MARCH 22nd, The TWELFTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York (Gunchey / Gunchei / Gunjei Garifuna Dance and Rhythm)

 

Theatrical Presentation of The Gunchey / Gunchei / Gunjei Garifuna Dance by The Chief Joseph Chatoyer Garifuna Folkloric Ballet of New York.  Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr.  All Rights Reserved.

Theatrical Presentation of The Gunchey / Gunchei / Gunjei Garifuna Dance by The Chief Joseph Chatoyer Garifuna Folkloric Ballet of New York. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

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Central America / United States of America — March 22nd is the TWELFTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York.  Did you know that there are other Garifuna Dances out there besides the VERY popular Punta dance?  In this post, we will focus on the Gunchey / Gunchei / Gunjei Garifuna Dance and Rhythm.

I initially learned about the Gunchey / Gunchei / Gunjei Garifuna Dance when I was one of the recipients of the Garifuna Coalition Recognition Award at their Fundraiser Gala in 2010.  The Gunchei / Gunchey / Gunjei Garifuna Dance served as the theme of the evening.  Garifuna American Mariano Martinez choreographed a special version of the dance, reintroducing it for new (and old) Generations of Garifunas.

Here is the song again from the LITA ARIRAN album, “Songs Of The Garifuna” as released by JVC as part of their JVC World Sounds series.

Not as popular as the Garifuna Punta dance, I’d never seen or heard of the Gunchei / Gunchey / Gunjei dance until then, and to this day, I haven’t seen it performed at social outings.  I’ve only seen this formal dance performed at theatrical cultural presentations.

Theatrical Presentation of The Gunchey / Gunchei / Gunjei Garifuna Dance by The Chief Joseph Chatoyer Garifuna Folkloric Ballet of New York. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Theatrical Presentation of The Gunchey / Gunchei / Gunjei Garifuna Dance by The Chief Joseph Chatoyer Garifuna Folkloric Ballet of New York. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

In the Souvenir Program of the 2010 Garifuna Coalition Fundraiser Gala, they explain;

“According to Honduran historian Antonio Canelas Diaz in his book on the history of La Ceiba, ‘Another important aspect of the Garifunas that is worth mentioning, is that they were a highly refined group, due to their direct and permanent contact with members from the French and English cultures, considered the most representative of the time.”

“The European influence can be seen in the Gunchei dance, which is described as a graceful, dignified social dance, in which each man dances with each woman in turn.  Our research indicates that Gunchei is the Garifuna version of the Quadrille.”

“In the 18th Century (estimated around 1740), the Quadrille evolved more and more in an intricate dance, with its foundation in dances like cotillions.  It was introduced in France around 1760, and later in England around 1808 by a woman known as Miss Berry.  It was introduced to the Duke of Devonshire and made fashionable by 1813.  In the following years, it was taught to the upper classes, and around 1816 many people could dance a quadrille.  The tempo of the Gunchei dance is slow and stately, which lends an elegant and aristocratic air to the performance.”

By the way, another demonstration of the European influence on Garifuna Culture are the Coronation Ceremonies that take place in Garifuna Villages Honduras and in the United States.  While not inherently GARIFUNA, perse, I’ve observed that Honduran Garifunas really take to the Coronation Ceremonies.

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Here is a theatrical presentation of The Gunchey / Gunchei / Gunjei Garifuna Dance by the pioneering 90s Garifuna Dance Company, Wanichigu Dance Group Inc. Wanichigu is “Our Culture” in the Garifuna Language.

Below is a demonstration by Ronald Raymond McDonald of The Warasa Garifuna Drum School on the Gunjei rhythm. In the Youtube comment section underneath this video, a man named Felix Rivera explains that, “The rhythm Gunjei is also played in the Bomba music of Puerto Rico but is known as Cuembe”.

About Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York

Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York (March 11th through April 12th) is designed to reflect on and observe the occasion of the Garifuna people (then known as Black Caribs) being kicked out of their ancestral land of St. Vincent Island on March 11th 1797 to their arrival in Central America on April 12th 1797.  The dates reference the period of time where the Garifuna voyage took place between their ancestral land and their new place of residence, where a new life was forced upon them.

According to a press release from the non-profit organization the Garifuna Coalition USA Inc, Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York also,

“celebrates the great contributions of Garífuna-Americans to the fabric of New York City and New York State, and pays tribute to the common culture and bonds of friendship that unite the United States and the Garífuna’s countries of origin (Belize, Guatemala, Honduras Nicaragua and St Vincent and the Grenadines.)”.

The Garifuna Coalition adds, “New York City is home to the largest Garífuna Community outside of Central America!  However, although Garífunas have been migrating here in search of a better life since the 1930s; the community was virtually obscured until the Happy Land Social Club fire on March 25th, 1990.”  Most of the victims of that tragedy were Honduran, many were of Garifuna descent 1.

Logo for 2014 Garifuna American Heritage Month.  Logo by Ivan Moreira.

Logo for 2014 Garifuna American Heritage Month. Logo by Ivan Moreira.

Overall, the idea is to pay tribute to the survival and resiliency of the Garifuna people and also highlight the contributions made by Garifunas to the state of New York and the United States of America.  Also, this as well as other activities taking place in New York during Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York are designed to further visibility of the Garifuna ethnic group to the general populace of New York City.

ABOUT The Garifuna People

The Garifuna people are people of African descent (in other words, Black people) whose ancestry can be traced to Africans mixing with Carib Indians and Arawak Indians on the Eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent. From this fusion of race and ethnicities in St. Vincent Island, a distinct culture and language arose.  They are noted for being one of the few (only?) peoples of African descent (again, in other words, Black people) in the Americas to have maintained aspects of their ancestral culture and full use of their ancestral language for everyday use over the course of hundreds of years.

After being defeated in war with the British on St. Vincent in 1796; 1004 men, 1779 women and 1,555 children for a total of 4,338 people (mostly Black Caribs, as the Garifuna people were then known) were captured and taken to Baliceaux, a small island, a rock, basically, off the coast of St. Vincent.  This took place from July 1796 through February/March 1797.  About 2,000 Garifunas died of a mysterious and very infectious fever while living on Baliceaux awaiting their fate.  2

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In early March 1797, the remaining Garifunas were loaded onto the HMS Experiment and other ships.  Once they were rounded up, the convoy were taken to a Bequia, which is another island off the coast of St. Vincent. They proceeded to go to Grenada to get water, then Jamaica for refueling, then finally Roatan, Honduras, arriving on April 12th 1797.

Finding much of Roatan unliveable, the Garifuna people petitioned officials representing Spain and it’s government (which controlled much of Central America at the time) to be allowed to move to the Honduran mainland.  Upon being allowed to move to the Honduran mainland, namely the port town of Trujillo, Honduras in May 1797; the Garifunas settled many towns and villages along the Caribbean coast of Honduras.  They also migrated to the neighboring countries of Guatemala, Belize (then known as British Honduras) and Nicaragua over the years.  Finally, Garifuna People have also migrated to the United States of America where generations have settled in cities like New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles.  Despite their mainly Spanish surnames, their culture and history are distinct from other Afro-American and Latino ethnic groups and it’s important to keep that in mind.

If you find the BEING GARIFUNA Website helpful and useful, please DONATE.  Every dollar donated helps keep this website in operation.  Donations are accepted via the PAYPAL website so your potential donations are SAFE and SECURE.

Theatrical Presentation of The Gunchey / Gunchei / Gunjei Garifuna Dance by The Chief Joseph Chatoyer Garifuna Folkloric Ballet of New York. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Theatrical Presentation of The Gunchey / Gunchei / Gunjei Garifuna Dance by The Chief Joseph Chatoyer Garifuna Folkloric Ballet of New York. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Notes:

  1. Edna Negron, “Club Tragedy an Awakening for Garifuna”, New York Newsday, Sunday, August 18th 1991.
  2. Nancie L Gonzalez, “Sojourners of The Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garifuna” pgs 21-23

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