To mark their participation in the Dubai World Expo, the Stilt Walkers of Namur invite us to discover an ongoing tradition that is still part of the modern world despite being more than six centuries old. This tradition is about sharing, opening up to the world and linking generations.
Did you say stilt walkers?
The French term "échasseur" designates the use of stilts, in the Namur region. It corresponds to the term "échassier" in the dictionary, but refers more specifically to the Namur jousts. This is a joust rather than a fight. The joust is a discipline that is performed in teams and aims to be respectful and friendly. The jousts pit the Avresses against the Mélans. Historically and through the use of specific colours, these companies represent the clash between the representatives of the centre and the suburbs of Namur. This friendliness can be determined when the Stilt Walkers tell you about their joust, because they talk as much about stilts as about the marvellous encounters they experienced during their performances.
A tradition open to the world
The first historical traces of stilt-walking in Namur appear in a document dated 8 December 1411. Entitled the "Cri du perron", this official document published by the Count of Namur forbids the practice of stilt-jousting to people over 13 years old. But this six-centuries-old tradition is by no means confined to the Namur region alone. It is an important symbol of Walloon folklore (in the noble sense of the word) and the Stilt Walkers are regularly invited to perform their spectacular shows all over the world. And as they travel, these enthusiastic teams cannot fail to leave an impression. Through their discipline and their engaging personalities, these Walloon ambassadors offer an invitation to share folklore and culture. Namur also regularly welcomes foreign companies and opens our eyes to a wide cultural diversity.
And where do women fit into all this?
Considered a priori a strong, virile discipline, the practice of stilt-walking is as much a question of mastering techniques as of team strategy. And girls have a special place in this. Since 2018, female stilt-walkers have increased the ranks in Namur. The level of the female competitors is well above that of a secondary role. Although the term used to describe them is still being debated, their participation in jousts is a reality and is being emulated. This female presence helps to bring this age-old tradition into the modern world.
A world cultural heritage in the making
The Stilt Walkers of Namur have registered with UNESCO for the worldwide recognition of their rich cultural heritage. This is an important dimension of the preservation and promotion of Namur, Walloon and Belgian heritage. It is also a long process that comprises several important steps. There is a certain caution when they address the issue because they wish to respect UNESCO's protocol on the matter. This humble attitude deserves even more respect because it reflects the character of the people who represent the Stilt Walkers.
Much more than just a sport
As well as being a specific sport with its own rules and techniques, the Stilt Walkers also convey a rich, important history, linked to a remarkable regional setting. But it is also the human dimension of the Stilt Walkers that is passed down from generation to generation, a subtle mix of courage, strength and enthusiasm. On meeting the Stilt Walkers, the world becomes more open, more welcoming and more curious about the culture of others. Long may they live!
To discover the Stilt Walkers of Namur, you can find all the information you need on their website: https://echasseurs.org/en/
Are you interested in Wallonia-Brussels' participation in the Dubai World Expo? Find all the details: https://walloniaexpodubai.be/en/wallonia-brussels-week.html