[HOME] [Tall Characters Unlimited] [Tall Character PIX] [Stilt Stories] [Testimonials] [Gig Details] [Circus Arts Classes] [Notoriety] [Merlin at Burning Man] [Phoenix video] [Phoenix Myths] [Stiltwalking around the World-Pix] [Stilt Plans] [Custom-made Stilts] [Anthropological Reports]

STILT STORIES FROM OLD ANTHROPOLOGICAL WRITINGS

I have collected narratives of native stiltwalking traditions from around the world. I am sorry that some of them have no reference to the source of the articles.
 

This story is dated October, 1951, by Ralph E. Ogden:
Action and Excitement

Of all the dances native to Mexico, the seldom-performed Stilt Dance is unique. Masked Indian men, some in feminine dress, and all in odd tatterdemalion costumes, dance for hours on four-foot stilts with only a few short pauses for rest, and never a tumble, as seen right.
This stilt dance is one of the oldest Indian dances and its origin and significance are lost in the dim mists of antiquity

mexican stilt-dancers-old scan03

Muria boys fighting on stiltsdated March-April, 1944, in MAN
(some footnotes and pictures omitted)

STILT-WALKING AMONG THE MURIAS OF BASTAR STATE, by Verrier Elwin

The use of stilts during the rains is common throughout central India and no doubt elsewhere, and it has been suggested that the practice has some magical significance aimed at encouraging the crops to grow.
’The Geeree,’ says Col. Ward, describing the custom in Mandla’, ‘can hardly be called a festival: it is remarkable more for its absurdity than anything else, and is left to the children to celebrate. This they do by walking about the place on stilts for some days, praising the institution of the Geeree or stilts, as placing them above the necessity of walking in the mud; and finally, proceeding in procession to the Nerbudda, they throw the stilts in, and return to their homes.’
The Murias of Bastar State have a number of stories and customs connected with this practice which are worth recording.  The stilts are made of two poles of either gotiya (Zizyphus xylopyrus, Willd) or sarai {Shorea robusta, Gaertn. f.) about six feet high, to which foot-rests, called in Gondi dito-palk, are attached two feet from the ground. These are made of hollowed bits of châr wood (Buchanania latifolia, Roxb.) which are filled with pebbles and fixed together round the poles either by nails or small wooden pegs called jabân. The stilts are made at the Amavas Pandum early in the rains, which corresponds to the Hareli festival of the Hindus. During the rains, the village boys constantly walk about on their stilts, making a great deal of noise, as the pebbles inside the hollowed foot-rests rattle about. The only game they play on the stilts is stilt-fighting, when boys attack each other and try to bump each other off.  They become expert in lifting one of the stilts off the ground and hitting another boy with it. They are also able to do very clever solo dances, hopping on one leg with the other raised from the ground.
Stilt-walking is permitted for a couple of months during the rains from the time of the Amavas Pandum until after the first ' New Eating ' ceremony in the middle of August or a little later. This is called the Korta Tindana in Gondi and on the second day of the festival, which is known as the Hara Tindana or the day on which the people eat the leavings of the food that remained after the big day of the festival, a special ceremony takes place in connexion with the stilts. After this day it is taboo to use stilts at all. Grigson adds that among the Hill Maria there is a rule 'that stilt-walking is not only taboo during the rest of the year but also every fourth year.
On the second day of the Korta Tindana the boys assemble and go round the village on their stilts holding bursundi plants in their hands. They dance in front of each house in turn, begging for rice, eggs, liquor and money, and sing ;

Laya daya loo loon thi
Rai keda beda the
Nana daka dharthe,
Gandri bursundi para para.

This may be freely translated, '0 stinking mosquitoes, run away to the fields of rai before our feet touch the threshold, for with branches we are hunting you.' As they dance, the boys beat the ground with their bursundi branches, as a result of which it is believed that stinging wasps and flies will not bother the village for the rest of the year.
Then the boys go on their stilts outside the village to where a stone stands on an ant-hill in honour either of Bhimul Pen, Dito Pen, or Gorondi Muttai. They go in procession round the stone seven times and the leader winds a string round and round it. He sends one of the boys some distance away and he himself presses his hand down on the ground to crack his fingers and says, ' Now we will see if you have really been helping us.'  He picks up one of the eggs that they have begged from the village and throws it to where the other boy is standing. If the god is favourable, the egg does not break,  and the other boy picks it up and throws it back. They do this three times.  If the egg breaks, the leader picks up the mess and rubs a little of it on the penis of every member of the party in turn, saying, ' May we be free of itch and ring-worm.'
Then they all break their stilts and arrange them over the stone. Sometimes the stilts are tied in a sort of square and the foot-rests and pegs hung from it. Four stilts are placed upright at each corner and a cord is tied round them. They offer eggs and chickens at the foot of this shrine, and tie the egg-shells in a string to the top of the stilts. They kill the chickens by hitting their heads on the ground, not by cutting their throats as usual. Then they cook the chickens and any other food that they have been given, and eat the feast and drink as much liquor as they have been able to collect. There is a rule that on this day they must not cook on a stone hearth, out of respect for the stone representing the deity, but should cut green pegs of sâja wood, drive them into the ground and put their pots on these.
There are various stories to account for the origin of this ceremony. In the Kondagaon Tahsil they say that, on the festival of Amavas, Lingo's brother, Bhimul, went out of his house to give salt to his cattle. His little son wept, crying, ' I want to go, too,' but as it was very muddy his mother Gorondi made him a pair of stilts and sent him with his father. When the village boys saw Bhimul's son walking on the stilts, they asked their fathers to make them also, but they said, ' No, we don't know how to do it.' So the boys went to Gorondi and persuaded her to make stilts for them. One day a boy fell down ; Gorondi ran to him and rubbed the wound with her hands and it healed at once the boys used to bring their wounds to be cured, and their broken stilts for her to mend. At it she refused to do this but said, ' If they brought her eggs and chickens as payment she would do anything they wanted.' So ever since then boys give her presents once a year, and she saves them from falling, and the stilts from breaking. Another version of the story attributes the origin the practice to the notorious jealousy between Bhimul and his wife. There is always supposed to be bitter rivalry between them. In Bandar-Siuni, the Murias once dedicated a bull to Bhimul promising that they would sacrifice it to him if he gave them good rain. This made Gorondi very angry and her Siraha-priest called the villagers and said to them, Why have you been so stupid as to give a bull to my husband? Bhimul has gone below to dig roots and won't be back for six months, so how can he do anything for you  ‘Give me the bull and I'll do whatever you want.' So they sacrificed the bull to her and even before they had finished cooking it, before they had time to eat it, down came a torrent of rain. ' This is a grand old woman,' said the villagers, we must not forgot her.' When the villagers began to honour Bhimul at the Amavas festival Gorondi got very angry but the villagers said, ' Don't trouble us ; Go and knock over any boys you may find walking about on stilts and break their bones and hurt them.' So Gorondi went out and bothered the boys by knocking them over and injuring them wherever she could until they went to consult the village magician. Ho toId them that "if they promised to honour Gorondi as well as Bhimul on the second day of the Korta Tindana Pandum she would give them no more trouble. Since then the boys of every village have honoured Gorondi in their festival and it is said that they never fall from their stilts or hurt themselves.
That this story is not universally known is shown by the fact that in some villages the broken stilts are piled up over the stone of Bhimul rather than of Gorondi and sometimes simply on a stone called Dito Pen which means literally the ' Stilt God.' But in most places stilt-walking is connected with Bhimul and his wife.
Bhimul is probably a very old aboriginal deity who has been assimilated with one of the heroes of the Mahabharata. Bhima, the strongest and most valiant of the Pandava Brothers. Under the name of Bhimsen this ancient god is worshipped all over central India and there are endless stories about him.6 Almost every fantastic rock or mass of stone is connected with his prowess. Bhimsen is also known as the rain giver. In Bastar, Bhimul Pen is sometimes described as one of the brothers of Lingo, the traditional founder of the Gond tribe. There is a regular festival in his honour and offerings must be made to him before the new crops can be eaten. When rain is needed, the villagers cow-dung his stone so that he will call for rain to clean himself. At the Divali festival the villagers put bark garlands round his stone. In some places offerings are made to him in order to ensure a good mahua crop.

6 For other references to Bhimsen see Grigson, op. cit., pp. 206, 215, 219 ff. ; Crooke, Popular Religion and Folk-lore of Northern India (London, 1896), I, pp. 6, 89, 250 ; II, p. 182 ;
S. C. Ray, The Mundas (Ranchi, 1912),.p. 98 ; Elwin, The Baiga (London, 1939), p. 59 ; Elwin, The Agaria (Bombay, 1942), p. 95 ; The Census of India, 1931, Vol. I, Part III B, p. 78 for the cult among the Nagpur Gond ; p. 236 for the Urali's idea that thunder is the result of a duel between the two Bhima in heaven ; Thurston, Castes and Tribes of Southern India (London, 1912), Vol. IV, pp. 56 and 71 for the Koyi tradition that traces the origin of the tribe to Bhimador who while hunting in the jungle met a wild woman of the woods and married her. The Koyi dance is an imitation of Bhimador's pursuit of his enemies. Other legends about Bhimsen may be found in North Indian Notes and Queries, Vol. II, pp. 29 and 135 (for Bhimsen's romance with a Devi) ; Cunningham, Archaeological Reports, Vol. XXII, p. 53 (the pillar of Asoka near Betiya locally regarded as Bhimsen's walking-stick) ; Vol. XVI, p. 16 (the lion pillar at Bakhra known as the pole of the baskets of Bhimsen) ; an interesting and well-told story in Sterndale, Seoni (Calcutta, 1887), p. 97.

Ghana Cape Coast Tall Stilts2
Ghana Cape Coast Tall Stilts

 

http://www.um.edu.ar/orillas/galeria/ghana-d.htm

GHANA:
Report from educator William Asamoah Parbi and students (ages 15-18) at Accra High School in Accra, Ghana.

This is a photograph (not available, but above pictures are from Ghana) of a cultural display of my countrymen -- a man dressed in female costume standing on a Stilt. Stilt walking is a traditional display as a form of entertainment in Ghana by the people of Winneba.

Research on the mathematics involved in stilt walking

Responses from an interview we conducted during the holidays have shown that experience is an important factor in maintaining balance on the stilt. As such all those who used to walk on the stilt gained their experience from childhood. It started as a recreation and as they practiced they gained their experience. It was also revealed that certain factors needed to be considered before selecting a stilt to walk on. Such factors include the weight of the stilt walker, the length, diameter and weight of the stilt. Also, for one to walk with the stilt he needs to raise the legs a few times in order to transmit the load of the stilt onto his thigh muscle. It does not only consume much energy but it also requires concentration to be able to stand on it. Actually one needs to concentrate and meditate a few days ahead of time.

The research has also shown that "Dantai" is the wood used (because it can bend like that of the cane) however any other wood can be used. The male "Dantai" is stronger than the female so the male is mostly preferred. What is interesting about "Dantai" is that it can bend like cane without breaking. It's only when it is too dry that it breaks or when it is stretched beyond its elastic limit. The wood after it has been cut need to be seasoned to make it a bit light so that it can be used but care must be taking not to make it too dry. A special Carpenter is employed to work on the foot lap. Foot lap is the base on which stilt walkers place their foot before it is tied with a rope.

On the average, the length of the wood should be 280cm (9.2ft.), diameter 6cm and 5cm respectively. This is so because the wood has top face and bottom face; the top face is tapered to the base hence the difference in the diameter. The height of the person who stands on the stilt is very important such that when the person is tall he needs to use a shorter stilt. However, on the average one needs to be about 1.66m (65 inches) tall. Again, on the average the weight of the stilt walker should be 66kg (145 lb) and that of the stilt 75kg (165 lb!)

The tensile strength of the stilt using the averages should be 233.5 N/M2. This will however depend on the weight of the person and cross sectional area of the stilt chosen. The tensile strength is inversely proportional to the cross sectional area so that the smaller the cross sectional area the greater the tensile strength. Again, the force that is expected to exert on the stilt should be 66.0 N on the average. It is also observed that at the point of equilibrium the gravitational potential energy is a constant. However, the kinetic energy is not constant for as soon it becomes constant the person will fall. In spite of these, the sum of the kinetic energy and the gravitational force acting at a point in time should be a constant.

There are various costumes used; what is in this project is a male dressed like a woman. When the stilt is too long, its centre of gravity reduces and as such, care must be taken to avoid falling by cutting the stilt to the required dimension. It is alleged that some of them fall on slippery grounds as such some of the stilt walkers are learning to balance on slippery grounds. The following specifications can be of use as others think of using plastic instead of wood. In that case, the volume should be about 0.79m3 and weight about 75kg.

 

NAME

HEIGHT OF STILT WALKER

LENGTH OF STILT

WGT OF STILT

WGT. OF STILT WALKER

DIAMETER TOP FACE/ BOTTOM FACE

AKWETE

162CM

280.4CM

74KG

65.5KG

6CM/5CM

MIKRONG

170CM

336.0CM

75KG

66.5KG

7CM/6CM

KOW ATTAH

165CM

270.0CM

74.5KG

65.4KG

6CM/5CM

KWESI TUNTUM

164CM

250.0CM

75.0KG

64.5KG

6CM/5CM

KOFI POH

150CM

264.0CM

74.6KG

65.5KG

5CM/4CM

AVERAGE

162.2CM

280.08CM

74.6KG

65.48KG

6CM/5CM

If there is any further information as to how we came by the specification do not hesitate to get me informed.

William Parbi.

Mali ~ Fęte des Masques - April
The Dogons are famous for their masks and during the five-day event many of them are used in ritual ceremonies that go back more than 1000 years . At each Sigui festival, a new ceremonial mask is carved especially for the occasion, then placed in the Tellem caves. Remnants of these masks going back hundreds of years have been found in the caves.
 

From a private letter 1999 from West Africa (Mali):


After all of the other VIP's arrived we went in procession to the stadium where the festival was waiting to begin for the honcho's to get there... including us.    The place was packed.   We drove right into the stadium around the track to the other side where front row center seats were saved for us--nice to be a part of an ambassador's group! Within five minutes a parade of all of the outlying village people in costume and the center of attention the mask of each village--each had a couple of minutes to do their dance right in front of us.    The masks are a very spiritual item of the village--no important decision in the village is made without first conferring with the mask (obviously someone is behind the mask--but the mask has its own persona--the person is just the vehicle).   The Grand Mask was quite a big one and had not been out in public for the past fifty years.   The wearer of the masks not only wore the mask but also huge grass skirts--many times they had a staff in each hand to support them.    The masks were garish and usually painted red, white or black.    Some villages had troupes of dancers and singers. There were a few acrobatics groups of men a girls 3 to 5 years old.  The men threw the girls around as if they were battons--looked pretty hard on the young girls' backs but that was not their only hazard beyond being dropped--as the girls were being flung around long knives were waved around just missing the girls--these acrobatic groups are well known in the area and when a girl joins a group she leaves her family till she is too old--then she returns to her family again.    The part we all liked the most were the men on the stilts--also well known from this area.   They were great! Their legs are tied to the 6 to 12 foot high stilts and then tight pants are worn over legs and stilts making them look like they have very long legs.    They wear a black stocking mask over their faces and usually bright colors to help them stand out--as if being about 18 feet in the air did not have them stand out in the crowd.   The amazing thing was that they could do amazing maneuvers on the stilts--very graceful and dramatic.    They would twirl around on one stilt with the other flung out straight behind them!  The crowd would roar with approval.   We stayed for about three hours and then returned after a bit of a rest and lunch.   After we left we heard one stilt walker fell and broke his leg.   The other unique group were the men with the snakes.  It was amazing and kind of creepy to watch him wrap these big black snakes around him and then shove a couple of small ones plus a huge black scorpion in his mouth!