When the Gombeys start playing, every Bermudian within earshot stops abruptly, listens carefully to determine where the drumming is coming from and sets off to join the celebration. Although known for performing during cultural festivities, the Gombeys are perhaps most exciting when they spontaneously hit the streets. The show is extravagant, with glittering costumes and the hypnotic beat. Meanwhile, the delighted crowd grows bigger. Our island would be a little less colourful and festive without the Gombeys and all their drums and whistles.
This summer, get out and enjoy the festivity and culture of the Gombeys!
Fashioning Our Heritage
The Gombey is Bermuda’s unique ethnic art form—and dance, drumbeats and costumes are its key elements. Rooted in slavery, the Gombey has been an integral part of Bermuda’s culture for centuries, despite undergoing many changes. Colourful costumes worn today were not part of nineteenth-century Gombey dress. They were adopted in the twentieth century.
The Gombeys that captivated visiting Englishwoman Suzette Lloyd on Christmas Day 1829 were wearing “plentiful bedaubing of red and yellow paints, scarlet cloth, flowers and ribbons,” according to her description in Sketches of Bermuda, published in 1835. E. A. McCallan, born in Bermuda in 1874, recalled in Life on Old St. David’s that the Gombeys of his youth wore “no uniform or fancy dress” except for “an illuminated tissue paper-and-frame house on the head of the most active member of the band who danced and pranced while the others sang.” Theodore L. Godet, writing in Bermuda, noted the “miniature chateau” headdress and “hideous masks.”
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