Lowlands-L: Things They Left Us: Folk traditions of the Lowlands worldwide
Lowlands-L: Things They Left Us: Folk traditions of the Lowlands worldwide


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Detail of “Peasant Dance” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525–1569) [GNU Free Documentation License]

The initial focus of Lowlands-L was language—similarities and differences among the North Sea Germanic languages and their offshoots. However, pretty much at the outset it was apparent that language is inseparable from culture—“culture” in the most general sense of the word. This is why we broadened the official focus accordingly.

During the following thirteen-odd years of Lowlands-L activities one of the most discussed topics aside from language and history has been the cultural heritage of the Lowlands. This should come as no surprise considering that we come together to compare related languages. Language reflects our views of the world, and these views are largely conditioned by our native traditions.

Detail of “Carnival’s Struggle with Lent” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525–1569) [GNU Free Documentation License]

Most of the things we learned when we were children stay with us for the rest of our lives, although they tend to make themselves comfortable in the backs of our minds and sit there quietly most of the time while we try to cope with today’s harsh realities. Among such things are our basic codes of conduct, also traditional sayings that are meant to impart basic wisdom, riddles, rhymes and songs we learned while sitting on someone’s lap or while playing games our forebears had played long before us, the mythical figures and bugbears we feared in the dark, the lullabies someone sang for us when we needed to feel safe and be tucked in before drifting off into sleepy land. Our “Lowlands”: The Netherlands, Belgium, French Flanders, Northern Germany, the British Isles, former Hanseatic settlements, and all other places that have been influences by the above.Do you remember your wonderment over old-time implements and bric-à-brac you discovered at older relatives’ homes and the stories all of them came with, the genuine traditional needlework, woodwork, metalwork and pottery someone once labored over, items that are now being replaced by cheap knock-offs underpaid workers made somewhere overseas for international mass markets without knowing their stories and meanings? Do you remember what it feels like when on special occasions you see people dressed up in the traditional costumes of your native area: this dichotomy of dismissal as irrelevant on the one hand and quiet pride and a sense of belonging on the other hand? I suppose it is easy for all of us to recall the sense of comfort we get when once in a while we enjoy homemade traditional dishes that take us right back to early childhood, to the faces and words of people we once shared meals with, people that have passed on but somehow remain alive inside us.

Detail of “Children’s Games by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525–1569) [GNU Free Documentation License]

If they don’t ignore them, most publications deal with folk traditions and folk craft in detached, academic or commercialized sorts of ways. Folk stories tend to be published in edited forms with modernizing illustrations for the child of today, and more and more parents keep them away from their children because of the violence some of them contain. Few of us are familiar with their original versions and even fewer of us are aware of the historical events such tales reflect as oral literature of largely illiterate populations. Folk songs and folk music are rarely presented authentically these days. While there is nothing wrong with new interpretations, it is nice to hear the original versions once in a while. At any rate, while they are still known, original versions of folk stories, songs, music, dances and so forth ought to be recorded so that future generations have access to them.

“Grain Harvest (August)” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525–1569) [GNU Free Documentation License]

Of relevance are also those traditions that long ago were imported from outside the Lowlands and have been adapted to Lowlands culture, as well as Lowlands traditions that long ago were adopted and adapted outside the Lowlands. This includes Lowlands-inspired traditions in former Lowlands colonies outside Europe. It also includes specific Lowlands traditions belonging to cultural substrata in places in which Lowlands languages are fading or extinct, as Dutch now is in French Flanders and in formerly Dutch-speaking North America and Northern Brazil.

Detail of “Hunters in the Snow” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525–1569) [GNU Free Documentation License]

In the fourteenth year of Lowlands-L, we decided to make this type of information available to the worldwide public. What you see here is a start to that.

Probably no one else captured ordinary Lowlands people’s lives of eras past consistently as informatively, vividly and fascinatingly as did the Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525–1569). For this reason the visual appearance of these pages has been designed around several of his works.

Not only Lowlands-L members but anyone is invited to participate in this effort to collect and display items belonging to the Lowlands’ cultural heritage. Professional-level presentations are not expected but are very much welcome. You are welcome to send us anything from a brief paragraph to a full-length article, in any language. Also invited are digitized photographs, drawings, paintings, sheet music and sound recordings. Just please make sure there are no copyright issues. All authors remain the copyright owners while permitting Lowlands-L to display their works here.

You are welcome to send us comments and/or to add works to this collection (with a focus on the Lowlands). If you you are willing to do so, please drop us a line under the subject line “Traditions” at lowlands.list(a)gmail.com (replacing (a) with @). And please provide your name (or write “Anonymous”) and also your town and country. Please click here to read further details.

Thanks, and have fun learning and sharing!

Reinhard “Ron” F. Hahn
Co-Founder & Chief Editor,
, June 24, 2008

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