Lewes Bonfire night parade's 'racist' costumes to be axed

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionA Zulu costume used in previous years at the Lewes Bonfire

A group at one of Britain's biggest Bonfire Night events has vowed to tone down "disrespectful and racist" Zulu costumes amid a row over the outfits.

Members of Lewes Borough Bonfire Society traditionally wear black face paint and extravagant accessories for the annual parade in the Sussex town.

But the leader of a Zulu dance troupe booked to perform at the event said the costumes were "incredibly offensive".

The society agreed to alter the costumes.

Thousands attend the event, which is famed for its raucous atmosphere.

Members of six bonfire societies march through the town, carrying effigies of famous or controversial figures which are eventually set alight.

Thandanani Gumede, leader of dance troupe Zulu Tradition, initially accepted an invitation to perform, but said he was inundated with images of performers in offensive dress.

'Viking and showgirl'

He said the first picture he saw - from a bonfire society's pamphlet - showed an acceptable version of the costume.

He said: "It didn't offend me because it was clear they had taken to time to make the details of the costume correct. They had the leopard skin umqhele, the 'crown', similar to my own, beads and sympathetic body paint."

image copyrightJack Brown
image captionA more authentic Zulu dress, which Mr Gumede was initially shown

However, he found subsequent images "disrespectful", and was alerted to a 1,600-strong petition to stop "the offensive practice of blacking up".

"I was really disappointed," he added, "bones through the noses, dead monkeys, skulls, horns, huge feathered headdresses.

"They looked barbaric, like a cross between a Viking and a showgirl. It was incredibly offensive. Nothing about those outfits resembled a Zulu warrior."

Mr Gumede said the society was receptive to his suggestions, and he did not believe anybody had intended to cause offence.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionEarlier versions of the costume featured "over-styled" elements

Mick Symes, of the society said: "These costumes have been used for 100 years, and during parades things do get a bit over-styled.

"We lost our way a bit, but we are delighted to welcome Zulu Tradition to what will be a most wonderful night."

The skulls, bones, dead monkeys and black face paint will now be omitted and more traditional headpieces created for next year.

A counter petition has the support of 600 people, and some locals commented that the tradition of painting faces had been going on for years.

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