflection whatsoever on Gorton but an indication of something or other?

Cheers

Les

Cheers

L in C


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: lady penelope
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 04:10 PM

"No reflection whatsoever on Gorton but an indication of something or other?"

That the morris dancer in question was pissed off at having piss taken out of him?

I'm sorry, but you can read any meaning into anything if you have a big enough crow bar.

As to this 'let's not dare to offend anyone' so called argument.

I came to watching border morris after I had been guising for several years. In guising (whether it's mumming or what ever) it's common place to black up or wear a mask. The point is disguise. Not to emulate any particular skin colour. I cannot be held responsible for what someone else wishes to read into my wearing a mask or putting makeup on my face.

I find the full face mask/veil worn by some muslim women to be offensive as it, to me and many other women - muslim or otherwise, represents the scandalous treatment of women in many parts of the world where religion is used as a stick to beat them. However, it is not up to me to demand that all women in Britain who have chosen to wear the veil be made to remove them because I find it offensive. It's their choice to wear the veil (or it should be). There are connotations and reasons for wearing the veil that I either don't know about or don't agree with, but the bottom line is that it doesn't affect me. It does not make a direct impact on my life.

Back to the original question. I need to go dig about, but I have read quotes from parish accounts circa 16 & 1700s that describe New Year wassailing and Halloween activities. In them they describe men, either singly or in small groups, dressed in black with blackened faces going from door to door. Sometimes singing, sometimes doing solo jigs or group dances (no mention of morris though)and then asking for money. In some of the accounts, it is noted that possibly they have blackened faces to prevent anyone reporting them to the parish for begging.

Whilst this does not preclude there being minstrel connotations with morris men blacking up, it suggests that it is probably not the only source of the tradition.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 08:41 PM

Multi-coloured face-paint for a multi-coloured country seems very sensible(well, daft, since it is morris, but sensible daft), looks pretty good, and doesn't give rise to any misunderstandings.

Someday we'll be through all this stuff about what colour skin people have, and people will find it hard to believe it ever was like that.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 15 Jan 09 - 03:33 AM

Maybe sooner than you think, McGrath. I was explaining political parties to my eight-year-old the other day (it was a slow day). Some of them were quite hard to get across (try explaining the Lib Dems some time), but the BNP were easy: "they want to keep brown people out of this country". The interesting thing was my daughter's reaction - "Really?" She was instantly outraged, but also incredulous - she'd never heard of anything so daft.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Sleepy Rosie
Date: 15 Jan 09 - 04:13 AM

"she'd never heard of anything so daft"

That's probably because she had indeed never heard anything like it...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Wyrd Sister
Date: 15 Jan 09 - 04:57 AM

OK I admit I've not scrutinised every post so apologies if my twopenn'orth is repeating someone.

I was at Straw Bear last weekend. There I saw border and Molly sides with red faces, blue faces (not just the cold), black-and-white faces, Gog Magog in which every face was a different colour, and faces with a range of black marks ranging from lightly-smeared through blacking on middle part of face (i.e. not round ears or jaw) through to musicians for one group who, with the aid of hats, scarves, coats, and deep black faces, showed no vestige of true colour. And of course other Cotswold, North-west and sword dance teams with no face paint at all.

As to is it effective - some while ago someone from a blacked-up border morris side came up and was talking to me for quite a while, obviously knowing all about me & my family. Only later did I piece together who it must have been - to this day I'm not certain!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Dazbo
Date: 15 Jan 09 - 11:41 AM

Doesn't Robin Hood glorify armed robbery and knife crime, I'm sure that offends someone, somewhere? Like Lady P I find the viel used by some women highly offensive but I'm sure I'd be in trouble if I suggested they be removed. Being offended (intentionally or otherwise) is part of life but I believe that it only matters if that offence was deliberate.

As someone who plays for a border team that "black up" using black, light blue, dark blue, silver and sparkle artistically combined into pretty patterns (we were at straw bear but I was ill so couldn't go:-( ) can I add that in my experience the amount of disguise is highly dependent on the colour. The greater the difference between the skin colour and the paint the better the disguise. For white people black is by far the best disguise and others much less so until you get to white or silver which just makes you look ill. So in general I'd say that black is the only suitable colour for disguise for white skinned folks (and would be interested if white is the most effective for dark skinned).


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: meself
Date: 15 Jan 09 - 11:54 AM

"Being offended (intentionally or otherwise) is part of life but I believe that it only matters if that offence was deliberate."

Really? That must make things easy for you. I couldn't count the number of times I've felt I had to apologize to someone for having unintentionally offended them ...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: manitas_at_work
Date: 15 Jan 09 - 11:56 AM

He's probably a lot bigger than you.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 15 Jan 09 - 12:19 PM

Dazbo,

"As someone who plays for a border team that "black up" using black, light blue, dark blue, silver and sparkle artistically combined into pretty patterns"

What can I possibly say but ................ the Morris is a living tradition and you are helping it to live......... thanks, simply thanks

L in C


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: meself
Date: 15 Jan 09 - 12:19 PM

Ah! Now I understand ...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Hallf-A-Mo
Date: 15 Jan 09 - 05:43 PM

I can't imagine Shropshire Bedlams wearing another colour, nor Seven Champions, does anyone else remember them?

Nor do I remember, in 25 years of dancing all around the country, of any group of black audience members being offended by blacked-up morris dancers. They always react as any other audience, amused, confused and/or interested (rare in cities).

Are we also to oust the 'Turkish Knight' from mumming plays?

Blacked-up dancers are racist, so are clog wearing dancers dutch.

Only the ignorant could be offended, I do not pander to ignorance, I educate!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: The Villan
Date: 15 Jan 09 - 05:49 PM

>>so are clog wearing dancers dutch<<

My wife is Dutch and I call her a cloggie


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: John MacKenzie
Date: 15 Jan 09 - 05:55 PM

I thought that's what they were all called :)


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 15 Jan 09 - 06:30 PM

Blacked-up dancers are racist, so are clog wearing dancers dutch.

Who's saying blacked-up dancers are racist? Some people have said that dancers who black up, while not racist themselves, are likely to be seen as racist. Some people have also said that blacking-up seems to derive mainly from minstrel shows, which probably aren't a tradition we'd want to preserve. I think these are both good points.

Only the ignorant could be offended, I do not pander to ignorance, I educate!

Good luck with that.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: meself
Date: 16 Jan 09 - 12:16 AM

"Blacked-up dancers are racist"

Is this one of those examples of someone choosing to be offended?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 17 Jan 09 - 04:00 AM

As I said to Dazbo,

"As someone who plays for a border team that "black up" using black, light blue, dark blue, silver and sparkle artistically combined into pretty patterns"

What can I possibly say but ................ the Morris is a living tradition and you are helping it to live......... thanks, simply thanks

L in C


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 18 Jan 09 - 07:59 AM

I've tried to post a lengthy and well thought out (IMHO :) )post but it was eaten by the gremlins. So I'll keep it brief.

Although in some areas there had been an earlier tradition of morris dancers and mummers blacking up, it seems to have died out and was revived in the later C19. This coincided with the minstrel craze, and it seems hard to deny some connection.

It therefore seems difficult to continue to justify blacking up purely on the basis that it was for disguise, although this certainly seems to have played a part, supported by the fact that in some places other colours were used instead of black.

On the other hand, I believe it is too simplistic to say that blacking up originated from the minstrel craze and was therefore racist (in modern terms, if not considered so at the time). It seems quite possible to me that the minstrel craze simply prompted memories of the earlier custom and caused a revival, rather than morris dancers blacking up to imitate minstrels. Some of the Cotswold traditions, for example, adopted minstrel tunes but didn't start blacking up.

It also seems to me that our perception of the minstrel craze itself is seen through modern eyes and I suspect that those who took part viewed it quite differently (and most would never have seen an actual black person). It has also coloured our modern reaction to blacking up, so that some see it as inevitably offensive regardless of the purpose.

My personal opinion is that blacking up for morris wasn't and isn't racist, but that the influence of the minstrels may result in some people today seeing it that way. I understand why some sides choose to use different colours (and there is traditional precedent for this)but I also understand why others insist on retaining it.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: GUEST,Edthefolkie
Date: 18 Jan 09 - 08:50 AM

For what it's worth in this erudite discussion, "context is all" in my opinion.

A good example is on YouTube right now. I won't add a link as I don't want to frighten the horses! It's a performance of "Look Out There's a Monster Coming" by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, done on TV about 40 years ago. For those who don't know their oeuvre, the song's about a little bloke who attempts to make himself attractive to ladies and succeeds only in turning himself into Frankenstein's monster. In the clip, the band are all blacked up, and limbo dancing is also involved. In theory nothing could be more stereotyped and offensive, but it's actually hilarious and a total p*ss take, like so much of their stuff. I imagine Charles Atlas type ads, 1960s light entertainment TV and particularly "The Black & White Minstrel Show" were primary targets.

As another example, the wonderful Mitchell and Kenyon films unearthed recently show a carnival procession in a UK northern town around 1900. There are about 50 people dressed up in "darkie" outfits, complete with banjos, top hats, etc. etc. These people are now just shadows on a screen - branding them as "racists" doesn't get anybody very far.

To get back to the actual subject, I honestly think a lot of the blacking up by Morris sides started with the Shropshire Bedlams, and has become "traditional" as lots more Border Morris sides have started. So it's an Ancient English Tradition which dates back to about 1974. (But to be fair, my Dad remembered my grandfather talking about the Lincolnshire Plough Monday tradition which involved facial disguise and demanding money with menaces).

The Britannia Coco-Nut Dancers are another kettle of tea entirely, and anybody who interferes with them (ooer missus) does so at their peril.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 18 Jan 09 - 09:34 AM

In the clip, the band are all blacked up

Except one (Neil Innes). I wonder if he had qualms about it (I was about to add "even then", but that would sound incredibly condescending).

In theory nothing could be more stereotyped and offensive, but it's actually hilarious and a total p*ss take, like so much of their stuff.

Yes. As with a lot of their stuff, it's somewhere between being a kind of meta-parody (a parody of a parody of...) & just being six blokes larking around. I don't think anyone would try that now, though.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 18 Jan 09 - 10:32 AM

Look Out There's A Monster Coming.

And not forgetting the late Trevor Howard, who blacked up in the film of Vivian Stanshall's Sir Henry at Rawlinson End; this from a man whose idea of fun was dressing up in a Nazi uniform and going out on the town with his oppo Keith Moon. By the way, I'm a huge Vivian Stanshall fan and fully appreciate his take on such things was, out of necessity, rather complicated.

Not forgetting Vic and Bob as Otis and Marvin, no footage of them blacked up on YouTube, but here's Vic's Barry White http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=ttb1gjs8s1g.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: GUEST,Edthefolkie
Date: 18 Jan 09 - 10:34 AM

Yes sorry Pip, Neil isn't blacked up. And he probably does wince a bit now, if he ever sees the DVD!

My daughter thought it was all EXTREMELY offensive. I disagree but how the hell can one explain that bunch of maniacs in less than a day? I'm just grateful to see dear Vivian and the other madmen once more, even in YouTube FuzzyVision. Dada for now....


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: GUEST,Edthefolkie
Date: 18 Jan 09 - 10:47 AM

Insane Beard, sorry postings crossed.

I reckon Mr Stanshall's take on everything was pretty complicated! I just unearthed an ancient VHS copy of the Innes Book of Records which featured Vivian. I think one could fairly say that his performance was somewhat "challenging" but at least he didn't take his clothes off.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: John MacKenzie
Date: 18 Jan 09 - 10:49 AM

I know somebody who dances Border Morris, and doesn't black up when the others do.
Because she has sensitive skin!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 18 Jan 09 - 02:18 PM

Well, somehow that sums it up rather well.

L in C


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: John MacKenzie
Date: 18 Jan 09 - 02:21 PM

Yes, and it shoots down the argument that people may do it for reasons of conscience Les.
There is more than one way to kill a cat.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 18 Jan 09 - 02:23 PM

Howard, I think your summary is well argued but I have to say that:

"It seems quite possible to me that the minstrel craze simply prompted memories of the earlier custom and caused a revival"

is difficult with out any evidence.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Snuffy
Date: 18 Jan 09 - 02:52 PM

Howard, I think your summary is well argued but I have to say that: "It seems quite possible to me that the minstrel craze simply prompted memories of the earlier custom and caused a revival" is difficult without any evidence.

Not as difficult as trying to prove that no mummers or dancers had ever resorted to blacking-up until the minstrel craze put the idea into their heads


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: John MacKenzie
Date: 18 Jan 09 - 03:07 PM

The closure of the coal mines might yet turn out to be a blessing in disguise!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 18 Jan 09 - 03:25 PM

I get your point Snuffy but the evidence for all sorts of things is extremely patchy. Very few trails of evidence exist for continuing seasonal, ritual or ceremonial practices can be found across generations.

Clearly none of us doubt that various people blacked up at various times. But what evidence is their that 19C Border Morris were calling on some folk-memory linking them to some blacking up in a Mummers Play in 16 C Cheshire or whatever.

As I said to Dazbo,

"As someone who plays for a border team that "black up" using black, light blue, dark blue, silver and sparkle artistically combined into pretty patterns"

What can I possibly say but ................ the Morris is a living tradition and you are helping it to live......... thanks, simply thanks

Surely the most exciting thing about border Morris, apart obviously from it's performance, is the imagination of it's re-creaters.

Cheers

L in C


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 18 Jan 09 - 06:08 PM

Les - no evidence, I simply said it seemed to be a possibility. It's supported by the argument that while Cotswold morris adopted a number of minstrel tunes, they didn't start blacking up. In the borders, where there had been an earlier custom of blacking up, they not only adopted tunes but also started blacking up again. I don't doubt the minstrel craze was an influence, but whether it was the origin remains unclear.

There just doesn't seem to be firm evidence either way. I don't think it's now possible to say it was "just a disguise" without also admitting the minstrels may have had an influence, but on the other hand I don't think you can simply say that it originated from the minstrels.

Edthefolkie: the whole Border morris style as it is now known, not just the blacking up, was pretty much invented from scratch by Shropshire Bedlams, based on some fairly limited information. John Kirkpatrick's article explains how he developed their style. The Ironmen also started up at about the same time, and say that "Few if any specific details of actual Border Morris dances from the past survive, so our dances are our own interpretations of the 'Border tradition'."


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: pavane
Date: 19 Jan 09 - 04:42 AM

An earlier Bedlam Morris, of course, were mentioned in 1609.
It seems that around that time, it was common to include a jig (often very long) as the final item of the night at the theatre, which goes to explain why the actor William Kemp came to dance a jig to Norwich.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Selchie - (RH)
Date: 20 Jan 09 - 11:36 AM

I'd just like to add my comments to this thread, as posted last week on the previous Welsh Border Thread -   Folklore Reliable Sources: Border Morris.

Try 'Silurian Morris Mens' site. Keith Francis (ex Squire of The Morris Ring, & Silurian) used to have copies of Dave Jones' book 'The Roots of Welsh Border Morris' available. A useful & informative book, covering many of the border village dances & giving details of the dances & tunes used.

Also look at 'The Original Welsh Border Morris Men's site, who only meet & dance once a year around some of the Border villages in Worcestershire, just before Christmas.

Border Morris is covered on Wikipedia. Or you could Google 'Cawte visits Herefordshire'. There's plenty of 'Original Border' information out there. Sorry don't do blue clickies.

I used to dance with Black Jack, a Winter side from Evesham who only dance the original dances, going out at night from December to March. (Evesham's on the outer edge of Welsh Border country, with several good Cotswold sides nearby, some of whom dance Border as well as Cotswold).

Rosie Stroud


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: GUEST,baz parkes
Date: 21 Jan 09 - 04:14 AM

Rosie's comment about Dave Jones bears repeating.

Silurian Morris were dancing border long before it became "trendy"...although the style and kit were very different from what they are now...apart from the blacking up of course. John Ks version of the tradition based on his (and I believe Sue Harris') research did much to popularise the style. Sadly, I believe far too many "border" sides just take the easy option. I have been associated with the Ironmen for over twenty years, and it still ammuses me when I see sides dancing one of our dances and calling it traditional. Yes, the moves are traditional, but the sequence is the teams. True of Bedlams, Silurian etc etc. Actually, probably not Silurian on second thoughts. A similar thing seems to be happening with Fenland molly IMHO

Baz


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: GUEST,joe healey
Date: 21 Jan 09 - 08:13 AM

i am one of the britannia coconut dancers of bacup and our history shows the costume and blacking have always been an integral part of our tradition. its interesting how an old tradition in a modern world can cause debate i suppose it depends on whats in fashion and whats not, we would never dilute this costume/tradition it would become meaningless a desicration of something which has survived everything and which means so much to our community for nigh on two hundred years, to us the caretakers of this magnifiscent and unique dance, it is almost iconic, almost like a religion, we protect it with a passion.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Selchie - (RH)
Date: 21 Jan 09 - 09:56 AM

Baz Parkes said:

Sadly, I believe far too many "border" sides just take the easy option. I have been associated with the Ironmen for over twenty years, and it still ammuses me when I see sides dancing one of our dances and calling it traditional. Yes, the moves are traditional, but the sequence is the teams.

I agree.   

As Border is a fairly simple style of dancing to imitate, many sides devise their own dances, all very well as long as their dancing is well done - in the Border style. Unfortunately, a few sides don't appear to make as much effort with performing as they do with creating weird & wonderful kits, etc.

That said, I believe keeping any Morris Tradition alive is worthwhile, but it would be nice to see more original traditional dances preserved & performed alongside newer ideas. As with all Morris traditions, if you must do it - do it well.

Any interest in keeping Morris alive & out there on the streets & in villages should be welcome.

Rosie Stroud


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: GUEST,Edthefolkie
Date: 21 Jan 09 - 01:01 PM

Joe, that was a wonderful posting, please continue to keep the Nutters on track, no debate as far as I'm concerned!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Bill t' bodger
Date: 21 Jan 09 - 01:56 PM

I was out once with my old Border side when we got heckled by 3 young men, 2 white and 1 black, I was offended by the comments they came up with. On a break from dancing I noticed the Lads hanging about so I went over, I asked the black lad where his family originated from and was told, Nigeria, so I asked if he'd seen them paint their faces,he said yes they wore White to disguise themselves, I rolled up my sleeve and asked would white work on me as a disguise, he said of course not, my point exactly, the 2 white lads started barracking us when we resumed dancing, I caught sight of the black lad hitting 1 of them before actually watching us dance, he had a smile on his face, so I hope he enjoyed seeing a group of white folkies having fun, entertaining a quite large crowd, in peace.

Rascism is not part of the folk dance culture

Cheers Bill


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Azizi
Date: 21 Jan 09 - 04:26 PM

Not totally off-topic:

Bill t' bodger and others, I believe that it's unwise to assume that a nation's traditions are understood by anyone who was born in that nation. Usually over time the original purposes for customs is lost or partially remembered, and/or others reasons are grafted onto that custom and become accepted 'fakelore'. In my opinion, one such 'fakelore' is the assertion that the color 'white' was used in African traditional cultures as a disguise. Just because this reason for an ancient custom was given to you by a descendant of that culture, does not make it true.

I'm a student of traditional African cultures, and by no means know everything there is that initiated or uninitiated people can know about even one of those traditional cultures. However, some information is basic, and easy to find in this Internet age. As a means of helping to set the record straight, I'm going to take this opportunity to share some information about the traditional meaning of the color white in the Yoruba, Nigeria culture. As a result of slavery, the Yoruba culture has greatly influenced religious practices in the Caribbean, South America, and less directly, in the USA.

In the Yoruba culture of Nigeria, "white" is a color of tranquility, purity, peace, and justice.

See this information from http://63.134.236.176/ileife/oba/obatala.html :

"May your life be as clear as water drawn
quite early in the morning
a blessing of Obatala per Bolaji E. Idowu}
Olodumare: God in Yoruba Belief
(1962, London)

...The Orisha Obatala is central to the creation myth of the ancient Yoruba cultures of West Africa, where he is also manifest in the "white gods" of creativity and justice"

In Yoruba Oba means "king" and tala [ala] is undyed fabric, the blank canvas, which is why the King of the White Cloth is said to be a tranquil judge. Obatala is honored with brilliant white cloth, white lace, white beads and cowries, white flowers, silver coins, and silver jewelry. He is honored with white hens, snails, white melon soup, pounded yams, and other white food such as eko, fermented corn wrapped in plantain leaves. His priests and priestesses wear only white, although his warrior avatars Ajaguna & Obamoro add a dash of blood red. Ochosi, the Orisha of the hunt is Obatala's scout and surveyor and guards an inner court of the alter of Obatala in the ancient city of Ile Ife,

Obatala is said to have descended from heaven on a chain to mould the first humans and indeed to mould every child in the womb, although he is only one aspect of Olodumare, the Almighty God, who alone can breathe life into the creations of Obatala.

A saint among saints and the archetypal spirit of creativity, Obatala has been carried to many cultures of the New World, where for centuries he has been honored as the patron of children, childbirth, albinos, and anyone with a birthmark. In the New World as in the Old it is said, "Obatala marks his children." ...

Obatalá is the kindly father of all the orishas and all humanity. He is also the owner of all heads and the mind. Though it was Olorun who created the universe, it is Obatala who is the creator of the world and humanity. Obatala is the source of all that is pure, wise peaceful and compassionate. He has a warrior side though through which he enforces justice in the world. His color is white which is often accented with red, purple and other colors to represent his/her different paths. White is most appropriate for Obatal as it contains all the colors of the rainbow yet is above them. Obatal is also the only orisha that has both male and female paths.

A Praise Song of Obatala

Obatala, strong king of Ejigbo
At the trial a silent, tranquil judge.
The king whose every day becomes a feast.
Owner of the brilliant white cloth.
Owner of the chain to the court of heaven.
He stands behind people who tell the truth.
Protector of the handicapped.
Oshagiyan, warrior with a handsome beard.
He wakes up to create two hundred civilizing customs,
Who holds the staff called opasoro, King of Ifon.

Oshanla* grant me white cloth of my own.
He makes things white.

Tall as a granary, tall as a hill.
Ajaguna, deliver me.
The king that leans on a white metal staff.
collected by Verger

-snip-

*"Oshanla" is a praise name of Obatala. In the USA, Obatala is pronounced oh-bah-tah-lah {without any syllable being emphasized more than the other}

**

"Obatala… is always dressed in white, hence the meaning of his name, Obatala (King or ruler of the white cloth). His worshippers strive to practice moral correctness as unblemished as his robe".
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obatala

-snip-

[Here is a description of the worship place of followers of Lucumi, one form of the Yoruba religion orisha vodun [which became known as 'voodoo'. This religion was and is fervently practiced in parts of West Africa, and in the Caribbean, South America, and the USA by persons who have Black, Brown, or White skin color]

..."The house or temple is usually called "ile" meaning ground, house,or "ile Osha" meaning house of god. There are no center posts nor elaborate veves which are designs on the floor made of a white powder not unlike the East Indian tradition drawn today. These designs called veves in Voodoo are made in a oum'phor, according to the rite, out of wheat flour, corn meal, Guinea flour (wood ashes), powdered leaves (patchouli) red brick powder, rice powder (face powder) and even gunpowder, powdered charcoal, bark or roots.

In Santeria, following Yoruba tradition, [veves are] usually made of powdered calx. This calx was derived in Africa from the natural limestone deposits which were a residue of limestone a rock formed by accumulation of organic remains of shells and coral consisting mainly of Calcium Carbonate (CaCo3) though also containing magnesium carbonate. It is commonly referred to as Chalk (calx) by both ancient and modern writers and it is the formation of the Cretaceous system composed for the most part of the minute shells of the Foraminifera.

These signs are usually traced on the floor by the Santero for only special occasions, if seldom, and not at all as profusely found in a oum'phor.

In ancient Babylon it was called "Usurtu" and in Cuba as in Africa it is called Efun" or "Fun" meaning "white". Whitewash, a common use for painting walls (whiting) is of this substance and along with lime they substituted the African calx which they mixed with powdered talcum, or powdered patchouli leaves for ritual effect.

White is an extremely important color in the Lukumi.

http://www.webster.edu/~corbetre/haiti/voodoo/syncretism.htm

-snip-

[Italics added by me for emphasis]

There are many more online and off-line articles about the meaning of the color 'white' and other colors in traditional African cultures. Was the color 'white' ever used as face paint for the simple purpose of disguising oneself? That is possible. However, the question might be better stated "Was the color 'white' ever used for the 'sole' purpose of disguise?" In my opinion, the traditional meanings of that color were very likely to have been the core reasons for selecting that particular color for 'masking', that is to say, for disguising one's face.

Bill t' bodger, I hasten to say that nothing I have written should be interpreted as condoning the Nigerian man's and his White friends' hecking your performance of Morris dancing. I definitely don't approve such behavior.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: GUEST,Black Hawk on works pc
Date: 22 Jan 09 - 05:10 AM

White is most appropriate for Obatal as it contains all the colors of the rainbow yet is above them.
Would the 'ancients' really know the breakdown of white light to its individual colours?
If you mix pigment paints you dont end up with white.
This comments seems a modern interpretation.
I dont know when the 'rainbow' effect was analysed so ask the question in a search for knowledge.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: pavane
Date: 22 Jan 09 - 05:52 AM

I believe Isaac Newton had some knowledge of this!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: GUEST,Black Hawk on works pc
Date: 22 Jan 09 - 07:38 AM

I believe Isaac Newton had some knowledge of this!
But were his notes available to the people living in Africa at the time these traditions were formulated.
The post above mentions 'ancient Babylon' & I believe that was before Newtons time :-)


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 22 Jan 09 - 08:26 AM

Azizi, that is a fascinating posting. As you say, it is quite easy for the original meaning behind traditions to become diluted or even misunderstood. It is possible that this has happened in England over the custom of blacking up for morris.

I had always accepted the "conventional wisdom" that it was for disguise, and it is only fairly recently that the suggestion that it came from the C19 minstrel craze has taken hold. The reason I started this thread was to test the assumption I had always held.

Your post demonstrates that the use of colour may have nothing to do with imitating other races. A white visitor to West Africa would be mistaken to take offence at Yoruba custons. For similar reasons, I think it is mistaken (even if understandable) to take offence at blacking up for morris.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 22 Jan 09 - 12:40 PM

Fair enough Howard but one ugly little fact is the contribution from "Blackface Minstrelsy" to many forms of popular culture, including Morris.

"Blackface Minstrelsy" was not some innocent art form, it was racist.

L in C


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 22 Jan 09 - 02:19 PM

Les, what were the contributions to popular culture from minstrelsy? There was the minstrel craze itself, which admittedly ran for quite a while but then died out - Al Jolson in the 30s was already at the tail end of it. The "Black and White Minstrel Show" on TV in the 1960s was already referencing a defunct tradition. Then there were some long-lasting popular songs such as those of Stephen Foster (many of which are not objectionable in themselves once you remove the "black" spellings and accent.)I am struggling to come up with others.

Was minstrelsy racist? From our perspective, undoubtedly, but I doubt many of those participating thought in those terms.

The morris and other forms of traditional dance incorporated some minstrel tunes, and in some cases newly popular instruments such as the banjo (just as they had adopted melodeon and concertina, and fiddle before them). In some areas the morris started blacking up, but it seems to have been in areas such as the Welsh Borders where it had previously been the custom. Other areas which also adopted the tunes didn't start blacking up. I don't think the link is proven.

If a white person blacks up in mockery of black people or as a racial stereotype then I agree it would be offensive. If the blacking up is for a different purpose then while I understand why someone may see it as offensive, I don't agree they I correct in doing so. We must agree to differ on this.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Goose Gander
Date: 22 Jan 09 - 03:22 PM

"Les, what were the contributions to popular culture from minstrelsy?"

The musical contributions of minstrelsy - sans 'blacking up' - are extensive, particularly in American music. Country, old-time, blugrass, blues, jazz, ragtime - in other words, American popular music as it developed int he late nineteenth and early twentieth century - all owe something to minstrelsy.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: meself
Date: 22 Jan 09 - 03:34 PM

"I understand why someone may see it as offensive, I don't agree they I correct in doing so. We must agree to differ on this."

I don't think anyone is saying they are "correct" in being offended, simply that they are, or may well be.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: The Borchester Echo
Date: 22 Jan 09 - 03:52 PM


I don't think anyone is saying they are "correct" in being offended, simply that they are, or may well be.


People may well (and rightly) be offended at a lot of things that used to happen: hunting of animals for sport, hanging or transportation for minor offences, child labour, imperialistic warmongering, bad conditions of employment, exploitation of women and blatant militarism. Doesn't mean performance of associated music chronicling or arising from our past should be suppressed just because attitudes and mores are (to a degree and in certain quarters) more enlightened today.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: GUEST,johhny2guitars
Date: 22 Jan 09 - 05:09 PM

thank you for for the review! you are one of the few who appreciates are trying to do. Music is life! unfortutnately our name people off. But any festivals you know might interested??


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 22 Jan 09 - 05:17 PM

Doesn't mean performance of associated music chronicling or arising from our past should be suppressed

Nobody has suggested that it should, so this really is a red herring. In any case, there are precious few songs celebrating child labour or transportation, which would be the analogy with the racism of the minstrel show. There are songs that celebrate hunting, of course, but even that's not a very good example from your point of view: someone who found hunting offensive - or who thought their audience was likely to - would probably choose not to sing Dido Bendigo, there being after all plenty of other songs to choose from. Why then the insistence that Morris sides who black up should continue to do so, and that anyone taking offence should be ignored?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 22 Jan 09 - 05:37 PM

Dido Bendigo is a clearly a hunting song, so there's no question about it. However, the link between blacking up for morris and minstrelsy is not proved, in my opinion. I've set out my reasons before and I won't repeat them, and if some actual evidence of cause and effect can be produced then I'll be glad to reconsider.

Why is blacking up seen as offensive? Because of the assumption that it ridicules black people. But if it is not ridiculing black people, then it is mistaken to be offended by it. If someone nevertheless is offended by it then I regret that but I won't apologise, and I hope they accept that I may be offended at their assumption that it's racist.

Rather than everyone being so ready to take offence, maybe we should all accept each other's traditions as they are and focus on addressing the evil of racism where it actually exists.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 22 Jan 09 - 06:21 PM

Rather than everyone being so ready to take offence, maybe we should all accept each other's traditions as they are

If members of a systematically disadvantaged ethnic minority take offence at something done by members of the majority community, I think common politeness suggests we should take that offence seriously. Besides, if it does derive from traditions having to do with disguise, what's the problem with 'blacking up' in red or navy blue or khaki?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 22 Jan 09 - 06:27 PM

I meant to say, I do agree with the line I quoted - in an ideal world we would all accept one another's traditions as they are. The question is what to do when people, perhaps unreasonably, do take offence. I don't think telling them they're wrong to be offended is a good way to start.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 23 Jan 09 - 03:58 AM

I started this thread to try to find out if there is evidence to support either the usual justification that it was for disguise, or whether it did in fact derive from the minstrels. I've never blacked up myself, although I used to dance Cotswold morris, but I'm still interested in morris and in our traditions generally.

From what I've seen the evidence is inconclusive (however I've not read the full EDS article Ruth quoted from, which is not on line). There are certainly references to disguise being an element, on the other hand it did resume at a time when minstrelsy was popular and when other elements of minstrelsy were adopted by morris. However the Nutters seem to pre-date the minstrels.

In the absence of firm evidence, there seem to be four possible views

1) That blacking up was a direct result of the minstrel craze and is therefore racist

2) That blacking up was already a custom, for purposes of disguise. The minstrel craze may have prompted a revival, but blacking up was not in imitation of the minstrels.

3) It doesn't matter what the origin was, blacking up for any purpose may now be seen as racist and we should avoid giving offence to anyone

4) It doesn't matter what the origin was, blacking up now is clearly not racist in intention and we should be robust in defending our traditions

I think these are all valid opinions. Personally, from the evidence I've seen I'm still comfortable with the view that it was mainly for disguise and the racist argument is a red herring, but I also understand why some hold different views, and I'll be willing to reconsider if clearer evidence emerges about possible links with minstrels. I have no problem with those sides who feel uncomfortable with this and who choose to use another colour, but I also feel able to support those sides who wish to continue blacking up.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: The Borchester Echo
Date: 23 Jan 09 - 04:14 AM

the racism of the minstrel show

What's wrong with Pip's assertion is that minstrel shows were intentionally racist. They weren't. It was no more racially offensive to call a banjo style "nigger tunes" than it was to have "golliwogs" (a toy doll) on jam jars or to call strikebreakers wearing moleskin trousers "blacklegs".

We no longer capture black people and sell them into slavery - that's now reserved for other races (like East Europeans and Chinese). But it happened and happens. This is the kind of practice that needs to be remembered, commemorated and steps taken to eradicate it completely. Not to pretend it never occurred.

This is far more important than bickering about what colour traditional dancers, mummers and musicians use to disguise their faces. The evidence is that they used whatever material was to hand. And what else did sweeps have plenty of? Even the heir to the throne's posh friends know about soot.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 23 Jan 09 - 04:34 AM

What's wrong with Pip's assertion is that minstrel shows were intentionally racist.

I didn't say that they were intentionally racist. There's a big difference between racism and racial hatred; I'm not accusing anyone of the latter.

It was no more racially offensive to call a banjo style "nigger tunes" than it was to have "golliwogs" (a toy doll) on jam jars

Gollies (I collected them too) were based on a caricature image of black people, deriving from a racist view of the world. Calling banjo music "nigger tunes" was always racist. These phrases and images are racist and always were; at one time they weren't seen as offensive, but that was because at that time a level of racism was completely normal.

or to call strikebreakers wearing moleskin trousers "blacklegs".

Blacklegs are, of course, another red herring.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: The Borchester Echo
Date: 23 Jan 09 - 04:52 AM

Calling banjo music "nigger tunes" was always racist

Well, no. It was actually another of your expressions, completely "normal". Through my banjo-playing friend referred to somewhere above, I have come across musicians of whatever hue who refer to these tunes thus because this is how they are classified musically. A verbal shorthand, if you like.

In one of those interminable war films there was a dog called "Nigger". Because he was black. I understand that the word is now dubbed over. Once there was a fabric dye called "Nigger Brown" which described exactly what it was on the actual tin but you can no longer get it.

This all seems rather trivial when confronted with real racism, and the actual threat to our cultural heritage from the nasty right.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Ruth Archer
Date: 23 Jan 09 - 05:22 AM

On the other hand, Azizi, who is the only person of colour that I'm aware of who contributes to this and related discussions, does find the word offensive, even in that historical context. The only black caller (that I'm aware of) in England contributed to the article in EDS and said he felt uncomfortable about Morris sides blacking up. I think these points of view need to be considered, as there are so few people of different ethnicities who currently engage with English traditions.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 23 Jan 09 - 05:32 AM

It was actually another of your expressions, completely "normal".

Yes, it was completely normal, because using that word for black people was completely normal. It was normal - and probably didn't offend many people, if anyone - and it was racist.

There's a line in A Mon Like Thee where the long-lost brother reveals he's "as rich as any Jew". I'm sure the attitude that phrase expresses was normal & unremarkable in the culture that song came from, and it may never have caused any offence to anyone. It's still an anti-semitic attitude.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 23 Jan 09 - 08:26 AM

Not very long ago, to call someone "black" was offensive.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 23 Jan 09 - 08:41 AM

Language changes - Henry Louis Gates called his memoir _Colored People_ to highlight the way that the phrase "colored people" had been replaced by "Negro", which was then replaced by "African American", which was finally replaced by... "people of color". But "colored people" was offensive because of the demeaning attitude it conveyed - and the degrading practices with which it was associated - rather than because there's anything intrinsically offensive about combining those two words. If "black" ever was offensive here*, it isn't any more, because it's been reclaimed by people calling *themselves* black (or 'Black British').

*I'm not convinced, actually - those polite circumlocutions like 'dark-skinned gentleman' always struck me as *more* offensive than 'black'.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 24 Jan 09 - 05:09 AM

Ruth, I agree that others' points of view need to be considered, but that does not necessarily mean that we should alter something to accommodate them.

Let me draw a parallel with another tradition: in a number of Mediterranean countries there is a custom of religious parades of people dressed in robes, wearing tall pointed hoods with eye holes:

Penitentes in Seville

I speculate that is an image that some people, especially perhaps African-Americans, might be uncomfortable with. Should the penitentes change their tradition just because their costume has been misappropriated?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 24 Jan 09 - 12:30 PM

Should the penitentes change their tradition just because their costume has been misappropriated?

If a sizeable number of African-Americans were transplanted to Seville, I think the penitentes would change their tradition right quick.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Cats
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 03:43 AM

Purely froma a factual standpoint and not enetering into any argument, I return to the main thread re blacking up. This is not for morris as such, but may be related. Noone has yet mentioned the ancient practice of 'smudging nights', recorded as far back as 39 - 65 CE by Lucan in Pharsalia. 'On these nights people burned healing herbs, mugwort, Juniper, milk thistle and fir resin, and smudged house and stable to ward off demonic influences and to conjure the rebirth of the sun after the dark days'. [Ratsch and Muller-Ebeling, 2003. As 'smudging' was common place it is an extention of the thought to say they may have also smudged themselves as they would then have been the only remaining harbour for evil spirits if they had protected their homes and animals. The evil spirits would not have recognised them as they were smudged the same as everything else.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 06:43 AM

Is that a straw? I just cannot reach it but...................

L in C


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Sleepy Rosie
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 10:17 AM

Cats - I think the "smudging" you refer to there, would be not in the sense of 'making something look dirty' or sooty, but rather 'to fill with smoke' or inscense.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: greg stephens
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 11:58 AM

POssibly the orignal Latin for these smudging nights might be relevant. Is it a smoky word, or a blackened word?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Cats
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 12:23 PM

Don't know. The inference was that things were smudged with the ashes, as opposed to just an incense type use, so I thought it might be of interest as it had such an early reference.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 01:07 PM

Both Google and Google Scholar are coming up empty on 'Lucan' and 'smudging'. Any more details? Ratsch and M-E are historians of shamanism, witchcraft and psychotropic medicine - interesting stuff, but I'm not sure how far I'd trust them as classicists.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Sleepy Rosie
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 02:51 PM

"Ratsch and M-E are historians of shamanism, witchcraft and psychotropic medicine"

Ratsch Phd. is an anthropologist and ethnopharmacologist. Muller-Ebling Phd. is an art historian and anthropologist. Their work as far as I can tell is pretty academically sound.

I've just scan-read the chapter on "Incense for the Holy Nights" in their Pagan Christmas (which is kicking around nearby coincidentally!), and I didn't spot any reference to smudging with ashes there. That's not to say they don't discuss this, I just haven't spotted anything on that.

The relationship between ceremonial shamanic 'smudging' "with the smoke that rises from certain woods, resins and leaves" and Catholic "Holy Smoke" is discussed. With special reference to the relationship between the German word for Christmas 'Weihnachten' and the related German 'Weihrauch' meaning "incense" or "Sacred Smoke." They also go on to offer "Incense Recipies for Smudging Nights."


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Sleepy Rosie
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 03:16 PM

Ah, here's the Lucan quote on page 14

"Nature's rythm stops. The night becomes longer and the day's keep waiting.The ether does not obey it's law; andt he whirling firmament becomes motionless, as soon as it hears the magic spell. Jupiter - who drives the celestial vault that turns on its vast axis - is surprised by the fact that it does not want to turn. All at once, witches drench everything with rain, hide the warm sun behind clouds, and there's thunder in the sky without Jupiter realising it."

The authors follow this quotation with descriptions of common practices of burning herbs to ward off the types of dark influences he is describing.

Still can't see any reference to ashes, but again that's not to say there are none.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: The Borchester Echo
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 03:23 PM

I didn't know Lucan suffered from greengrocers' apostrophe disease.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 03:33 PM

So R & M-E don't say there's any reference to 'smudging nights' in Lucan?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Sleepy Rosie
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 03:34 PM

Well, he seems to in the translation I was touch typing from. Though at second glance I also seem to have credited him with a couple of typos all of my very own creation...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?
From: Sleepy Rosie
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 03:44 PM

Not as far as I can see from scanning. And that's the only reference in teh index to Lucan in their Pagan Christmas.


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