February 22nd, 2009 – by: Adrian_Liston
From Verviers we caught a bus through the snowy highlands of Hautes Fagnes to the town of Malmédy, in the German-speaking Eastern Cantons of Belgium.
The Eastern Cantons only became part of Belgium in 1920, after they were annexed from Germany as part of the Treaty of Versailles after the end of World War I (as compensation for Germany violating Belgium's neutrality in the Great War). They were called in Belgium the cantons rédimés
, the "redeemed cantons", because originally they had been part of the loose Belgian area, being taken over by Prussia following the redrawing of the map of Europe at the Congress of Vienna in 1815.
We were in Malmedy
to see the famous Cwarmé carnival.
The celebration is an ancient one, with the earliest recorded document in 1459 implying that the tradition was well established even then. It has been banned several times
but has always rebounded. Cwarmé is a simply delightful event. It is fun, participative, genuine and historic - the fifteen costumes worn can stretch back hundreds of years and include not just a costume but an entire personna, with rights and obligations, rules and exceptions. With ease, Cwarmé
is the parade which I have enjoyed the most, laughing at loud with pure delight and anticipating the next quirk (the previous winner in my "parades I enjoyed the most" was Fremont's naked bicycle ride
Before the parade a brass band marches la Haguète to the town square. La Haguète are dressed in rich velvets with large coloured ostrich feathers pluming from their hats. They carry around a hape-tchâr (flesh snatcher) which was originally designed to immobilise lepars. During the medieval dance they use it to make noise and in display, but later on in the parade they would pinch bystanders on the legs with it, until they would bow down and beg for mercy "Pardon, Haguète, à l’cawe du ramon, dju nu l’f’rès jamês pus" (Forgive me, Haguète, I swear on the broomstick, I will never do it again). Following the dance by la Haguète, le Hârlikin entered, dressed as bright clowns, and started to dance together in a knife fight.
With the dances complete, the parade began. With only 11,000 people in Malmedy and 2,500 of them in the parade, every onlooker was right at the front and felt drawn into the parade by the different characters.
My favourite were le Long-Né, who walked around in strings of around six, with their hands in white gloves folded behind their backs, the red noses of their maskes tilted into the sky and their small pipe leading the way. When the lead Long-Né found a victim, they would start to follow and imitate them in every way, each in turn down the line. Their victim would join into the parade and try to confuse them, walking backwards so the Long-Né couldn't see them, dodging behind other performers, running into the crowd or dropping to do push ups. Some people seemed oblivious to the imitation, others ended up running laps around the parade trying to escape. They obviously didn't know the key to getting them to stop - buying them a round of drinks. Le Longès-Brèsses were also delightful, with their long arm extensions they would steal a hat from one person and then put it on another.
One gentleman had to constantly walk up to me to regain his hat from my head after le Longès-Brèsses ("long arms") started to pick on him. Le Longès-Brèsses stole Lydia's hat and made her run out into the parade after it. Once she was in the middle la Haguète immobilised her with the hape-tchâr. Seeing her at risk, le Sâvadje Cayèt (a blackface African costume) came and wacked her with a foam rubber club, while other costumes hit her on the head with an inflated pigs bladders and foxes tails. At least the boy with a dead herring on a stick wasn't around at the time.
Nadia got dragged out into the parade for a mobile hair-dressing, she got off lightly compared to the woman who was taken out by the shoe-repairs and had to do a round of the parade in a borrowed gumboot after they stole her shoe (and threw pairs of thongs and old soles at the crowd).
Le Long-Ramon ("long brooms') walked around with a five metre broom and dusted our heads, especially delighting in surprising those who were watching the parade from windows above. Le Boldjji (bakers) dressed up as a fat baker covered in pretzels walked behind the crowd and used their baking paddles to fondle the bottoms of women "as if they were warm, round loaves of bread from the baking-oven". Le Pièrot dressed up in white fluffy clothes and threw blood oranges and walnuts to us in the crowd. Traditionally when le Pièrot run out they are meant to fall down so that the children can drag them to the cart while singing "Pove Pièrot qui n'a pus dès djèyes!" (Poor Pièrot has no more nuts!)
Malmedy Nightlife & Entertainment review
The festival of Cwarmé in Malmedy has been going on for at least 500 years, on the Sunday before Shrove Tuesday every year. It is simply delightful, … read entire review