Context: I heard about this ritual from my friend MG, who is originally from Ghent, but went to boarding school in England and finally ended up at USC as a student. We talked for a while about the related history of this ritual, and MG is the type of person to ramble so in the interest of keeping the collection entry concise and readable I have shortened our conversation to the best of my ability while staying true to MG’s telling.
Collection: In the 16th century, the King of Spain, Charles V, invaded Belgium and Ghent was now Spanish territory. So in 1541 or something like that Ghent’s population refused to pay taxes because they wanted to resist the Spanish ruler. [Long tangent about how King Charles is from Ghent] So they decided to revolt and got like heavily f*cking suppressed, and a lot of people died. As a punishment for the revolt they had to walk around the city in nooses like this *imitating the walk with his arms held straight out in front of him* to show the punishment all in a line all attached to this one cord to humiliate the Ghent population to show them that they have no authority no strength no like.. yaknow they are basically owned by the Spanish. So that was like a scarring experience but we are still so proud of resisting and like trying to protect our families our values our homes. Now its become a symbol of resistance and a symbol of stubbornness and pride of the Ghent population. The Ghent population in general is known as a stubborn population that does what it wants like within a country doing its own thing. [Long tangent about banking systems and the history of Ghent] So the tradition remembers that period because it was a period of thriving for the Ghent population.
Analysis: This ritual is very interesting because MG told me that it isn’t tied to a specific date, rather it is done during hard times. The last one he could recall was in 2008 during the financial crisis which was hard on the people. Additionally, MG said that it is more of a somber thing; people don’t celebrate or gather too much. It is more of something that happens as a reminder of the Ghent peoples strength that people can observe passively throughout the day. I think that this ritual says a lot about the culture of Ghent, as well as Belgium as a whole. Being a small nation without much power on the world stage, the people of Belgium take pride in their ability to silently resist authority. Reenacting this historical event is a way to bring the people of Ghent together and show that even through difficult times they will continue to resist and thrive.