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Folklore: Blacking up for morris - origin?

Sleepy Rosie 25 Jan 09 - 03:44 PM
Sleepy Rosie 25 Jan 09 - 03:34 PM
Phil Edwards 25 Jan 09 - 03:33 PM
The Borchester Echo 25 Jan 09 - 03:23 PM
Sleepy Rosie 25 Jan 09 - 03:16 PM
Sleepy Rosie 25 Jan 09 - 02:51 PM
Phil Edwards 25 Jan 09 - 01:07 PM
Cats 25 Jan 09 - 12:23 PM
greg stephens 25 Jan 09 - 11:58 AM
Sleepy Rosie 25 Jan 09 - 10:17 AM
Les in Chorlton 25 Jan 09 - 06:43 AM
Cats 25 Jan 09 - 03:43 AM
Phil Edwards 24 Jan 09 - 12:30 PM
Howard Jones 24 Jan 09 - 05:09 AM
Phil Edwards 23 Jan 09 - 08:41 AM
Howard Jones 23 Jan 09 - 08:26 AM
Phil Edwards 23 Jan 09 - 05:32 AM
Ruth Archer 23 Jan 09 - 05:22 AM
The Borchester Echo 23 Jan 09 - 04:52 AM
Phil Edwards 23 Jan 09 - 04:34 AM
The Borchester Echo 23 Jan 09 - 04:14 AM
Howard Jones 23 Jan 09 - 03:58 AM
Phil Edwards 22 Jan 09 - 06:27 PM
Phil Edwards 22 Jan 09 - 06:21 PM
Howard Jones 22 Jan 09 - 05:37 PM
Phil Edwards 22 Jan 09 - 05:17 PM
GUEST,johhny2guitars 22 Jan 09 - 05:09 PM
The Borchester Echo 22 Jan 09 - 03:52 PM
meself 22 Jan 09 - 03:34 PM
Goose Gander 22 Jan 09 - 03:22 PM
Howard Jones 22 Jan 09 - 02:19 PM
Les in Chorlton 22 Jan 09 - 12:40 PM
Howard Jones 22 Jan 09 - 08:26 AM
GUEST,Black Hawk on works pc 22 Jan 09 - 07:38 AM
pavane 22 Jan 09 - 05:52 AM
GUEST,Black Hawk on works pc 22 Jan 09 - 05:10 AM
Azizi 21 Jan 09 - 04:26 PM
Bill t' bodger 21 Jan 09 - 01:56 PM
GUEST,Edthefolkie 21 Jan 09 - 01:01 PM
Selchie - (RH) 21 Jan 09 - 09:56 AM
GUEST,joe healey 21 Jan 09 - 08:13 AM
GUEST,baz parkes 21 Jan 09 - 04:14 AM
Selchie - (RH) 20 Jan 09 - 11:36 AM
pavane 19 Jan 09 - 04:42 AM
Howard Jones 18 Jan 09 - 06:08 PM
Les in Chorlton 18 Jan 09 - 03:25 PM
John MacKenzie 18 Jan 09 - 03:07 PM
Snuffy 18 Jan 09 - 02:52 PM
Les in Chorlton 18 Jan 09 - 02:23 PM
John MacKenzie 18 Jan 09 - 02:21 PM
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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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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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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 - 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: 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: 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: 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 - 04:14 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: 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: 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: 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: 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 - 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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 - 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: 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: 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 - 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: 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: 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: 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: 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,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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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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