A while ago I saw Gerard Rooijakkers giving a lecture about “Volksgerichten In Zuidoost Brabant” which means something like “peoplescourts in Southeast Brabant”. “Noord-Brabant” is a Dutch province in the south. The lecture was about how the closed village-communities of a few centuries ago, made their members clear if they did something that the communitie could not agree with. Nowadays we go to court or send the police to a wrongdoer. In the 17th century this was a possibility, but in practise the communities wanted to solve things themselves. The spokesman mentioned a book of his a few times, so I looked it up and got it from the local library.
Rooijakkers wrote his thesis about the folklore of the area that I live in. The writer has a preference for what he calls “black folklore”, the part of folklore that we (try to) forget about. This was already heard in the lecture. The bookform of Rooijakkers thesis “Rituele Repertoires” is a large one (700+ pages) with a lot of information about the social, political and clerical history of Southeast Brabant. You can read about the customs of the common people, the reactions of the Catholic south to the reformation, the counter-reformation, etc. The information is about the time 1559 to 1854. Is was interesting to read such a detailed history of the area that I live in, how the southern Netherlands were formed, the invasions of the French and the Spaniards, the changes of Christianity and especially what happened in this period in the small villages where all this took place. In different ways -for example- the Catholic people tried to make clear that the Protestant priests were not welcome. This could vary from shitting in the church to molesting the priest and even ‘banishment rituals’. Rooijakkers keeps highlighting the ritual meanings of such actions and gives a wide variety of examples and quotes many old texts (in old Dutch). It is easier to give the idea by returning to the subject of his lectures about ‘peoplescourts’.
When a man did not treat his wife well, the community put him to shame to show him his place. An often-used method was the so-called “ploegspannen”. The man was bound in front of a plough (instead of a horse) and forced to plough the field in front of his house. The purpose of this method is plural. First of course physical punishment, but more important is the element of shame. The whole village (and of course the surrounding villages) knew about the incident. Even if they didn’t know what the man had done, they know now, because only in the ‘bad husband case’, the man got this kind of punishment. Further shame is the field in front of the house that was wracked up, so passers-by knew for the weeks to come that something had happened here.
The customs of the local people did of course not only deal with punishment, but the line is sometimes thin. For example, when a man and a woman wanted to marry, the unmarried male part of the community wanted something in return for the woman, because their ‘market’ had become smaller. Usually the groom was supposed to give away beer. Should he not do this, the “jonkheit” (an old word for ‘youth’, but it refers to all unmarried males) would come to his house and make noise. If the beer still didn’t come, there were ways to spoil the marriage day in such a way that everybody would know that the groom had been a cheap-ass.
More of such customs and situations are spoken about (but the range of subjects is much wider). In “Rituele Repertoires” at length, in “Eer en Schande” (which means ‘honour and shame’) in a more modest booklet (176 pages). The dissertation is no longer in press, but the smaller booklet is. “Eer en Schande” has all the interesting and funny information of the large book, is a lot cheaper and has images that are not found in the large book. Besides what is mentioned above, you can read about rituals around death, swearing, seasonal customs, the ‘sociability’ (youth-culture of the earlier mentioned ‘jonkheit’), etc.
Rooijakkers follows the old customs to more recent times and he is about the only one who does this. The cover of ‘Eer en Schande’ shows a slaughtered dear nailed against the churchdoor of Hoogeloon in 1994. It was obvious to people that this was bad news, but noone really knew what this action meant. Rooijakkers had more of such recent examples of ‘black folklore’. It seems that he and certain individuals (the dear was put on the church door as a warning by poachers against people who had warned the police about their actions) want to keep the memory of this side of the folklore alive. Rooijakkers describes the elements and ritual value of this and other folkloristic actions.
Very interesting, especially when you live in Brabant, because it all takes place in the Southeast part of Noord-Brabant.