A CREOLE CHRISTMAS IN GALES POINT, BELIZE

(Click on any photo to enlarge)

Christmas Day on Caye Caulker found some restless guests up early.
An impromptu jam session started when a guest from New York , pulled out the drum from its decoration stance on the office counter, and started a rhythm to match the European leaning on the veranda, who had already started strumming on a guitar. I quickly pulled out brightly painted calabash shakas I bought in Cozumel for $1. and passed them around to the others who were awake.

It was at this jam session at Tina's Hostel on Caye Caulker when the first mention of Gales Point came up by the New Yorker. He is making a long slow journey down to South America, "ex-wife took him for all his money" he says and is undergoing a liberation of sorts through his travels. I would like to refer him to Vernon Alberts "The Book of Dude" which has a complete chapter dedicated to "DONT FORGET TO THANK THOSE WHO DUMPED YOU". This blog book can be found at http://thebookofdude.blogspot.com/



The guest was interested in taking drumming lessons & had seen a flier with an ad for a Creole Christmas with lots of drumming in Gales Point & suggested we should all go. Coco Loco & I agreed and we were joined by a couple we hung out with the day before, Jaz & hubby who were pretty cool cats.

Despite the fact that I was sick with the flu and felt even more miserable with allergies once there, in all my many Belizean born years, I had seen Mt. Kilimanjaro from a few miles away, but I had never set foot in Gales Point or seen the Maya Mountains from that point of view. Besides, I thought it was a great way to escape the psychological hell of daily life on Caye Caulker. Plus, I was really interested to see this old tradition of Brahmming which was once prominent on Caye Caulker and in other small villages, especially coastal ones where most of the creole people still reside around Belize to this day.


This tradition to BRAHM is performed on Boxing Day, the 26th of December. Villagers would pull out any instrument they can gather, guitar, drums, flute, mouth organ, grater and fork, metal pots and spoons, empty pigtail bucket with sticks, whatever it took to join in the celebration. The gathering would then go door to door around the village playing music, dancing, drinking & eating any left over food from their hosts kitchen from Christmas Day.
After hours of this which normally starts early afternoon, the partying would reach a crescendo at a convenient space at dark and a fire would be lit to continue the revelry and end only when the last person collapses from exhaustion.
At first, I thought the people dancing in a frenzy for hours were possessed by spirits until I saw all the empty belikin bottles dropping from arms to the ground and I realized they were possessed by the spirit of alcohol and damn good music.This was a festive day in which the entire village would participate, not necessarily harmoniously since it is inevitable that a few drunken fights will break out by late night or early morning. I can tell you that all kinds of moonshine wine was available and we were handed wine by the gallon, not by a cup.
I brought back with me some Mango & Black Berry wine and the Serosy Wine was not as bad as I thought it might be. The mere thought of drinking it made me cringe as if salt water had been splashed on my face.

Sadly, Boxing Day traditional gathering no longer exists on Caye Caulker but it did when I was a child and I got to experience that kind of feeling of oneness you get when an entire village can come together and celebrate, when everyone knew each other on a first name basis, ran errands for each other. Back then, the entire village was your neighbor and close knit looking out for each other and I got the impression in Gales Point Manatee that this was still the case there.

The feeling of oneness is what differentiates Caye Caulker then from now.The change in my village started with the progression of tourism in the early 80's, when outsiders (anyone not born on Caye Caulker or a descendant of the 5 or so main families) started moving in to our village. Some strangers that moved into our village still remain strangers to most of us and have not tried much to integrate with the exception of a few so that oneness may be lost forever.


As far as I know, Gales Point Village is one of the few places where tourism has barely touched & the only place where this tradition of a Creole Belizean Christmas is being kept alive to my knowledge. It is the biggest event of the year for them.


So with the plan hatched to go, early the next day, we took the water ferry to Belize Shitty and directly to Silver Bess and the Western Highway. I have made it somewhat of a custom when driving this highway, to stop at DickHead Coconut stand at the round-about in Hattieville about 17 miles out of Belize City and drink some fresh coconut water.

Shortly after we passed the Belize Zoo, we turned on to the Coastal Highway and on to the long stretch of red dirt road which leads into Gales Point. You get a feeling of being close to nature because you are alone in this vast expanse of beautiful undeveloped landscape. We saw 2 cars pass us on this stretch, in the hour and a half it took to get to the village.


This village is still small with population approximately 500. The village itself sits on a thin strip of land, a point or a peninsula about a mile long and only about 2 to 3 hundred feet wide. One long dirt road runs the length of the point with houses on either side having water front property.

It is some of the prettiest real estate I have seen in Belize especially the views of the Maya Mountains in the distance on the west side as you drive down the strip, & the open sea to the East.



The ground is a mixture of red & black dirt consistent with jungle terrain with areas of beachfront sand & palm trees consistent of island living. Jungle meets Sea!




To get to Gales Point which is near the Southern Coast of Belize, you can either take the 36 mile of dirt road which is the Coastal Highway, or drive to Dangriga and cut off at the junction there where you have only about 9 miles of dirt road until you reach. The Mullins River Bridge is still washed out from the last flood, but a sand spit over the river held together by boulders acts as the temporary bridge. I love to discover these little jewels of Belize.

As soon as we drove into the Village we ran into a local who offered to dress us for the BRAHM as they call the festivity about to take place, and went home and brought us our costumes. I felt like I was at the Belizean version of Woodstock.


We were making our way down to the lead drummers cabana we had rented for the night, but had to stop in at the only restaurant in town, Gentle's Cool Spot for some rice & beans first.


Emmeth (in animal print) is a talented drummer & married to a foreign born wife, or what we creole call gringa, who also sports dreadlocks. She has been living there in this tiny village now for the past 8 years and seem to have integrated very well and was a great hostess.



We stayed in clean & lovely little cabin on skinny stilts, the kind that sways with the slightest breeze, near the waters edge. Five of us rested comfortably in this one above.


I watched the sun set behind the Maya Mountains in the distance through silhouetted palm fronds.



What really stood out to me at first, besides the obvious beauty and in general friendly locals, was the poverty of this remote village of Belize where tourism has not yet reached their doorsteps. There were quite a few abandoned and old houses in decay.










I tried to figure out how it was that these people made a living since they live quite humbly & only a persistent tourist will venture on to this off-off beaten path to find this place. It was obvious they lived simply off the land and sea.

From my conversations, although the village knows that things will change with tourists, they are still welcoming of it for economical purposes and Emerit and his wife offer cabanas and drumming classes which is worth the trip itself besides the view. You will not find internet in this village.




Well if you knew anything about BRAHMMING (party) and I do, I can tell you these people can BRAHM! Bram they did for hours on end, the drumming started at one end of the village and stopped at different houses along the way until it made its way down to the other end.
The dancing, singing and music continued for hours non-stop and it was interesting to see a whole village move about in one unit like that. Some of the old creole songs like why why buskunu they sung over and over again, along with various chants made up along the way to the drumbeat,. One person starts the chant and everybody chimes in with the same chant which lasts a few minutes until the chant is changed again.













Chants like: "gial come dance" or "boy come dance" repeated over as they pull people in off the side of the road. Another chant was "wan pee pee, kiant pee pee" which means in creole, you need to use the bathroom but cant go because the brahmming is too good to leave.
A circle of people gather around the fire after dark and this is where the dancers get to dance solo until they point at another random person and then its your turn to get in the circle and do the traditional Sambaii dance. This was one of the most wonderful cultural experiences I have ever had & if you are into this sort of adventure, please try and make it down next boxing day for a day you will never forget.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Love this blog...With the great pictures and the narrative I almost felt like I was there...maybe next year!
Christie
Lizette Alamina said…
Well, our Dear Cayegial living it up in rural mainland Belize mon'. Looks like our rural Belize people still live up to their old traditions. Glad to see they still have not forgotten their traditions.

Happy New Year Prima!
Cheers, Liz
Adam said…
Thank You so much for posting this blog and pictures! I have been their before and it is great to see alot of the people in your pictures, Love n Light
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