LOCATION: Belgium (northern region, called Flanders)

POPULATION: 5.5 million


RELIGION: Roman Catholicism; Protestantism; small numbers of Jews and Muslims


The Flemings (or Flemish) are Belgium's ethnic majority. They live in the northern part of Belgium, which is called Flanders, and speak the Flemish language, which is closely related to Dutch. Present-day Belgium was originally inhabited by Celtic tribes and was overrun by the Romans in the first century BC . In the fifth century AD the Franks, a Germanic people, invaded the region and ruled over it. They maintained a stronger presence in its northern portion, where early forms of the Dutch language eventually developed.

During the feudal period between the ninth and twelfth centuries AD , Belgium's Flemish and Walloon cultures continued developing along separate lines. Beginning in the fourteenth century, the merchants of cities such as Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent became more powerful. Flemish cities began to play an important role in European trade, and a cultural golden age began, in both music and art. Beginning in the sixteenth century, both the Flemish and the French-speaking Walloons to their south came under the rule of a series of foreign powers. These included Spain, the Austrian Hapsburg monarchy, the French under Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), and, finally, The Netherlands. Both the Flemings and Walloons revolted against Dutch rule, and the new Kingdom of Belgium was established in 1830 as a constitutional monarchy.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the Walloons had most of the political and economic power in Belgium. Flanders remained a primarily agricultural area. However, by the 1930s the Flemings had gained enough influence to make Flemish their official language. They legalized its use in education, the courts, and the government. In the 1960s, the Flemings and Walloons gained political, social, and cultural autonomy (self-rule) over their respective regions. Since then, Flanders has become a center for international trade, high-tech manufacturing, and tourism. In 1993, Belgium's constitution was amended, making Flanders and Wallonia autonomous regions within the Belgian kingdom.


The Flemings live in the northern part of Belgium, above an east-west line dividing the country's Flemish-and French-speaking regions. The Flemish-speaking provinces are East and West Flanders, Antwerp, Limburg, and part of Brabant. The land is mostly low, some of it below sea level. The Flemings account for 55 percent of Belgium's ten million people.


Flemish (Vlaams) is a variant of Dutch that has been spoken for about 1,000 years in the north of Belgium. Recognized as an official state language, it is different from the Dutch spoken in the neighboring Netherlands. Flemish does not have its own alphabet. It uses standard Dutch with some alterations.


English Flemish
one een
two twee
three drie
four vier
five vijf
six zes
seven zeven
eight acht
nine negen
ten tien


English Flemish
Sunday Zondag
Monday Maandag
Tuesday Dinsdag
Wednesday Woensdag
Thursday Donderdag
Friday Vrijdag
Saturday Zaterdag


The name of Antwerp—the major city in the Flemish part of Belgium—is derived from the name of a Roman hero who is said to have killed an evil giant and cut off his hand. (The city's symbol is a red hand.) Some of the Flemings' colorful pageants and festivals are based on local folklore, such as the Cat Festival of Ypres. This celebration is based on a legend about the use of cats to get rid of rats in the city of Ypres in the Middle Ages. For a long time, it was the festival custom to throw live cats out of windows. Today, cloth cats are used instead.


The great majority of Flemish are Catholic. Although many are not observant on a daily basis, nearly all Flemings are baptized and receive a Catholic education.


The Flemish observe Belgium's ten public holidays: New Year's Day (January 1), Easter Monday (March or April), Labor Day (May 1), Independence Day (July 21), All Saints' Day (November 1), and Christmas (December 25). They also celebrate other dates on the Christian calendar, and folk holidays from olden times. Fancy masks and papier-mâché "giants" are often used at folk festivals and processions. The Flemings are especially well known for their high-spirited celebration of the pre-Lenten carnival season. They begin with the bommelfeesten in the East Flanders town of Ronse and continue for weeks.


Rites of passage include major Catholic ceremonies such as baptisms, first communion, marriage and funerals. Although most Flemish do not practice Catholicism, the important events in a person's life tend to be occasions of major family reunions and stress their religious heritage. Special gifts and wishes are given for baptisms, first communions, and marriages.


Flemish manners are generally formal and polite. In conversation, Flemings frequently exchange compliments and shake hands repeatedly.


Most Flemish homes, like those in neighboring Wallonia, are built of red brick. Often the house will have a combined living room and dining area; large kitchens are also common. Many Flemings have a shop or other small business at the same site as the family home (an arrangement referred to as a winkelshuis or handelshuis ).


The Flemish generally have larger families than their Walloon neighbors to the south. Nuclear rather than extended families are the norm. Many single young people live at home and save their earnings, which they spend on clothes, cars, and recreation. Since the 1970s it has become increasingly common for unmarried couples to live together. Married couples often run small businesses together. The divorce rate among the Flemish, as elsewhere in the West, has risen in recent decades. The elderly commonly live in retirement communities or homes for the aged.


The Flemish, like all Belgians, wear modern Western-style clothing. However, in some rural areas, the traditional dark-colored farmer's clothing can still be seen.

12 • FOOD

Flemish cuisine (style of cooking) shows the cultural influence of the Dutch, but it is still unique. Fish and shellfish are central to Flemish cooking. Mussels, herring, lobster, shrimp, and oysters are all popular. Rabbit cooked in brown beer with stewed prunes is a regional specialty. Another regional dish is waterzooi, a chowder made from vegetables and either chicken or fish. Dinner, the main meal of the day, is eaten at midday. The Flemings are great beer drinkers and brew some of the best beers in the world. Fruit is included in almost every meal. A recipe for stoofperen (stewed pears) follows.


Education for all Belgians is required from age six through age fifteen. Many Flemish children go to Catholic private schools. At the high school level, students choose between trade-oriented, business, or college preparatory training. Some vocational schools operate work-study apprenticeship programs.


In the fine arts, the Flemish are especially famous for their painting. The best-known Flemish painters are those of the Renaissance, often called the "Flemish masters." They include Jan van Eyck (1395–1441), Hieronymus Bosch (1450–1516), Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1515 or 1530–69), Pieter Bruegel the Younger (1564–1638), Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), and Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641).


Stoofperen (Stewed Pears)


  • 6 firm, ripe pears, peeled
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 12 red or green maraschino cherries for garnish


  1. Cut peeled pears in half and remove cores.
  2. Sprinkle pears with juice from ½ lemon to prevent discoloration.
  3. Pour juice from 1½ lemons into a medium saucepan. Add 1 cup water, sugar, and cinnamon. Heat to boiling.
  4. Add pears and reduce heat. Simmer with the cover on the pan for about 20 minutes. Pears should be cooked but still holding their shape. Garnish with a maraschino cherry and serve.

Adapted from Webb, Lois Sinaiko. Holidays of the World Cookbook for Students. Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx Press, 1995.

Flemish literature began in the Middle Ages. After suffering a decline during centuries of foreign rule, it was revived when independence was attained in 1830. Prominent nineteenth-century Flemish writers include Hendrik Conscience (1812–83), author of The Lion of Flanders ( De Leeaw van Vlaenderen ), and lyric poet Guido Gezelle (1830–99). Well-known modern Flemish authors include novelists Louis Paul Boon and Hugo Claus.

In the sixteenth century, the music compositions of Orlando di Lasso (1532–94) combined the musical traditions of The Netherlands and Italy.


The Flemish are hard workers. They spend long hours running family-owned businesses. Sometimes they hold more than one job. Major industries in Flanders include textiles, automobiles, and chemicals. Manufacturing in new areas such as electronics and computer technology is growing, while the traditional heavy industries, including steelmaking and shipbuilding, are on the decline.

The Flemish regions have benefited from the growth of tourism in such cities as Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels. Today, two out of three Belgians have service-oriented jobs.


The Flemish are enthusiastic players and fans of soccer, Belgium's national sport. Cycling is another favorite sport.


The Flemish people enjoy typical leisure activities such as watching television and reading. Like many Belgians, they are enthusiastic gardeners, and every home has a carefully tended garden. Other typical hobbies include stamp collecting and model trains. The Flemish also share the Belgian love of festivals.


The Flemish are known for their lacemaking. Other crafts include glassblowing, tapestries, and pottery. There has also been a revival of folk arts including street singing, folk opera, and puppet and marionette theaters.


The incidence of public violent crime is comparatively low among the Flemish. However, domestic violence, including child abuse, remains a problem.


Hargrove, Jim. Belgium, Enchantment of the World. Chicago: Children's Press, 1988.

Pateman, Robert. Belgium. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1995.

Wickman, Stephen B. Belgium: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1984.


Belgian Tourist Office. [Online] Available http://www.visitbelgium.com/ , 1998.

Embassy of Belgium. Washington, D.C. [Online] Available www.belgium-emb.org/usa/ , 1998.

World Travel Guide. Belgium. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/be/gen.html , 1998.

User Contributions:

my grand-father Samy Emiel Yde came from Belgium so I'm very interested in all things Belgium
I too am related to Sammy Yde and would love to see the comments from Shon Thierry Yde

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