Bermuda Gombeys CAN Perform On Boxing Day, Just Not In Public!

Photo: Bermuda Governernment Information Service. Gombeys are a secretive group of dancers who appear on holidays and special occasions dancing and playing drums. But this year, they may be heard, but not seen.
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HAMILTON, Bermuda–Boxing Day, 2020–The Acting Premier of Bermuda Walter Roban has apologized on behalf of the Government to Bermuda’s Gombey Troupes, following an inadvertent miscommunication regarding holiday performances.

Mr Roban said there had been an “inadvertent miscommunication” after it was announced at the Tuesday press conference on Covid-19 that the tradition had to be cancelled for this year.

The Acting Premier said, “Today we had a very fruitful discussion with our Gombey leaders and we’re grateful they took the time to meet with us. We appreciate comments earlier this week contributed to unanticipated confusion for the troupes and members of the community.

“I was very pleased that today’s discussions revealed how willing they are to contribute to the containment of COVID-19 in the country. Gombeys are such an important cultural institution for us as a community, especially at this time of year, and we appreciate their understanding and cooperation.”

It was agreed that traditional community street Gombey performances on Boxing Day are not safe this year, as Bermuda is still trying to contain the latest outbreak of COVID-19.

Both the Bermuda Government and the Gombey Troupes agreed that situations that encourage crowds congregating must be avoided.

However, the public may be able to hear the drums in the distance, as some Gombey Troupes may play in their private residences or at isolated places, which will allow the public to hear the rhythms and enjoy from afar.

The public should listen from afar on their own properties, in their own homes, within their own neighborhoods.

The Government and the troupe leaders urge the community to please adhere to the public health guidelines and resist any activity that could create situations that could put everyone at risk.

The Minister of Youth, Culture and Sport, Dr. Ernest Peets said, “This Boxing Day, if you hear Gombeys, please enjoy them from where you are and do not try to find them. Gombeys will be practicing their “musical medicine” in their private homes or isolated places. Some troupes may be sharing their drums on social media, you can find out more on the Bermuda Gombey Trackers Facebook Group. This year has been different for all of us in many ways.

“Christmas and Gombeys are likewise affected. But we can all make changes to our usual traditions to ensure they are safe. We appreciate the troupes’ willingness to serve as community leaders during this difficult time, by adapting their customs and practices to help keep our most vulnerable citizens safe. This will allow Bermudians to enjoy a little music on Boxing Day, and in doing so, we must do all we can to avoid the spread COVID-19 by not allowing the creation of crowds at this time.”

Accoding to Wikipedia, Gombey’s costumes cover their bodies from head to toe and are decorated with tassels, mirrors, bells, and other small items and symbols. The peacock feather headdresses, the painted masks, and the capes are distinguishing features of Gombey costumes.

Many adornments of the costumes as worn today rely on modern materials or items, such as the Asian peacock feathers, that would have been hard or impossible to come by before the Twentieth Century, but there is little record of the original costume worn, so how it has changed since the Nineteenth Century can only be guessed at.

The Captains can be identified by their long capes and often carry a whip to control the troupe or an unruly crowd; The Bowman or Lead Indian carries a bow and arrow often going slightly ahead of the troupe to scout the way on long marches; and the Warriors carry a tomahawk (axe) which they place on their shoulder and use during cockfights when they face off against each other to display their expression of the dance.

Freedom dance, junkanoo, cockfights, biblical stories, slow dance, fast dance, snake dance, and rushing back are all elements to watch for when observing a Gombey performance.

Although the Gombeys have enjoyed a remarkable shift in social status, going from a marginalized group that were more-or-less illegal, to now appearing on postage stamps and performing overseas, there are still today old laws in place that prevent Gombeys from performing in the streets of Hamilton without permits, and it is presumed that a medical emergency such as the Covid-19 endemic reinforces those old prohibitions.

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