Processional giant

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(Redirected from Gegants i capgrossos)

Processional giant
Processional giants (Gegants) in the feast of La Mercè, in Barcelona
MaterialLightweight materials such as papier maché
Present locationEurope and Latin America

Processional giants[a] are costumed figures in European folklore, particularly present in Belgian, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and English folkloric processions. The main feature of these figures is typically their wooden, papier maché or -more recently- synthetic resin head, whilst bodies are covered in clothing matching the costume's theme.

Since 2008, Belgian and French processional giants have been recognised as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, as part of the binational listing of 'Processional giants and dragons in Belgium and France'.[1]


The processional giant is a gigantic costumed figure that represents a fictitious or real being. Inherited from medieval rites, tradition has it that it is carried, and that it dances in the streets during processions or festivals. Its physiognomy and size are variable, and its name-giving varies according to the regions; among the Flemings, it is known by the name of reuze, among the Picards it is called gayant. The large biblical figures in the procession also served the purpose of catechising a largely illiterate population.[2]

The first registered date for the gigantones e cabeçudos is the Corpus Christi festivity in Évora, Portugal, back in 1265.[3][4] It included the snake, the demon and the dragon which represented the challenges that Jesus Christ had to defeat. In Spain, the first written references in novels date from 1276 in Pamplona (Navarra) with three giants representing three people from Pamplona: Pero-Suciales (woodcutter), Mari-Suciales (villager) and Jucef-Lacurari (Jew).[5]


Belgium has nearly 1500 giants on its soil. Their appearance dates back to the 15th century; Goliath of Nivelles, which is mentioned as early as 1457, is the oldest known Belgian giant.[6] Belgium also has the largest giant in Europe; Jean Turpin of Nieuwpoort, which exceeds 11 metres (36 ft).

The Belgian cultural heritage includes the following events:


The giant is one of the symbols of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region. It is the object of ancestral cultural practices that are still kept alive. Present at regional festivals and events, he represents the northern community.

The region currently has more than 450 giants, spread over the whole territory. There are nevertheless more dynamic intra-regional zones, located around central points. The Flemish part of the region is a land of giants; each city has one or more of them. Examples include Reuze Papa and Reuze Maman of Cassel, Tisje Tasje of Hazebrouck, Jean de Bûcheron and La Belle Hélène in Steenvoorde, and Totor of Steenwerck. In the South, in the Languedoc region, there is the Pézenas colt, and in the Provence, the tarasque of Tarascon (Bouches-du-Rhône).



Gigantes of Pamplona, Spain
Giants of Lleida, Spain

The giants are usually hollow figures several meters tall, with a painted paper maché head and arms, the rest of the body being covered in cloth and other clothing. Their frame is usually made of wood or aluminium, with carton-pierre—a mixture of papier-mâché and plaster of paris—used to make the head and hands. The frame of the body is hidden by cloth, and the arms typically have no structural element to allow them to swing in the air when the giant is turned.

Within the frame is an individual controlling the giant. He carries a harness on his shoulder that is linked to the internal structure, and will move and shake the giant in a dance, usually accompanied by a local marching band. Typically, these dances will include at least two giants, the male gigante and the female giantess, called giganta or gigantona, though some towns have multiple couples.

The figures usually depict archetypes of the town, such as the bourgeois and the peasant woman, or historical figures of local relevance, such as a founding king and queen, or pairs of Moorish and Christian nobles.


Cabezudos are smaller figures, usually to the human scale, that feature an oversized, carton-pierre head. The heads are worn with a matching costume. The person dressed as cabezudo will use one hand to hold his head, while the other hand carries a whip or pig bladder, used to frighten children or young women. Seeing through the "mouth" of the head, he will chase after these people, though he might pause to calm a frightened child.

As with the giants, the cabezudos typically represent archetypes of their town.


Gigantes y cabezudos is also the title of an 1898 zarzuela, with music by Manuel Fernández Caballero, set in Saragossa and featuring a contemporary event: the Spanish army's return from the disastrous defeat of the Cuban War of Independence. The action unfolds during the festival of the Fiestas del Pilar, and concludes with a rousing jota focusing on the stereotypically strong, hardy character of the Aragonese, comparing them to the ever-battling "Gigantes" and "Cabezudos".


The Salisbury Giant, Saint Christopher, upon the coronation of King Edward VII, 1902. Photograph from the Salisbury Museum
Mr Fishy on display at Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, 2023

England's most famous gianteering tradition is arguably that of the Jack in the Green, however the country is also host to giants more visually similar to those of continental Europe. These giants may represent figures of folklore and pseudohistory, or can be more general personifications. The earliest record of a processional giant in England is a reference from 1570 to the Salisbury Giant who processed on the eve of St John the Baptist's Day, or Midsummer's Day. The Salisbury Giant, a depiction of Saint Christopher, is believed by some to date to the 1400s, and was owned by the Tailor's Guild before being purchased by the Salisbury Museum in 1873.[9][10][11] St Agnes, Cornwall, hosts the May festival Bolster Day featuring a processional giant that represents the mythical giant Bolster. Other English giants include Nathandriel, The Morrigan, War and Peace, Hannah Clarke, Gog and Magog, and Mr Fishy.[12][13][14] There also exists a variant of giant called a Ninnie which consists only of a large hollow mask which covers the entire head and leaves the wearer's body uncovered, similar to the oversized heads of American sports mascots. [15] Carriers of English processional giants are called porters, or dancers. [16]


The Higantes Festival is held in Angono, Rizal between 22 and 23 November since the late 19th century.[citation needed]

Other figures[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Dutch: stadsreuzen, French: géants processionnels, Spanish: gigantes y cabezudos, Valencian: gegants i cabuts, Catalan: gegants i capgrossos, Basque: erraldoi eta buruhandiak


  1. ^ "Processional giants and dragons in Belgium and France - intangible heritage - Culture Sector - UNESCO". Retrieved 22 September 2018.
  2. ^ Ducastelle, Jean-Pierre. Géants et dragons : Mythes et traditions à Bruxelles, en Wallonie, dans le Nord de la France et en Europe Relié [Giants and dragons: Myths and traditions in Brussels, Wallonia, Northern France and Europe] (in French).
  3. ^ Festividades cíclicas em Portugal (2. ed.). Publ. Dom Quixote. 1995. ISBN 9789722003353.
  4. ^ "Giant Figures". 10 July 2017.
  5. ^ (9 June 2016). "La Comparsa". (in Spanish). Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  6. ^ Nivelles Tourism website, about Nivelles' Goliath
  7. ^ Base Palissy: Note about Reuze Papa, Ministère français de la Culture. (in French)
  8. ^ Base Palissy: Note about Reuze Maman, Ministère français de la Culture. (in French)
  9. ^ "Land of the giants". 29 March 2022.
  10. ^ "Giant and Hob-Nob".
  11. ^ "BBC - A History of the World - Object : The Salisbury Giant".
  12. ^ "Meet the Hastings Giants". 10 January 2022.
  13. ^ "Hastings Jack in the Green 2008 Nathandriel". 4 May 2008.
  14. ^ "Jack in the Green Hastings Parade / Procession 2022 Hastings Old Town - Giants and folk in green". YouTube.
  15. ^ "BIGG: About ninnies".
  16. ^ "BIGG: Giant crews".

External links[edit]