What are Stilt Walkers. Information and definitions via the web:
Stilts are poles, posts or pillars used to allow a person or structure to stand at a distance above the ground. Walking stilts are poles equipped with steps for the feet to stand on, or straps to attach them to the legs, for the purpose of walking while elevated above a normal height. In flood plains, and on beaches or unstable ground, buildings are often constructed on stilts to protect them from damage by water, waves or shifting soil or sand. Stilts have been used for many hundreds of years.
In the wastes of Gascony stilt walking was formerly a means of locomotion adapted to the nature of the country. The waste lands were then great level plains covered with stunted bushes and dry heath. Moreover, on account of the permeability of the subsoil, all the declivities were transformed into marshes after the slightest fall of rain.
There were no roads of any kind, and the population, relying upon sheep raising for a living, was much scattered. It was evidently in order to be able to move around under these very peculiar conditions that the shepherds devised and adopted stilts. The stilts of Landes are called, in the language of the country, tchangues, which signifies "big legs," and those who use them are called tchanguès. The stilts are pieces of wood about five feet in length, provided with a shoulder and strap to support the foot. The upper part of the wood is flattened and rests against the leg, where it is held by a strong strap. The lower part, that which rests upon the earth, is enlarged and is sometimes strengthened with a sheep's bone.
The Landese shepherd is provided with a staff which he uses for numerous purposes, such as a point of support for getting on to the stilts and as a crook for directing his flocks. Again, being provided with a board, the staff constitutes a comfortable seat adapted to the height of the stilts. Resting in this manner, the shepherd seems to be upon a gigantic tripod. When he stops he knits or he spins with the distaff thrust in his girdle. His usual costume consists of a sort of jacket without sleeves, made of sheep skin, of canvas gaiters, and of a drugget cloak. His head gear consists of a beret or a large hat. This accouterment was formerly completed by a gun to defend the flock against wolves, and a stove for preparing meals. Shepherds from the Landes region of France, walking on stilts.
Mounted on their stilts, the shepherds of Landes drove their flocks across the wastes, going through bushes, brush and pools of water, and traversing marshes with safety, without having to seek roads or beaten footpaths. Moreover, this elevation permits them to easily watch their sheep, which are often scattered over a wide surface. In the morning the shepherd, in order to get on his stilts, mounted by a ladder or seated himself upon the sill of a window, or else climbed upon the mantel of a large chimney. Even in a flat country, being seated upon the ground, and having fixed his stilts, he easily rose with the aid of his staff.
One may judge by what results from the fall of a pedestrian what danger may result from a fall from a pair of stilts. But the shepherds of Landes, accustomed from their childhood to this sort of exercise, acquire an extraordinary freedom and skill therein. The tchanguè knows very well how to preserve his equilibrium; he walks with great strides, stands upright, runs with agility, or executes a few feats of true acrobatism, such as picking up a pebble from the ground, plucking a flower, simulating a fall and quickly rising, running on one foot, etc.
The speed that the stilt walkers attained is easily explained. Although the angle of the legs at every step is less than that of ordinary walking with the feet on the ground, the sides prolonged by the stilts are five or six feet apart at the base. It will be seen that with steps of such a length, distances must be rapidly covered.
When, in 1808, the Empress Josephine went to Bayonne to rejoin Napoleon I, who resided there by reason of the affairs of Spain, the municipality sent an escort of young Landese stilt walkers to meet her. On the return, these followed the carriages with the greatest facility, although the horses went at a full trot.
During the stay of the empress, the shepherds, mounted upon their stilts, much amused the ladies of the court, who took delight in making them race, or in throwing money upon the ground and seeing several of them go for it at once, the result being a scramble and a skillful and cunning onset, often accompanied by falls.
In the 19th century, few celebrations occurred in the villages of Gascony that were not accompanied by stilt races. The prizes usually consisted of a gun, a sheep, a cock, etc. The young people vied with each other in speed and agility, and plucky young girls often took part in the contests.
Formerly, on the market days at Bayonne and Bordeaux, long files of peasants were seen coming in on stilts, and, although they were loaded with bags and baskets, they came from the villages situated at 10, 15, or 20 leagues distance.
Today stilt walkers have become a part of the traditional festivals in Belgium. Young people display their strength, skill and agility through the game. The stilt walkers from the ancient city of Namur of Belgium has visited Canada, France, Holland, Italy, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, USA, etc.
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