Zwarte Piet and Zwarte Sinterklazen - Wild roar
Sinterklaas useArnold-Jan Scheer - he is a journalist, theater and television maker - became interested in Sinterklaas customs and the figure of Zwarte Piet. In the 1980s he wrote an article about Sinterklaas use on the Wadden Islands for the Haagse Post magazine and since then he has pursued similar traditions. To all corners of Europe - the best preserved customs take place in isolated regions - he witnessed and documented the traditional festivals.
Wild Geraas - the documentaryScheer immersed himself in those customs that take place in the dark months of the year, and discovered corresponding archetypes and figures that are unmistakably reminiscent of the Dutch Black Pete. Together with cameraman and documentary maker Roy Dames, he traveled to remote places to make film recordings and conduct interviews. It resulted in the 52-minute documentary Wild roar, a search for the origin of the Sinterklaas party.
Zwarte Piet is not a racistScheer spent more than 30 years conducting his research when he ended up in the middle of the discussion about Zwarte Piet in 2013. Scheer is not a spokesperson for Piet's proponents, he is not climbing the barricade against the opponents. He has collected data for decades and can substantiate with images and facts what the anti-Piet movement does not want to hear: Zwarte Piet does not originate from the time of colonialism and is not a suppression of fellow brown people. Zwarte Piet is not a racist.
Wild Geraas clarifiesSupporters and opponents of Zwarte Piet fight each other with fire and sword. While it seems increasingly difficult to control, avoid or steer this conflict - which flares up every year in the months prior to December 5 -, the documentary Wild Geraas clarifies the matter. This film is about the origin of the Sinterklaas party, and also about the role of Zwarte Piet as his helper in all his forms throughout the centuries. Wild Geraas is about more than just a Sinterklaas discussion.
Black painted Mummers in England / Source: PEHowland, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)
Arnold-Jan Scheer gets black marks / Source: Arnold-Jan Scheer
Prehistoric cultural heritageThe images shot throughout Europe speak volumes. Together with interviews with experts, these show that the party belongs to a particularly ancient, prehistoric cultural heritage, from an area that extends from England to India. The claim that Zwarte Piet has to do with slavery or racism is refuted in this documentary, without forgetting that people feel hurt by the phenomenon. The story of Scheer shows that Zwarte Piet and racism or slavery are different things and that the Sinterklaas festival points to our common origin.
Black SinterklazenThe book Black Sinterklazen, with the subtitle "about Petes and other pagan people" is the paper effect of the documentary. The journeys made by Scheer and the customs he encountered in remote villages and areas separated from the mainland by water are described in the book. The book is also a reflection of many years of study about Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet and similar customs. Experts were visited and archives studied.
Soot and tricksterZwarte Piet is a blackened man. He is not black from the chimney, but, originally, black with soot. The fact that Zwarte Piet was a Negro was only introduced in the nineteenth century, thanks to head teacher Jan Schenkman from Amsterdam. Blackening has been used for a very long time and goes back to prehistory. When fire could be made, there was also charcoal and soot that you can use to blacken your cheeks. You see similar customs in Africa and Suriname, but the brown people there make themselves white with white clay.
And the black (or white) stands for vigor, happiness. It's a way to hide, it's a mask. In the parties that Scheer encountered, black is also used to give girls and women a black wipe on the cheek. That has to do with fertility and conquering.
Underdog and heroZwarte Piet at the Dutch Sinterklaas party is one trickster, a pias, rascal, like the Erlequino in the Commedia dell'arte. He is the elusive servant of Sinterklaas, the anarchist and the out of the box-thinker, the one who ultimately gives the solution. Is the steamboat off course due to a storm? Piet finally solves it. Lost packages on the way from Spain to the Netherlands? Piet knows, finally, advice. Zwarte Piet is the underdog who can transform into a hero. "Every child recognizes that archetype in him," Scheer writes. “Zwarte Piet is not a slave. On the contrary, he is a hero. He keeps popping up. It is elusive. He belongs to the people. "
The bookBlack Sinterklazen
about Petes and other pagan people
Papieren Tiger Tiger Breda Publishing Foundation
ISBN 978 90 6728 304 5
Price: Ђ 18.00
The documentaryWild Roar
The makers: Arnold-Jan Scheer and Roy Dames
Duration: 52 minutes
16th century image of Sankt Nicolaus
My opinionI saw the film at a press viewing on October 1, 2015 in Theater Casablanca, Zeedijk 24 in Amsterdam. Wild Geraas should be a mandatory fare for all organizers of Sinterklaas tours and parties, organizers who feel maneuvered in a split. The background information in this book and in this film will support them to maintain the party full of conviction and to resist opinion leaders who get a lot of platform on national TV and thus seem to have a politically correct opinion. Platforms of widely watched television talk programs that do not leave seats for experts who can undermine slavery stories with facts and who can place Zwarte Piet in a tradition spanning thousands of years.
For the time being, there seems to be no broadcaster willing to broadcast the documentary, he is not accepted for IDFA, there is no longer talk about Zwarte Piet at the DWDD table and Pauw only has seats for the anti-Pieten club. Wild Geraas does not polarize, does not choose any side, but shows facts about parties and traditions in many isolated places, with archetypes that are clearly companions of Zwarte Piet. Just like Arnold-Jan Scheer, I played for Zwarte Piet many times, full of conviction and with great pleasure. I will not let that sweet memory spoil with a racist glaze.