I still remember the first and only time I have seen it. I don’t know this giant feathers, the chaos, the movements it’s…it’s quite fascinating, but also intimidating for a child of four years old I guess. They start to march like.
[gets up and starts imitating the movements of the performance and the rhythm played]
ts-mpa ts-mpa ts-mpa.
My father used to imitate them perfectly.
I remember being astonished by this ritual. What they do is basically march, all dressed in costumes with the colors of the Belgian flag, so black, red and yellow, and wearing clogs and feathered hats.
Then they start throwing oranges to the crowd, because, if I am not wrong, it is supposed to bring luck.
My informant is my father who was born in Belgium from Italian immigrants and who spent the first years of his life in Mons, before moving to Italy. Even after his transferring, he continued to visit many times each year his native country, also because much of his family still lived there. He remembers taking part as spectator to this festival when really young, this is why his memories are a bit confused. When recounting it, he really placed much emphasis on the sensorial impressions the performance gave him, so the sounds of the clogs, the music, the visual effects of the feathers and costumes.
Moreover, being Belgium the place where he was born, he visibly has a certain degree of emotional attachment to the country and his infant memories.
He told me this story several times when asked about his first years of life in Belgium. This particular espied occurred in his living-room, while we were chatting over a coffee.
Many are the Carnivals practiced around the world, but this surly is one of the most peculiar ones. There are various hypothesis on the origin of this festival; the more acclaimed one states that the carnival -despite the first textual references belonging to the end of the 18th century-traces its origins back to the second half of the 16th century, when Spain conquered Peru. As a matter of fact, it is said the costumes of the Gilles recall, in someway, some pieces of clothing of the Incas, and that the thrown the oranges symbolizes the Incan gold. This hypothesis can find resolution in the ‘lavish’ and majestic headgear made of ostrich feathers, but, as my informants points out at the end of his interview, different could be the reasons of the oranges’ thrown.
In fact, the reason why the oranges symbolize and bring luck could find an explanation in the fact that they were not a common fruit easily procurable in Belgium. In this way, especially in the past, they were synonym of prosperity and richness, as it meant that the country and, in auricular the city of Binche, could afford foreign product and, therefore, be quite wealthy. Consequently, oranges become an emblem, a magical object meant to homeopathically symbolize fortune and success.
On the other side, it is interesting to notice the strong nationalistic and identity’s sentiment the Gilles symbolize. In fact, all the 800 dressed men who perform in the festival must have rigorously been residents in Binche for at least five years, the uniform they bear has the colors of the Belgian flag and the shoes they wear are typical of the geographical region in which Binche -and Belgium- is located.
-“Carnival of Binche.” Cultural Studies: Holidays Around the World, edited by Pearline Jaikumar, Omnigraphics, Inc., 6th edition, 2018. Credo Reference, https://libproxy.usc.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/hfcwd/carnival_of_binche/0?institutionId=887.
-Alford, V. “Carnival at Binche.” Folklore, vol. 66, no. 3, 1955, pp. 352–357. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1258143.