The Britannia Coco-nut Dancers of Bacup
The origins of many traditional folk dances are lost in the mists of time and no one can say with any certainty how they came about. However, if you go to the small town of Bacup situated between Rochdale and Burnley in England on Easter Saturday you will be confronted by a band of men the survival of which is as unexpected as is fascinating and whose strange appearance could be described as exotic. The “Coco-Nutters” hace been performing their coco-Nut dance ritual for more than two-hundred years. Modern day “Coco-Nutters” gather every Easter Saturday morning, no matter what the weather, at the Travellers Rest Public House. They are then accompanied by The Stacksteads Silver Band to dance their way through the streets, following a tradition that takes them from boundary to boundary of the town.
The dances they perform are actually folk dances and the custom of blackened faces reflect a medieval background, as a way to disguise the dancers from being recognised by evil spirits afterwards, as well as a reflection of local historical mining traditions. The dances are supposed to have originated with moorish pirates (therefore, the costume). Some of these sailors are said to have settled in Cornwall and become employed in local mining. As mines and quarries opened in Lancashire in the 18th and 19th centuries, a few Cornishmen came North bringing with them mining expertise. It is with these people that the dances were reputedly brought to this area, in particular by two Cornishmen who came to work in Whitworth.
Each dancer wears wooden discs or “nuts” on his hands, knees and belt. During the dance, the discs are struck together in time to the music. The name Coconuts was given to the discs, probably, since the dance came to Lancashire and it is said they could resemble the protection to knees and elbows when crawling along narrow seams in the mines. The Coco-Nutters perform two kinds of dances, the Nut Dances and the Galrand Dances:
The Britannia Coco-Nut Dancers of Bacup: A Nut Dance
A Garland Dance