Gombey Captain Discusses Bermuda’s Most Traditional Dance
New Yorkers caught a glimpse of paradise last week at the Experience
Bermuda event in Grand Central Terminal. With appearances by Bermudian
Broadway stars, radio personalities, Miss Bermuda 2012, and the Minister
of Tourism, the event showcased Bermuda’s most engaging and colourful
Did we say colourful? Actually, we mean that quite
literally. For no Bermuda experience would be complete without the thundering
drums and energetic dance of the Gombeys, whose traditional folk style combines
African, Native American, Caribbean, and British cultures into a performance that’s
uniquely Bermudian — and uniquely unforgettable.
One of Bermuda’s most popular troupes, H&H Gombeys, was
on hand in Manhattan to delight the audience with its colourful costumes,
infectious drumming, and, of course, wildly entertaining moves. We spoke with
Shawn Caisey, captain of H&H Gombeys, to learn more about this visually
stunning Bermudian tradition.
How long have you
been a Gombey?
I’ve been performing for 32 years. I started in Pembroke
with a Gombey group called Places. When I was young, I’d follow them until one
day the captain asked if I would like to dance. I said sure. I’ve been doing it
Briefly, what’s the
history of Gombey?
It goes back to slavery days and was used to depict the
feelings against slave masters. They used to dress up in costumes to hide from
their masters. Everything on the suit represents something.
What does your suit
The chains represent shackles. The mirror reflects evil
spirits. The beads represent jewels, jams, and fortunes. Back in the day, we
had red ribbons to represent the trails of our slave people and the blood left
behind. But that’s changed with the times.
How are Gombey
The Captain is the overseer and teaches everyone the
history, the dance, and drumming. Then there are Chiefs, who help teach [Gombey]
to kids. Then there is the Wild Indian, who’s the first person you’ll see. He leads in a snake form along the road and carries
a bow and arrow. Everyone after that is a Warrior.
What sort of drums do
We have bass drums made out of potato barrel and goatskin.
In our group, we have four snares and one bass. We try to keep drummers as
drummers, and dancers as dancers.
Tell us a bit about the
Gombey training programme.
We have classes twice a week. I teach history and dancing.
Kids start learning as early as 3 and can put their first suit on at 5. The
training is intense. Probably one and a half hours non-stop on a beach, or up
in the hills. You need lots of flexibility and determination. You don’t stop
unless the drummer stops.
What’s the longest
A whole day! From 9.30 in the morning to 10.30 at night.
That’s amazing. How
long do you plan to continue dancing?
As long as my body takes it.
Check out this video to see Shawn and H&H Gombeys in action.
Thanks to Shawn for sharing his story. Have you seen Gombeys perform?
Where is your favourite place to watch a Gombey performance? Tell us in the
comment section below.
Arts and Entertainment
23 February, 2012