The Brommtopp and Cross Dressing Mennonites

I’d never heard of a Brommtopp till I visited the historic Mennonite village of Neubergthal Manitoba. Our tour guide showed us a Brommtopp and demonstrated how you rubbed its horsehair tail to create a sound by causing the calfskin stretched across the barrel to vibrate. The Brummtopp was played on New Years’ Eve when costumed young men went from house to house in Manitoba Mennonite villages singing Low German songs and receiving Portzeltje (New Year’s fritters) and alcohol shots for their performances.   bromtopp I found a scholarly paper by Marcie Fehr and Pauline Greenhill that looked at the Brommtopp ritual in Manitoba Mennonite communities.  Men sometimes dressed up as women for the event and their performances could be rather crude, and irreverent providing young Mennonite men with an opportunity to behave in ways that would have been inappropriate at any other time during the year.  

salvationFehr and Greenhill refer to the fact that Armin Wiebe writes about the Brommtopp in his humorous 1984 novel The Salvation of Yasch Siemens in a way that implies men dressing up as women for the Brommtopp performances may have made some community members slightly anxious. Fehr and Greenhill suggest the Brommtopp tradition might have provided an opportunity for males to participate in cross-dressing in a way that was acceptable to the community.

Photo by Peter G. Hamm 1920s from the book Mennonite Village Photography

Interestingly in the 2020 book, Mennonite Village Photography which features photos taken in Mennonite villages in Manitoba at the turn of the century, there is a photo in which women are dressed as men.  I am not sure if the photo was connected to a Brommtopp event but it is interesting to note participation by both genders in cross-dressing in Manitoba Mennonite communities.  

Other posts……

Works of Art or Historical Documents

Introducing Visitors From India and Hong Kong to Mennonites

The Station of Tears

 

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Filed under History, Music

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