Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Black Pete and Haji Firuz

Holland, along with parts of Belgium and Germany, has an alternative to Christmas. It bears similarities to the Anglo-saxon feast (an old man with a huge white beard and a red cape), but in Holland it is called Sinterklaas and is celebrated from mid-November to 5 December. It's based on Saint Nicolas, the forefather of Santa Claus and he comes from Spain with Moorish slaves instead of from the North Pole with reindeer.

The slaves have become Black Petes which some consider racist (certainly the politically correct and some foreigners). The Black Petes most probably do have their roots in slavery, but the Moors were more slave traders than slaves themselves and the way the feast has been celebrated for the last few generations, the feast is anything but racist. With a deeply rooted tradition of toe-curlingly infantile rhymes disguising pithy truths that are otherwise left unsaid, with chocolate letters and spicy cookies, it's enormous fun and deserves to be regarded as world heritage. But there have been minor protests in the last couple of years and I can understand Americans especially being confused by this display of black-face.

Anyway, suddenly some Professor from the University of the West Indies has apparently been commissioned to "investigate" for the UN. But before she even started she condemned the feast and said it should be banned. That's one sure way to unite the Netherlands as never before. A Facebook page dedicated to preserving the feast got 1.5 million likes in only one day. Our professor was interviewed on the Dutch news and commented that the Dutch should just adopt Father Christmas and abandon Sint Nicolaas. Even UN diplomatic circles are now apparently embarrassed by her insensitivity and if anything encourages and evokes racism it is this stupid professor from Jamaica by the name of Verene Sheperd.

BTW - there are many similar festivities and there is even an Iranian feast based on the same mix of characters with black-faces - Haji Firuz - and that is on the world heritage list. (Not to mention the Washington Redskins.)

You would think a Jamaican professor would be more worried about gays being murdered in Jamaica (and Iran) than in combatting a festive celebration of diversity which does have its roots back in the 17th century with young slave-boy servants. But let's enjoy this feast and focus on solving more serious problems - wars, a global economic crisis , the abuse of women and gays and growing extremism, terrorism and fundamentalism in the world. 



  1. An excellent piece in today's Volkskrant by Marleen de Vries takes a closer look at background and includes the argument:

    It's difficult to explain to foreigners like Verene Shepherd that the annual procession is part of the pact made by the Dutch after the Reformation involving the tacit agreement that the Sint, and later Piet, do not actually exist. Hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets to maintain a fantasy! It’s even more difficult to explain that the parents themselves are Sint and Black Pete. For more than a hundred years, they have written poems and signed them in the name of Sint or Piet and done their utmost to maintain the illusion for as long as possible. When their children finally find out that dad and mum are in fact behind the duo, then that isn’t the end of the story. From that moment on, the whole family is in on the plot.
    That’s why the Dutch find it so difficult to say farewell to the duo. If you attack Sint and Piet, then you attack the parents themselves and at the same time their integrity as educator. That explains the ferocity of the debate. Now we understand why most parents aren’t particularly interested in the origins of Sint and Piet. The parents are the duo themselves, as were their parents, grandparents and great grandparents in the past.

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  3. Verene Sheperd was indeed only "apparently" commissioned. She forged UN paper to act as if she had some authority, but apparently the official UNESCO representative in Brussels has now pointed out that she is only pursuing her own agenda. She's only a "consultant" and that tends to mean a licence to print money. (Algemeen Dagblad: