Black Arts Weekend: Afro-Caribbean Drumming

An Afro-Caribbean drumming troupe kicked off Black Arts Weekend last Friday with an energetic, Central American drum performance.

The Habinaha Garinagu drumming group gave their interactive, drum-accompanied dance and song performances in the Garifuna language, an endangered language mainly spoken in Honduras, in order to raise awareness about the dying language and culture. Currently, there are only 203 native speakers of the Garifuna language, according to the Habinaha Garinagu Facebook page.

Clad in traditional yellow, black and white Garifuna dresses, two bare foot drummers took the stage with simple and nature-inspired dance movements, which was accompanied by their chant-like narrative singing.

The drummers’ enthusiasm on stage fostered a lively and personal atmosphere in the audience.

Members of Habinaha Garinagu called the entire audience to join them on the dance floor to do the “Punta,” a popular dance style in the Caribbean used for festive occasions. The Punta consists of a couple dancing in the middle of a circle of participants clapping and singing loudly.

“I thought it was awesome to experience the customs and unique celebrations of another culture and it felt like I was connecting with a different side of me when I was dancing with the group,” said Maria Amorosso ’14.

Eleanor Castillo-Bullock, leader of the troupe, told the audience that the Punta used to be a conservative dance that mainly featured two dancers competing to show off their best dance moves. She evoked laughter from the audience after she said that the “youngsters” have twisted and morphed the dance into something more suggestive.

The group performed a total of four dance genres, including “Huga Huga,” a dance that is performed during spiritual festivities.

“The Garifuna people are very religious. They [have] festivities to uphold or worship their ancestors, [for they] believe a lot in their loved ones who [have passed away]. This dance is very important to their culture,” said Castillo-Bullock.

As a closing act, the drum troupe performed the “Wanaragua” dance. Two dancers performed an intense dance-off in traditional costumes and masks. Jackson demonstrated a specific part of the Wanaragua dance, which included rapid and nimble jumping movements.

Throughout the show, members of the troupe taught the audience simple Garifuna phrases such as “Goodnight,” “How are you?” and “I’m well, how about you?”

The performers hoped simple repetitions of Garifuna words could give the audience insight into this unique Central American culture.

“[Our purpose for organizing this event] was just to teach people about this culture. Since [the Garifuna] culture is so endangered and only [has] 203 [speaking] the language, we thought it would nice to share this part of the world [with those interested in the Andover community,]” said Nyamwaya.

The Habinaha Garinagu troupe was created to raise awareness and inform people, particularly children and young adults, about the fading culture of the Garifuna people through one-of-a-kind drumming performances, according to the website.

The African Latino American Society (AfLatAm) decided to bring Habinaha Garinagu as guest performers for Black Arts Weekend after Ian Jackson ’16, whose aunt is the manager of the drum troupe, introduced the group to AfLatAm, according to Doris Nyamwaya ’14, co-organizer of Black Arts Weekend.

“As soon as we saw a YouTube video [of them], we said [that] we had to have them,” said Devontae Freeland ’15, co-organizer of Black Arts Weekend.