Frequently asked questions

Photograph of the Valiant Soldier talking to the audience 1. Why the black faces?

We don't know! Disguise features in many old traditions, either the face is hidden or it is blackened. This occurs throughout Europe, in many diferent traditions. Some people will give explanations such as "these were local people who went begging and they didn't want to be recognised". Really? These were small communities, everyone would be well aware of who the mummers were. I would also challenge the begging aspect - these were usually employed, proud, working men. They would not need or wish to beg from their neighbours. A gift of cake or ale was considered to bring luck, monetary value was not considered. I have yet to hear an explanation for black faces that stands up to examination or has any supporting evidence. We really don't know. But it is part of our tradition and records show that the Middlesex mummers blacked their faces - so, to be true to our origins, we black our faces.

2. Isn't it politically incorrect to black-up?

In my experience this question is always raised by white people. We have never had a problem with black people. They can easily see we are not trying to parody them. In any case, why should they be insulted because we make ourselves look like them? Imitation, after all, is the sincerest form of flattery. Surely by changing the tradition and not blacking up we would be saying that there is something shameful about having a black face. I imagine that there are african tribes who whiten their faces - would they change centuries of tradition so as not to offend Europeans? I suspect not. Would Europeans be offended anyway? I think not.

3. What is the collection for?

The aim of the Herga Mummers is to keep this local tradition alive and to make people aware of their cultural history. The collection pays our expenses - equipment maintenance, make up, etc - if these are not covered by fees from paid performances. Usually we collect considerably more than we need and the (large) excess is donated to charity. Usually we donate to Comic Relief as this seems somehow appropriate.