Namur's stilt walkers recognised worldwide
UNESCO has finally added stilt jousting to its list of Intangible Heritage of Humanity. This recognition has undoubtedly delighted our Namur stilt walkers, who now join the crème de la crème of world folklore. They are one of the oldest stilt-walking groups in the world, with more than 600 years of existence.
These peaceful jousts have existed since 1441, and have been part of the great popular festivals of Namur ever since; they are now also part of festivals in Wallonia. Two teams compete - the Mélans, representing the old town, with their yellow and black stilts, and the Avresses, representing the suburbs, with their red and white stilts. The goal, of course, is to knock down a maximum number of participants from the opposing team, using various methods, such as shoulder bumps, elbow parries, stilt blocks, genuflections, etc. Training is very demanding, so that the stilt-walkers can master all these practices, just like in high-level sports.
The jousts gained international recognition as early as the 16th century, and the great names of the time attended them, including Charles V, Mary of Hungary, Ferdinand I of Habsburg, and other royalty. But it was not just great names who attended, as people would willingly travel for several days to attend the jousts.