The first stilts appeared way before the forest mainly made with pine trees, planted in the middle of the 19th century under the impulsion of Napoleon III. In those times, the Landes were a wide swamps area, very flat, were the vegetation was essentially high herbs and bushes. In the landscape, lived only shepherds. In order to go through the vegetation easily, to avoid wetting their feet in the swamps but mostly to keep a closer look from a distance on their herds, the shepherds used stilts. The first testimonies attesting the existence of stilts go back to the early 18th century. But for how long did they exist? Were they invented by the local shepherds or were they brought by Flemish who used them since the Middle Age? So many questions that nobody could exactly answer.
The stilts from the Landes
They are made with 2 wooden parts:
The "escasse" ( meaning "leg" in the Gascon language) giving the present name "échasse" (stilt)
The "paouse pé" (meaning "base feet" in the Gascon language), fixed on the stilt, most of the time between 90 and 120cm high. Therefore, the individual attaches the stilt to his leg thanks to 2 leather strings.
From yesterday to nowadays
The practice of stilts, in an utilitarian point of view by shepherds, gradually disappeared between the middle of the 19th century and the early 20th century. Indeed, the setting-up of the forest dried out the swamps and made the sheeps disappeared along with their shepherds on stilts. But at the same time, shepherds started using their stilts for games and dances with the locals. The first group of dancers on stilts therefore appeared in 1889, founded in Arcachon by Sylvain DORNON. Its first dance was "Lou Quadrilh dous Tchancats".
Today, there are 2 folk groups on stilts in Biscarrosse that perpetuate the original dances on stilts from their ancesters.
LES HERONS DES LACS
The stilts, used in the past as a working tool, evolve to become an artistic activity demanding skills and performances. Professional on stilts appear in dance shows, races, marathons …