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Garifuna 101 » PRESERVING THE WANARAGUA TRADITION
Dec 16, 2004

This article is dedicated to what is wonderful about Garifuna. I hope that after reading the following you too will feel the same warmth I felt when I was inspired and decided to write this article about another one of our traditions. This weekend I experienced a wonderful occurrence as I spent some time observing a group of dedicated Garinagu rehearsing for Wanaragua (Yancunu - Mascaro). The day started like any normal Sunday. It was during the afternoon hours, when my family and I went to a friend’s house where they were doing the last minute preparations for the upcoming, traditional Christmas Day Wanaragua Dancing. The Wanaragua is a dance that is performed around this time of year in the Garifuna community.

The story tells of Chatuye’s wife Baruda asking her husband as he walks inside the house why is he not fighting against the British like everybody else? Then Chatuye asked Baruda for her woman’s clothes so he could put them on and she replied why? Chatuye told her that he would disguise himself as a woman because he couldn’t help noticing how the enemy would fight and persecute the men but not the women. And as the story goes, when the British came back again to fight them, all they encountered were the women. But indeed it was the Garinagu men dressed up in women’s clothing who once again bravely defeated the enemy by surprise. Presently, the men are covered from head to toe with women’s clothing so that they cannot be recognized. They wear a feathery headpiece, a painted mask that resembles a woman’s face with hands and feet completely covered with gloves and socks. The Wanaragua are accompanied by the special drumming and vocals by the Gayusa (women singers). The entire dance troop travels from house to house visiting the different families who have agreed to host them. They perform the traditional dance as people show their appreciation by tossing money towards the area where the Wanaragua dance.

In preparing for the traditional Wanaragua dancing, the men practice to get their steps together and to get the feel for the drummers’ beat. On this particular day of practice, the elder Garifuna men were teaching the young the tradition of the Wanaragua dance. Culture was being passed on from the experienced dancers to the new candidates chosen to dance Wanaragua for this year. The beat of the drums along with the songs were also being taught to the next generation. One of the elder men was explaining the rhythm of the drums and showing the footwork that accompanies that particular beat. It was a sight to remember! The youngsters were attentively listening, observing and obtaining every skill that was being taught to them. The pupils were mimicking the moves of the elders and altering it to fit their own individuality. It was heartwarming to witness the exchange that was taking place between the two generations. The young men were giving the elders their undivided attention but most importantly they showed respect for the individuals that were present. The elder looked on with pride and adoration as the younger generation just got into the grove of our Garifuna drumbeat and sounds. Another fascinating aspect that was beautiful to witness was the different representation of Garinagu men from Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. They all were coming together as one in teaching our Garifuna traditional dance, the Wanaragua. It did not matter where these individuals were from the only important thing was that our tradition was being preserved and passed on. We must never forget that our commonality is that we are Garifuna first. This is what keeps are culture alive. When we pass down our traditions, dance, music, history and language to the next generation, we are showing respect and interest in carrying on our heritage.

Finally, at the very end of the rehearsal, the magic happened. An impromptu jam session had begun. The drummers continued to beat and the singers continued to sing. The next thing you knew was that everybody in attendance young and old were singing and moving to our Garifuna rhythm. We sang our Garifuna songs, one after the other. From the Paranda to the Punta we sang them all. We even sang the “Silent Night?, with the echoes of the drums beating to this traditional Christmas Carol. It felt as if our Ancestors’ presence was all around us. Even the youngest of the spectators which was a little girl of just 2 was shaking her tiny body to the beat of the drums. I looked around and said to myself…?This is who we are and I love it?.

Your comments, questions or suggestions are welcomed: mamagapg@yahoo.com


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