Lewes bonfire agrees to stop 'blackface' tradition

·Contributor
A local petition had been launched to stop the blackface practice
A local petition had been launched to stop the blackface practice

Organisers at one of Britain’s biggest annual bonfire celebrations have agreed to stop painting their faces black.

The Lewes Borough Bonfire Society, in East Sussex, say they have decided to end the blackface practice dating back to World War Two.

They made their decision after coming under pressure from a dance troupe originating from South Africa, who were booked to join the society on the march on Saturday night.

The troupe had threatened a boycott after seeing how the members dressed.

A local Bonfire Against Racism campaign from a group of black, white and dual-heritage residents had urged the society to stop blacking up, reported The Guardian.

The famous event is held annually in East Sussex (Rex)
The famous event is held annually in East Sussex (Rex)

However some organisers said the tradition was a show of respect to Zulu warriors and urged people to keep blacking people.

As well as blacking up, participants in the festival also wore costumes with skulls, nose rings and dead monkeys. Up to 70 people were expected to black up.

The troupe’s leader, Thanda Gumede, originally from South Africa but now living in Yorkshire, had complained these were a ‘gross misrepresentation and unacceptable stereotype of Zulu and black people at large’.

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Gumede had also asked organisers to use a different colour if they were to ‘paint yourselves’.

He also told the society: ‘The skulls and horns make us look barbaric – the Zulu costume can be worn without them. I appreciate that the horns may be tricky, so if that can’t be changed, especially at this late hour, then we are willing to compromise.’

The committee finally agreed to change after hearing Gumede’s argument.

‘Our committee has accepted in full your guidance and will be instructing our members to try and achieve as much as is possible in the time available,’ said Mick Symes, a committee member of the Borough Bonfire Society.

The traditional parade attracts thousands of people each year (Rex)
The traditional parade attracts thousands of people each year (Rex)

Symes told the Guardian: ‘We became the target of a vicious campaign which had no basis in reality.

‘What we do was never intended to be racist. There is a saying in Sussex, “We won’t be druv”, and there is no way in the world any external pressure group would ever make a bonfire society move one inch.

‘We are more than happy to take this advice from Thanda. We are very, very happy to say we are making minor but significant alterations based on very meaningful cultural advice from Thanda.’

Some locals had campaigned for the change to be made.

One, Scott Durairaj, wrote on Facebook that times needed to change and that there was no further need for people in the annual parade to wear blackface.

‘We have a wonderful town, with wonderful people but at times I need a calendar to check what year it is rather than my watch to check the time,’ he wrote.

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