LOCATION: Belgium (southern region, called Wallonia)

POPULATION: 3.2 million


RELIGION: Roman Catholicism; Islam; Protestantism; Judaism; Russian Orthodox; Greek Orthodox


The Walloons, who live in Belgium's southern provinces, are the country's French-speaking inhabitants. Their culture contrasts with that of the Flemings, who inhabit the northern part of the country and speak Flemish, a language similar to Dutch. The Walloons' closest cultural ties are to France and other countries in which Romance languages are spoken.

In the fifth century AD the Franks, a Germanic people, invaded the region that includes modern Belgium. They gained the most power in the northern area, where early forms of the Dutch language took hold. In the south, the Roman culture and Latin-based dialects continued to flourish. During the feudal period between the ninth and twelfth centuries AD , the Flemish and Walloon cultures continued developing along separate lines.

Beginning in the sixteenth century, both the Flemings and the Walloons came under the rule of a succession of foreign powers. These included Spain, the Austrian Hapsburg monarchy, the French under Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), and, finally, The Netherlands. Both groups then joined together in a revolt against Dutch rule. The new Kingdom of Belgium was created in 1830 as a constitutional monarchy.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the Walloons held most of the political and economic power in Belgium. The rich natural resources of their region (known as Wallonia) brought the mines, mills, and factories of the Industrial Revolution to the region early. Their language, French, was the language of government, law, the Roman Catholic Church, and education. By comparison, the Dutch-based Flemish language was associated with rural poverty and lack of education. This language division was dramatized when French-speaking Belgian officers in World War I (1914–18) couldn't communicate with their Flemish-speaking troops.

Since World War II (1939–45), Wallonia's traditional heavy industries (especially steelmaking) have declined, and its coal mines have closed.

In the 1960s, the Flemings and Walloons were given increased control over their respective regions. In 1993 Belgium's constitution was amended, making Flanders and Wallonia autonomous (self-governing) regions within the Belgian Kingdom.


With an area of 6,600 square miles (17,094 square kilometers), Wallonia covers 55 percent of Belgium's territory and includes the provinces of southern Brabant, Hainautl, Namur, Liège, and Luxembourg. Wallonia is a densely populated area with 3.2 million inhabitants.


The language of Wallonia is French. There are also a number of regional dialects. These dialects, which are referred to collectively as "Walloon," are grouped into Eastern (Liège), Central (Namur), and Western (Charleroi, La Louvière, Nivelles).


Traditionally, the spirits of the departed were thought to return to earth on All Saints' Day (November 1). Families still visit cemeteries to clean the tombs of their deceased relatives on that date. Some rural villagers still believe in the powers of folk healers. Walloon folklore includes many tales involving the devil.


Catholicism is the traditional religion of Wallonia. The Walloons are generally less religious than the Flemings to their north. Even the elderly who keep statues of the Virgin Mary in their windows often are not regular churchgoers. Wallonia is the site of two popular pilgrimage shrines, at Beauraing and Banneaux. Lourdes in southwestern France has traditionally drawn many pilgrims from Walloon.


The Walloons observe Belgium's ten public holidays as well as many folk holidays. The town of Binche is famous for its carnival festivities in the weeks before Lent. The best-known part of the annual celebration is the Dance (or March) of the Gilles. Over 1,000 people dressed in brightly colored, padded costumes throw oranges at the spectators.


Most Walloon young people undergo religious rituals such as baptism and first communion. In addition, a student's progress through the educational system is marked with graduation parties in many families.


Walloon manners are generally formal and polite. Conversations are marked by frequent exchanges of compliments and repeated handshaking. Relatives greet each other by shaking hands, hugging, or kissing each other on the cheek. A hug is a common greeting among friends. Men and women or two female friends may exchange kisses on the cheek.


The majority of Walloons are city dwellers. Most live in multistory brick row houses with large kitchens and gardens. Walloon houses, like those of other Belgians, often include an area used for a family business.


The modern nuclear family (parents and children only) is the norm in Wallonia. However, it is not unusual for an elderly grandparent to join the household. Couples generally marry in their mid-to late twenties. Wallonia's divorce rate is rising, and divorce and remarriage are considered socially acceptable.


The Walloons, like all Belgians, wear modern Western-style clothing.

12 • FOOD

Walloon cuisine is derived from that of France. However, it tends to be spicier and higher in calories than modern-day French food. The main meal of the day, which is eaten at noon, might consist of a pork dish, potatoes, and salad with mayonnaise. Both breakfast and supper are light meals that may include the popular regional cheese, makèye, served on slices of bread. Soup is a staple of the Walloon diet, often served as a first course for the midday and evening meals. Walloons drink a lot of coffee. It is common to take a 4 PM coffee break called a goûter, often consisting of coffee and a piece of pie. Walloons also like to drink and brew beer.


Education for all Belgians is required from age six through age fifteen. At the secondary level, students choose between trade-oriented, business, or college-preparatory training.


The Walloons are best known for their contributions to modern art, notably the work of painters René Magritte (1898–1967) and Paul Delvaux (1898–1994). The best-known Walloon author is mystery writer Georges Simenon (1903–89), creator of the character of the police commissioner Maigret. Wallonia's most famous music composer was César Franck (1822–90). The concert violinist Eugène Ysaye (1858-1931) founded the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Music Competition. The saxophone was invented by a Belgian, Adolphe Sax (1814–94), who was born in Wallonia.


With its steel, glass, and textiles industries, Wallonia was a leading manufacturing center in the nineteenth century. Since World War II (1939–45), however, its coal mines have closed and its traditional heavy industries have fallen into decline. The Walloons were hit harder by Belgium's high unemployment of the late 1980s and early 1990s than were their neighbors to the north.


Walloons share Belgium's national passion for soccer. Another favorite national pastime that the Walloons share is bicycling. Pigeon racing, practiced throughout Belgium, is especially popular in Wallonia.


The Walloons enjoy typical leisure activities such as watching television and reading. Like other Belgians, they are avid gardeners and maintain well-tended gardens. Other typical hobbies include stamp collecting and model trains. Many Walloons enjoy gathering with friends in neighborhood cafes after work.


The talents of traditional artists can be seen in the elaborate costumes and giant figures used in festivals and processions. Folk art can also be seen in puppet and marionette theaters.


Wallonia has suffered from high rates of unemployment in the 1990s. Some of its inhabitants have been forced to commute to jobs in Brussels or Flanders. The cultural, linguistic, and political divisions between the Walloons and the Flemings are a continuing source of conflict.


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.

Also read article about Walloons from Wikipedia

User Contributions:

Pam Williams
I have a Philip Du Trieux in my family tree and read somewhere that he was a Walloon and thought I would look up more information.
Very interesting.
I love the historical background of both Walloon and Fleming. I am a political science student at the University of Tasmania. Thanks
I am belgian on my mothers side. My grandpa was called Gérard and Pierre. I wasn't sure if this is Walloon or Flemish ancestory but I guess it's Walloon.

Thanks a lot for this info! Peace!
I have many documents and letters from a city called Chiny. I'm trying to find more information about this area. Thanks.
red bug2
I am 1/2 Walloon and 1/4 Flemish Belgian . The discription of Walloon life is exactly as it is in my area of the USA, which is heavily populated with Belgians. It seems heredity follows no matter how far you roam.
I had or have family in Belgium with the surname Mathieu. Where in Belgium would this name come from in Belgium? I was told that my Mathieu family was close to the French boader. They immigrated to Springhill Nova Scotia Canada around 1914.
Can you tell me please if the background of the name Vango is Huegenot or Walloon

Thank you.
This is a really helpful article. I am currently in Grenada, West Indies, visiting with my wife and my mother-in-law who is Grenadian. I have been reading about the history of Grenadian people and discovered that in the 1700's, 100 Walloon soldiers were invited into Grenada from Brazil where they were assisting the Dutch. These 100 Walloons settled in Grenada and became plantation owners and their presence had significant social impact in particular as they inter-bred with the enslaved Africans and bestowed their names upon their slaves. My mother-in-law is clearly of African descent but her surname is Pierre, her mother's maiden name was Hazard. Grenadians once spoke a French creole patois, littered with what is now known to be words peculiar to the Walloons. This afternoon we were out shopping and my mother-in-law bought black pudding, a popular dish in Grenada and thought to have been introduced by the Walloons. Later we attended a Grenadian cemetery where it was explained that each year on All Saints day the cemetery is attended to, the grass mown and the beautiful white tombs cleaned. If anyone has further information connecting the Walloons to Grenada, I'd be interested to hear from you.
Susanne Greés
Me and my sister are interested in finding out about our ancestry and our ties to the walloons as our surname is Greés which is a walloon name. We are planning a trip to Nivelles to find out more about our roots. Any tips and ideas are welcomed.

Regards Susanne and Yvonnie
Hi there,
As a Walloon I would like to say to Susanne that her surname is Flemish rather than Walloon as we do not have double vowels in French names (Walloon names are French sounding names) but what can happen is that some Belgians have Flemish names but have become Walloons (by marriage etc) and in Brussels you can find people speaking French with Flemish ancestry. Good luck with your search Susanne. God bless.
Louis Guerin
My dad's family are from Foret, just outside of Liege. They have been in that area (Province of Liege) since 1554 and were textile people. They came to the USA in 1900 and opened textile factories in Woonsocket, RI and the family has grown. I've visited there and found it a beautiful place. I would love to go back someday. Thank you for this piece.
In the 1500 the Walloons came to Sweden to help them with mining iron ore. It has been said that our ancestry was Walloon but the name changed from Müllberger to Möllberg when they stayed in Sweden. Could this be true. My Aunt born in 1885 said we were from the Walloons
I am a member of the extended Guerin family. My great grandmother's older brother Octave married Joseph Guerin's daughter, Marie Elizabeth. Great-grandmother Josephine Pothier Laferriere, married to Charles E. A. Laferriere, MD of Woonsocket. Joseph Guerin established the Guerin Spinning Mills in Woonsocket in 1895 followed by several other factories.

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