A Belgium festival has been criticised after its chief protagonist "the Savage", appeared in town the town of Ath on Sunday, with anti-racism groups strongly lambasting the use of the character and his blackface.
The folk festival, called Ducasse d’Ath, has roots that can be traced to the 16 century, and is endorsed by UNESCO as a cultural heritage event, takes place 40 miles west of Brussels, reports the New York Post.
On Sunday, the character, dressed in blackface, with chains around his wrists and ankles, yelled incomprehensible sounds, scared and cuddled children in the streets, and left marks of black paint on them.
Mouhad Reghif, from the anti-racism group the Brussels Panthers, said:
This character has all the degrading attributes that black people are given in the racist imagery of our societies.
He then added:
It is totally racist and it maintains a degrading image of the black person, which has consequences in everyday life.
This month, the group sponsored a partition, signed by dozens of advocacy groups, saying that the blackface character insulted and mocked black people, and also demanding that UNESCO remove its recognition of the festival, reports the New York Post.
However, the mayor of Ath, rejected the criticism. In a statement to Reuters, he said:
It’s mostly people from outside who talk about racism, anti-black sentiment. At Ath, we never considered ‘the Savage’ to be a racist figure.
It is rather a character that the inhabitants of Ath adore… when one get a kiss from ‘the Savage’, we have good luck all the year ahead.
However, spokesman Mouhad Reghif added:
This ‘Savage’ character… is symptomatic of the problem we have in Belgium with the colonial history of our country.
People still think….that we brought civilization to Africa, that they have evolved thanks to us, which is totally false.