Drums, feathers, shells, singing, crowds of people, masks, dancing – these are the things one will see each year in December when the Garinagu dance the Wanaragua in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. Dancers young and old prepare throughout the year to dance the dance of their fathers, uncles, grandfathers, great-grandfathers on December 25th, and January 1st and 6th. The drums call from afar. You would hear a constant beat like a racing heart from a distance and then the task would be to find where the drumming is coming from. You would know you are closer because the beating would be louder but you would know you are there when you see the crowd of people gathered in the middle of a street and rising above the crowd would be many colourful feathers.
To be Wanaragua is a calling that many respond to from toddler age. Whenever the question is asked of a dancer, “How did you become a Wanaragua?” the common response would be that his father, grandfather, great-grandfather was a Wanaragua. Children would be with their parents or family members watching the dance from house to house and some even as babies would seem to want to jump out of their mothers’ arms to dance. As they start walking, children who show interest in Wanaragua would often be dressed and taken along with their fathers, brothers, uncles or any other relative who is a dancer to dance in the ring. Year after year, they make the same preparations, join in the dance and sharpen their skills in the ring.
People in the community gather around to watch the dancers display their expertise in jumping on their toes, shaking their knees, moving their bodies and combining various foot movements to the rhythm of the drums. For elders in the community who have seen the dance growing up, they are sometimes able to recognize the movements and style of a Wanaragua they knew being displayed by a descendant. They may even call the dancer by their Ancestor’s name in acknowledgement of his skill as a dancer.
Wanaragua has been danced among the Garinagu for many generations and its maintenance for many more to come can be seen in the numbers of young dancers that form the line each year to dance in the circle of dancers. The young are given the opportunity on every stop to showcase their talent and this helps them to improve as they watch their peers as well as older dancers take their turn to dance. While they compete with each other to exhibit prowess in the dance, they also function as support to each other in the dance by giving encouragement and assistance to each other when necessary.
As the years go by, the rhythms, the songs, the foot movements of the Ancestors live on in the Wanaragua dancers who relive and recreate the dance of their fathers, uncles, grandfathers and great-grandfathers before them.