Dance is an integral part of the Garifuna culture. One of the most wellknown dances is the Wanaragua.
The Wanaragua is a masquerade dance with great social and festive importance that has evolved throughout the Caribbean for the last 200 years. Its pomp and pageantry is elegant, beautiful and full of finesse. The dance is traditionally performed by men. Their costumes involve elaborate headresses complete with feathers and mirrors. The wear bands of shells around their knees with white shirts and black or white pants. Black, green, or pink ribbons cross their chests depending on the time of year the dance is done. The wanaragua is one of the few dances where the drummers follow the dancer’s movements, and not the dancer dancing to the beat of the drum. This allows for an exciting show of skill by both the dancer and the drummer.
There are other mime dances that have social and entertainment value. A significant one is the Jungai. This mine dance demonstrates life skills and life events in the household and in the workplace setting.
These dances have taken a unique evolution path within the Garifuna culture. Interesting and varying costumes, team management, and dance movement and step combinations have developed in the various Garifuna communities in Central America. A diverse set of songs and drumming patterns have also evolved over time in the various locations where these dances are practiced.
The decline in the pomp and pageantry of Wanaragua and the display of other mime dances in the region can be attributed to the decline in the number of community elders with skills in and passion for these dances and changes in lifestyle. The elders are the storehouse of the tradition and are the corner stone for passing on the history knowledge and skills of the great dancers, song composers and drummers. They offer insight into the costuming and jumping dance movements that make legendary performers and the creative insight required for classic compositions and extraordinary drumming.
Changes in traditional lifestyle have had a negative effect on the sustainability of Wanaragua and other Mime dances. As Garinagu enter the cash economy they spend less time in Garifuna communities and it becomes more difficult for them to practice all the elements of the culture. The long-term result is that many Garifuna youth are growing up without exposure to and appreciation of the full significance of these dances.
Many of those who are skilled in the artistry of Wanaragua and other Mime dances do not live in Garifuna communities. They live where they can earn their livelihood and are not involved in maintaining the art form alive at home. They come home to their communities to dance when they have the opportunity but they are not available to impart that passion to the youth around them. This situation had lead to an inability to develop youths with historic prospective and deep knowledge of the elements of Wanaragua, that are willing to carry on the tradition and be the teachers of this art form within and outside of Garifuna Communities.
Traditionally, Wanaragua is performed at Christmas time. The traditional Wanaragua dancer spends some of his leisure time throughout the year preparing for this season. He makes or at the very least decorates his mask and headdress and prepares his costumes as part of his life duties through the year.
Today?s lifestyle makes it impossible for many Garinagu to allocate time to prepare for Wanaragua. The costuming of Wanaragua provides revenue generation options to Garifuna communities if Wanaragua is successfully revived.