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Stilts

STILTS, poles provided at a certain distance above the ground with steps or stirrups for the feet, for the purpose of walking on them. As a means of amusement stilts have been used by all peoples in all ages, as well as by the inhabitants of marshy or flooded districts. The city of Namur in Belgium, which formerly suffered from the overflowing of the rivers Sambre and Meuse, has been celebrated for its stilt- walkers for many centuries. Not only the towns-people but also the soldiers used stilts, and stilt-fights were indulged in, in which parties of a hundred or more attacked each other, the object being to overset as many of the enemy as possible. The governor of Namur having promised the archduke Albert (about 1600) a company of soldiers that should neither ride nor walk, sent a detachment on stilts, which so pleased the archduke that he conferred upon the city perpetual exemption from the beer-tax, no small privilege at that time.

The home of stilt-walking at the present day is the department of Landes in Gascony, where, owing to the impermeability of the subsoil, all low-lying districts are converted into marshes, compelling the shepherds, farmers and marketmen to spend the greater part of their lives on stilts. These are strapped to the leg below the knee, the foot resting in a stirrup about five feet from the ground. Their wearers, who are called tchaiignes (long-legs) in the Gascon dialect, also carry long staves, which are often provided with a narrow piece of board, used as a seat in case of fatigue. In the last quarter of the igth century stiltraces, for women as well as men, became very popular in the Landes district, and still form an important feature of every provincial festivity. One winner of the annual championship races accomplished 490 kilometres (more than 304 m.) in '103 hours, 36 minutes. Silvain Dornon, a baker of the Landes, walked on stilts from Paris to Moscow in 58 days in the spring of 1891. The rapids of the Niagara have been waded on stilts. In many of the Pacific islands, particularly the Marquesas, stilts are used during the rainy season. Stilts used by children are very long, the upper half being held under the arms; they are not strapped to the leg. Stilts play an important part in the Italian masquerades, and are used for mounting the gigantic figures in the grotesque processions of Lisle, Dunkirk, Louvain and other cities.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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