Blacking-up

Photograph of the Valiant Soldier talking to the audience

Blacking-up for Morris dancing and mummers has become increasingly controversial in recent years. The Herga Mummers black their faces only for disguise; there is no intention to offend and no offence should be taken.

Until the middle of the twentieth century every household had a ready supply of soot from coal fires and candles. It was easy to smear this on the face and become someone else. The blackened face was a simple, free disguise. The change in appearance was often taken further by wearing a jacket inside out or sewing strips of rage or paper onto one’s clothes, again cheap and readily available materials. In this strange garb you become a different person, separate from your usual self. You can have a very different personality, no one will recognise you. It’s ideal for strange pastimes like mumming! Dressing-up like this is widely recorded in past times.

Today, stage make-up has replaced soot – it’s a lot easier to get off! The Herga Mummers keep the strips of cloth and other props, made from whatever is to hand, have been added.

Unlike the minstrel shows of the 19th and early 20th centuries we are not imitating black people. We are not caricatures or parodies. Nothing in our clothing, script or manner relates to Afro-American or Afro-Caribbean culture or supports the idea that we are trying to imitate people from these backgrounds. The black face is the only similarity, and this is simply a historic convenience.

The Herga Mummers will keep blacking-up under review but for the time being we remain true to our traditions.