​Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet – TU Delft makes some changes

On December 4, 2014, TU Delft organisations Promood and Young Delft will co-host a Sinterklaas party for employees under 35 and PhDs. The event will feature a Sinterklaas, Dutch games such as koekhappen and spijkerpoepen, a quiz and dinner.

While they will also have people dressed as Sint’s controversial helpers, the Zwarte Pieten, their costumes will be modified so as to not be offensive.

In a tradition that dates back to the 1850s, when actors dressed up as Zwarte Pieten with blackface, curly wigs, red lipstick and earrings – attire reminiscent of African slaves during that period. In the last few decades, the tradition has come under severe criticism internationally for being racially insensitive. In 2013, De Telegraaf reported that 92% of Dutch people surveyed did not associate the tradition with slavery or consider it racist. And, despite Amsterdam mayor Eberhard van der Laan’s push towards changing the appearance of the Pieten in phases, 91% were against it.

However, in the past couple of years, some companies and organisations, have discussed plans to change the portrayal of Zwarte Piet beginning next year. Some Sinterklaas festivities also introduced Pieten as helpers who got soot on their clothes and face while climbing down a chimney which is how they visit the children.

The Pieten at the Young Delft/Promood event will be dressed in accordance with the newer narrative. “In keeping with something we started last year, the pieten will not be painted black. Instead, they will have some black stripes on their face from going through a chimney. In fact, two students volunteered to play the role this year,” said Eveline Vreede, the Chair of Young Delft.

She added that the Pieten will join Sinterklaas and explain the tradition to the audience. The board of the organisation is largely international at the moment and the matter was discussed during a number of meetings before a consensus was reached. “It’s a difficult topic. We want it to be a nice, fun festival. It’s non-political and light-hearted.”

On November 29, another university organisation, Prometheus, hosted a Sinterklaas party for employees and their families. Their party included a famous Dutch magician, hula hoop workshops, a bouncy castle and 20 Pieten. While their Pieten were painted black, the organisation said they made a few changes so as to not offend anyone.

“We discussed the matter with the Executive Board and also looked at the main televised reception of Sinterklaas to see what the bigger events were doing. To begin with, we dropped the earrings. The Pieten had lipstick in different colours and the girl-Pieten even wore glitter and extra makeup,” said Jackie Frew of the Prometheus Staff Association “We also no longer called them ‘Zwarte’ Piet, instead, all 20 Pieten had a unique name. There was a Bike Piet, a Builder Piet, a Hair Dresser Piet.” she added.

Damini Purkayastha / Freelance text writer

Editor Redactie

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