Stilt Walking of Belgium: fights on stilts

(VOVWORLD) - Like many other European countries, Belgium is famous for numerous festivals that take place all year round, some of which are the biggest in the world. Aside from Majorette, stilt walking is one of popular activities in Belgian festivals. VOV interviewed Anke Van Lacker, Deputy Head of Mission at the Belgian Embassy in Vietnam, to find out more.

Hello Anke! Welcome back to VOV24/7’s Culture Rendezvous! Could you tell us about Belgian stilt walking?

Stilt walking is a very old tradition in Belgium. It’s actually something that grew out of necessity because people had to go through the water. They used big wooden sticks to go through water and then it developed into some kind of cultural and folkloristic event.

How old is the game? It must be very old, right?

 It’s quite old, in 1411 in the Belgian city of Namur, there were some fights between the stilt walkers, and it has gradually expanded over the whole of Belgium where there is a lot of folkloristic troupes with bands doing stilt walking.

Stilt Walking of Belgium: fights on stilts - ảnh 1 Stilt walkers of Namur (Photo:

What do you mean by saying they are involved in a fight?

It’s call a fight but it’s playing. They have two teams and they play against each other. It’s a very old tradition. For each fight, the contestants stand in line. At the sound of the drums, the two teams move forward to the place of combat. The aim is to make their opponent fall suing their elbows or stilts. The last person standing wins the golden stilt. The stilt walkers are accompanied by a band. They are walking on some kind of rhythm. A lot of small villages in Belgium have this kind of troupes. They do it as a kind of leisure activity.  They practice together. They make nice performances.

There’s a royal stilt walking team in Belgium? Is that right?

Yeah they’re called the royal stilt walkers of Merchtem. The one that performed in Vietnam was stilt walkers from Merchtem. It’s a troupe from a small village in Belgium. There were 125 people and 42 of them came to Vietnam to perform here including people playing in the band and people walking around on the stilts. They went to the Hue Festival and they participated in the EU Village Festival. They’re quite famous. They also have royal protection because they have the emblem of the royal family. They used to travel with our King before he became the King.

Stilt Walking of Belgium: fights on stilts - ảnh 2 The Royal Stilt Walkers of Merchtem (Photo:

Oh, there is a kind of bird called stilt-bird, right?

Yeah. When you look at it, it’s like walking on big wooden sticks, but it’s actually imitating birds because some of water birds have very long legs. In French, “échasses” is the stilt, and the bird is called “échassier”. It’s almost the same word. There are some relations between bird walking in the water like flamingo and stilt walkers.

How long are the stilts?

Actually, when they train, they make some choreography. They start on very large stilts. The highest stilts are about 4 meters high. They also have 3 meter-high stilts which is already quite high. 

I’ve seen a lot of male stilt walkers. Is it only for men?

No, it’s not only for male. There are a lot of female stilt walkers. I think there were almost 55% of stilt walkers are men because they are stronger, but there are a lot of girls participating of course.  

Do they have to wear uniform when performing?

Mainly they dress in special costumes. They wear the Belgian flag colored costumes. They started wearing them after the World War 2 when Belgium was liberated from the occupation. They decided to celebrate by wearing the Belgian flag with 3 colors as their emblem. 

When do they perform stilt walking?

They usually do it on a lot of occasions. Some of villages have the tradition to have local fair where you have activities for kids, food, and exhibitions. Once a year, in the village of Merchtem, they have a fair. Everyone has a 3-day holiday. They will perform there. It’s a cultural event. They usually walk on the street so it’s really a street art where people gather together and have fun.

Thank you, Anke, for the talk! That was our interview with Anke Van Lacker about stilt walking, one of popular activities in Belgian festivals.

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