Cycling through Overmere (east of Ghent), you can’t miss this statue by Aloïs de Beule in the centre of the village. Its title is “Pa and Gijs”, referring to two rebellious peasants called De Pauw and Gyselinck. The sculpture is a silent reminder of the reason why Overmere has a unique place in Belgian history. It’s in this particular village that the Peasant’s War (in Dutch: de Boerenkrijg) started in 1798. The arrest of an inhabitant for outstanding tax on 12 October was the spark that lit the fuse. Peasants started a spontaneous uprising against the French ruler. The revolt spread throughout the Southern Netherlands, while the Brigands (as the peasants were called by the French) hoped for military help by England and Prussia. This support turned out to be half-hearted, leading to the final defeat of the farmers in Hasselt, on 5 December of the same year.
Picture taken on 14 February 2015
Peasants Gathering, a Boerenkrijg scene by Constantin Meunier.
1) Pro Aris et Focis. Flemish contrarevolutionaries (‘Brigands’) assault the lines of the French Republic in this scene from the Peasants’ war. Source unknown, but the painting is property of the Taxandria museum in Turnhout. Same goes for 2): Brigands taken prisoner by French troops, villagers say farewell. As recent as two years ago a mass grave with 41 peasant-soldiers in it was discovered in Mechelen.3) Painting of Leo Van Aken of a clandestine mass during the French occupation.
If Willem I learned his history lessons properly, he would knew the character of the ones he wanted to let him pay too much taxes … He must have been too busy chasing women in London that particular year, hence not able to recall the real sufferings of 1798.
Geen roekeloze wagers: Stil volk dat zich beraadt,
Aleer het zijn belagers Manhaft te lijve gaat.
Zij wisten wat zij wilden Toen zij tot stout verweer
De piek of zeis optilden, Of grepen naar ‘t geweer
Voor vrijheid en recht; ongeknecht,
Onverveerd voor outer en heerd.
Zij steunden op Oranjes: De Nederlanden één!
En juichten toen Brittannië’s Beloofde vloot verscheen.
Kloekmoedig in de gouwen Van Diets Zuid-Nederland.
Zijn allen sterk en trouwe. Gesprongen in de brand
Rollier, Corbeels, Van Gansen, Bevochten onverveerd,
Met wisselende kansen, Den vijand van hun heerd.
Zij kampten koen als leeuwen, En werden z’overmand,
Hun namen staan voor eeuwen, In ‘t hart van ‘t volk gebrand.