Hanske knap

struck idiophone

Many places in Europe have a tradition of masks in the shape of an animal head with the lower jaw clapping against the upper jaw. These animal head clappers mainly play a role in traditional customs that are linked to the folk calendar.  In Belgium this tradition lives on in the knaptand of Dendermonde (see instrument of the month 02.2012), and in the hanske knap ('johnny clap') of the polders of Antwerp, which accompanies the door to door singing on the Monday after Epiphany.

The hanske knap tradition was first described in 1891, but it is undoubtedly much older. Until well into the twentieth century it was known in the Antwerp polders villages of Lillo, Stabroek, Zandvliet and Berendrecht, and maybe also in the  north of the Antwerp Campine. In our day,  it is only kept alive in Zandvliet and Berendrecht.  

The hanske knap is made of a clog. The front part of the sole is sawed off, and then attached again to the rear part by means of one or two leather or rubber strips, which function as hinges. In the middle of the loose part a string is attached, which is run through the clog and over the heel. (see drawing)




By pulling on the string the lower jaw is snapped shut to the rhythm of the traditional hanske knap chant. In the listening example, recorded in Zandvliet in 1989, the words went like this:

Hanske knap, (come) up with all the pennies!                                                                        

They are for cutting Hanske's beard off.                                                        

It hasn't been cut for six, seven years.                                                                

Ho Hans, ho Hans!                                                                                                

Put a penny in the Hans.                                                                                 

Ho Hans, ho Hans, ho Hans!                                                                                                                                                                                                  

The clog is made into an animal head by covering it with sheep or rabbit skin, as with this specimen (inv. 3960) from Berendrecht,  acquired in 1963. Its lower jaw is lined on the inside with a red piece of cloth that suggests the tongue. Quite often, it has a long 'beard'. In recent times, clogs have also been painted.

Originally the hanske knap was a mask, as it was attached to a big sack that entirely covered the player, as with the knaptand of Dendermonde. At the end of the nineteenth century 'Hans' is described as a kind of wild beast. It was lead on a rope or chain by a couple of singers with blackened faces wielding sticks. After the song Hans went crazily jumping around until his leaders subdued him, shouting Hou, Hans! Hou, Hans! ('Stop, Hans!). On the command Hans, bidden! (Hans, pray!), he opened his jaws to receive the gift. This could be money or food (currant bread, sausages, bacon, ribs, pork ears or trotters). On the command Hans, spuw uit! ('Hans, spit it out!), Hans dropped the gift in the hands of the leader. After the tour the spoils were prepared and eaten in a pub. Around 1900 singers were older boys and men from the lower classes. Since the years 1920-1930 they were boys and girls from all walks of life, who were only offered money or sweets.

In the course of the twentieth century most of the traditional attire was gradually abandoned. Especially since the 1960s the tradition has been on the decline. In 1989 we counted some five groups in Zandvliet. Only a few singers had blackened their faces. Some still wore the traditional gunny sack with an inside folded tip by way of a hood.

In 2017 hanske knap singers were  mainly supporters of football club Berendrecht Sport who went around in their club outfits for the benefit of their youth teams. Apart from them only two ten-year-old girls in traditional costumes were spotted.

Wim Bosmans

Hanske Knap  Berendrecht, Antwerpen, c1950
hanske knap drawing
Zandvliet, 1989 P. Van Linden & P. Kouwenberg (photo S. Guilliams)
Zandvliet, 1989, K. Dingemans, B. Van Dorst & R. Daens (photo S.Guilliams)
Zandvliet-Berendrecht, 2017, L. van Wellen & A. Struyf  (photo Staf De Lie)
Berendrecht, 2017, supporters voetbalclub Berendrecht Sport (photo Staf De Lie)