Christmas time in Belize is particularly merry. Like everywhere else, people are buzzing by, last-minute shopping, making home repairs and Christmas cleaning. Kitchens are popular hangout spot in every home. A given as there’s the Christmas turkey and ham, your favorite tia’s pork tamales, and delicious Rum Popo to look forward to. The staff parties and parades are fun, the fresh chill in the air is nice too. A noteworthy holiday treat you can miss, however, are the Jankunu dancers that come by to perform as you watch from your porch or verandah.
When the Garinagu came to Belizean shores in 1802 they brought with them their ancestral traditions and customs that would contribute great cultural wealth to Belizean culture. The music and dance of the Garifuna rely heavily on call and response patterns. Vibrant and soulful, the beat of their drums almost seems to sync with the beating of the listener’s heart. “John Canoe” or Jankunu, which typically refers to a dance meant to make fun of the image of colonial slave masters, is known to the Garifuna diaspora as Wanaragua. Further, this dance is more than just satirical expression. In fact, the Wanaragua is a dance representative of the struggle between good and evil. Typically performed during the holiday season it is a tradition that is Belizeans cherish.
The Wanaragua refers not only to the dance but also to the dancer and the pink-faced mask. Performed by men, the drum does not lead the dance. Instead, it is the dancer that leads the primero drum. The rhythm is harmonized by the vibrating shells attached to the dancers’ knees. A fast-paced beat is complimented by the soulful singing of the Gayusas and the jerking movements of the dancers.
Come December 25th, as the Wanaragua is performed and the goodness overcomes evil the dancers’ the costumes change from black to white and include a crown adorned with traditional Christmas colors. The crown also features three feathers that represent the past, present and future.
On the 31st December, black and white ribbons are added to the costume as they dance morphs into one signifying balance. It expresses the mourning of the old and the anticipation of the new. The drumbeats and dances are mesmerizing. This holiday season, look out for the Jankunu dancers as they move from home to home, showcasing this beautiful ritual for onlookers. Or make a trip to the culture capital (Punta Gorda) to see the annual Jankunu competition on the 26th of December. It will certainly make your spirit bright.
In Belize City, you can also enjoy a new dinner theatre show called Belize Rewind run by Jankunu Productionz. It will premiere on December 26th at 6:30 pm at Old Belize Jungle Pavilion. “BELIZE REWIND” takes you on an entertaining journey through Belize’s history and rich cultural diversity.
Original Article by: Drea Reneau
Social Studies Lesson on Belize