Search form

menu menu
  • Daily & Weekly newsletters
  • Buy & download The Bulletin
  • Comment on our articles

Les Noirauds: Watermael-Boitsfort bans charity collection in black face paint

10:19 15/03/2024

The municipal authorities of Watermael-Boitsfort in the Brussels region have banned members of the philanthropic fraternity L'œuvre Royale des Berceaux Princesse Paola - also referred to as Les Noirauds - from soliciting donations while wearing black face paint.

Noirauds traditionally go from restaurant to restaurant in the region to collect donations for the Brussels-based charity to help children.

When the organisation was first founded in 1876, solicitors would paint their faces black and wear brightly coloured baggy trousers, black tailcoats, white top hats, chains and flashy charms – thought to be how nobility in African countries would dress.

But following criticism of this derogatory caricature of African culture and the inappropriateness of blackface, in 2019, Noirauds began painting their faces black, yellow and red – the three colours of the Belgian flag.

“There has been an evolution in society: some people thought it was racist and some people from the African community could feel hurt, which I can well understand,” Jean-Pierre Follet, the current president of Les Noirauds, told RTBF.

“So we decided to change our make-up and keep up with changes in society. The change has been welcomed, even as at the same time, elsewhere in the country, other similar traditions continue to cause controversy.”

To avoid any problems with the authorities, the Noirauds decided to reach out to communes in advance to secure permission for collecting donations.

“We always thought that the authorisation given by the City of Brussels was within the framework of the mayors' conference and that it applied to all the other communes, but when I realised that this wasn't the case, I started to submit a request in each municipality since last year, to each burgomaster, to ensure everything was in order,” said Follet.

All municipalities gave the go-ahead, with the exception of Watermael-Boitsfort. Follet said he suspects that the only reason for the refusal was a misunderstanding regarding the modified tradition.

“Watermael-Boitsfort is a beautiful town with lots of restaurants,” Follet said.

“We make good collections there. This refusal leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, especially as we've been doing it for nearly 150 years. It’s the only municipality that has banned us from collecting for disadvantaged children.”

Watermael-Boitsfort’s mayor Olivier Deleuze (Ecolo) said he accepts the refusal of authorisation by his local authority and that this was also the case last year.

“There's so much controversy about this, and I don't want it to be exported to Watermael-Boitsfort,” said Deleuze.

“You don't have to dress up and walk around in colonial costumes to raise money for charity.”

While the mayor concedes that there had been a change in the way the Noirauds dress, “you'll notice that they're still called the Noirauds, not the 'Verauds' or the 'Bleuauds'.”

“You have to remove the ambiguity, and that ambiguity remains, if only in the name,” Deleuze said.

“Changing the face is clever enough, but not clever enough. If they really wanted to turn the page, they should have turned it more sharply. Here, the page is only half turned. When it's completely over, they'll be very welcome at Watermael-Boitsfort.”

The other Brussels municipalities will allow the organisation to collect donations this weekend and Manneken Pis, for example, will be dressed up as Noiraud on 16 March, with the colours of the Belgian flag on his face.

Photo: Laurie Dieffembacq/Belga

Written by Helen Lyons