The Britannia Coconut Dancers took to the streets of Bacup yesterday (April 8) for their traditional Easter performance.

The group, known as the ‘Nutters’, made their way around the town from 9am to 7pm, entertaining locals with their dances.

It is a tradition that goes way back and the group’s website says that for more than a century, “astonished visitors have marvelled at the distinctive and precise movements of the dances and they have achieved a status unique in folk and traditional dance circles.”

Lancashire Telegraph:

It is also said that the dances were brought to the area in the 19th century by Cornish tin miners, who came to the Rossendale Valley to work in the nearby quarries.

The migrating miners are thought to have taught the dances in Rawtenstall and Whitworth, and there were also other teams of dancers prevalent in the area, including Shawclough, Cloughfold, and Waterfoot.

Keeping that tradition together in the modern day, though, has proved difficult at times.

Lancashire Telegraph:

The group controversially use blackface, claiming “it has no connection with ethnicity nor any form of racial prejudice.”

Despite this, they split from the Joint Morris Organisation, the umbrella group which represents the country’s 800 dancing ‘sides’, who said in their ruling that “full black face or other skin tone make-up is a practice that has the potential to cause deep hurt,” so members should stop.

The group says that the face paint represents the coal dust-covered faces of the miners who devised the dance.

Lancashire Telegraph:

In 2021 they were due to perform at Bacup Makers Market but organisers cancelled their performance after receiving a number of email complaints.

However, not everyone is put off by the controversy surrounding the dancers.

At that same Bacup Makers Market event, some locals were angered by the decision to cancel their performance, saying they would be boycotting the market.

Even as recently as this weekend there has been lots of support for the ‘Nutters’, with many people stressing that it is a local tradition that needs to be kept alive.

One comment left on Facebook said: “I enjoyed watching them perform their traditional dances this Easter Saturday, long may it continue.

“There are too many outsiders not understanding our local history and being very quick to say we are wrong.”

Lancashire Telegraph:

Others stressed that while the dancing was impressive and should stay, the face paint was not relevant to the act and could easily be changed.

One comment said: “The dancing is brilliant and it should definitely continue. However, I read a leaflet yesterday about the Coconutters, produced by the Coconutters, which said the likely basis of the whole look came from Cornish tin miners dressing up as Moorish pirates.

“The Moors were from North Africa so the black faces are to make them look like black pirates. That’s blacking up and isn’t ok. I don’t understand why just the black face paint can’t go. It isn’t the black faces that makes them special – they’d still be brilliant without it.”

Lancashire Telegraph:

The Lancashire BME network, a group which works to empower black and minority ethnic communities in the county, said during a GB News debate in 2021 there was nothing racist about the group and that the tradition went back to the Middle Ages.

With the support they seem to be getting from locals, it seems unlikely that the Coconutters could change their stance any time soon, leaving the debate open as to how they should present themselves.