Traditions do change, and so can Zwarte Piet: NRC

Organisations involved in the preparations for the Sinterklaas celebrations in the Netherlands are prepared to make changes to the character of Zwarte Piet, the NRC reports on Friday.

In Amsterdam activists are trying to have the annual Sinterklaas procession banned, because of the presence of hundreds of Zwarte Piets, the black page who accompanies St Nicholas.

They say the tradition is discriminatory and should be updated to take into account modern sensibilities.

Amsterdam

Henk Leegte, who organises the Amsterdam procession, told the NRC he is happy to sit round the table with protestors in January to discuss possible changes. Leegte, a minister by profession, also says he understands their objections to the curly hair, blackface make-up, red lips and golden earrings.

‘I can personally suggest we start by changing the appearance of 100 of the 500 Piets,’ he told the paper. However, it is too late to make changes this year, he said. The procession is due to take place on November 17.

Ineke Strouken, director of the Dutch centre for folk traditions and heritage, says she is concerned that opposition to Zwarte Piet is becoming stronger. ‘But as the protests get louder, more children register their wish to play Zwarte Piet,’ she said. ‘We will soon be strongly divided.’

Public broadcaster NTR, which produces the daily Sinterklaas news show, said in a statement it understands the sensitivities. ‘If the tradition changes, we will change too,’ the statement said. ‘But it is not up to the NTR to make changes off its own back without consensus.’

Meanwhile, Quinsy Gario, the artist and activist who instigated the campaign, says he has been receiving threats on the internet. ‘We have been shocked by the reactions on social media channels,’ he said.

Earlier stories
Activist challenges council over Zwarte Piet in Sinterklaas procession
The origin of Zwarte Piet


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