Men Reclaiming their Island

Christmas is the time that ancient rituals emerge across Europe, and some, like the Black Pieters who accompany St Nick in the Netherlands, often cause outrage with their whiffs of racism. This one, from the most  western of Germany’s North Sea islands, should cause outrage to feminists, but it is important to perpetuate as a means of keeping the community identity, and reminding us all that Christmas is not just a time for  overeating and buying presents. Borkum was heavily involved in the whaling industry from the 18th century, and associated with this, is a ritual called Klaas Ohm, or Uncle Klaus which happens every St Nicholas’ day, December 5. This is from the I newspaper, by Tony Paterson:

“Six of the island’s men don giant masks and chase through the streets in pursuit of Borkum’s young, unmarried women.

Mothers and grandmothers are hugged and given gingerbread cakes, but once caught, their younger counterparts are ritually beaten on the buttocks with cow horns. These used to be filled with sand until the practice was  dropped in the 1990s. Yet even today’s sand-free cow horns leave bright red welts on the behinds of teh unfortunate, beaten women.

The ceremony ends with the six masked men jumping off a pillar box sized brick tower into a crowd of cheering islanders.

The ritual recalls the annual winter return of Borkum’s whaling men to an island which, because of their absence, had been taken over by women.

Klaas Ohm is all about men regaining control. Sexist it may be but Borkum’s young women are not complaining too much.

“Ok, it’s against women,” 15 year old Natalie told Germany’s Mare magazine, “But it’s part of it. This is our most important festival. It’s bigger than Christmas,” she insisted.

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