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History

Is the Malmedy carnival really an authentically traditional event?

BACKGROUND


Malmedy's Cwarmê has been celebrated for century after century: an archival document dating back to 25 June 1459 refers to the Monday and Tuesday of the "Quarmae", thus suggesting that the Cwarmê was being celebrated as early as that date and possibly even a lot earlier. In Malmedy, the word "Cwarmê " refers to the carnival period that lasts for four days, from Saturday at noon to midnight on the day of Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday).

The four days are also called the "grandès-haguètes" [1] in contrast to the "p’titès haguètes", which are the four Thursdays, or Shrove Thursdays, preceding the Cwarmê. These Thursdays were regarded as masquerade days as early as 1666, as underscored by the story told about a fatal accident on Tuesday, 24 February, when a young girl's linen mask caught fire. The unfortunate young lady was presumably getting herself ready for the following Thursday...

The first ban on celebrating the carnival was announced in 1695, during the reign of the prince abbots. Several other bans were issued during the 18th century. However, the people of Malmedy had other ideas and disregarded the prohibitions.

It is hard now to imagine what the festivities were like in those far-off times but the official creation of organised associations has facilitated the discovery of many traces of the 19th century carnival celebrations, which very similar to the present-day ones.

During the 20th century, bans were imposed only during wartime and in 1962, owing to the risk of infection during a smallpox epidemic.

The dogged spirit of the Malmedy inhabitants has guaranteed this astonishing continuity of the Cwarmê tradition.

The oldest local associations in the Cwarmê


In common with many cities at the time, Malmedy used to have various "youth" [2] groups bringing together local young single men. They still exist in the surrounding villages. These so-called "bânes" (gangs) were responsible for organising the festivities. Dating back to 1836, the oldest known "bane" was called "Les Fidèles Disciples de Momus". 1847 was the year in which "La Société Bourgeoise' was formed. This was the period during which the musical groups that have survived to the present-day appeared: "L'Écho de la Warche » (founded in 1846), "L'Union Wallonne" (1847), "La Malmédienne" (1866) and "La Fraternité" (1874). They played a key role in guaranteeing the survival of the Cwarmê, because they helped ensure the carnival rites continued to be faithful to the ancient customs as far as possible.

[1] The old meaning of the word haguète "referred to all the masked figures. The days of the "grandès haguètes" are more lavish affairs than the "p'titès haguètes "
[2] Also called "la jeunesse de Chôdes ", "la jeunesse de Bellevaux... "
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