Photo by Akil Simmons
Bermuda’s Gombey dancers are a cultural icon reflective of Bermuda’s blend of African, West Indian, Native American and British culture.. They appear in local neighbourhoods on holidays such as Boxing Day and Good Friday, and participate in the Bermuda Day Parade, unmissable in their vibrant costumes and masks, accompanied by energetic drummers.
The Gombeys we see today are a result of talents and traditions passed down through the centuries, with multi-generational troupes connected to a particular parish or family. There are similar related traditions in the Bahamas, St. Kitts and other Caribbean islands; however the Bermudian Gombey was recognized as its own distinct Bermudian art form at a UNESCO Cultural and Conservation Conference in 1970.
The word Gombey is derived from an African word meaning rhythm or drum, and the drummers are an essential part of the performance, often accompanied by a beer-bottle fife. Each troupe has a captain who uses a whistle to instruct the dancers and often carries a whip; chiefs answer to the captain, carry tomahawks and instruct the warriors as they act out a Biblical story or dance solo or in pairs. The vivid costumes feature a tall headdress with peacock feathers, and the decorated capes are unique to each Gombey. If you are lucky enough to hear the drums and witness a Gombey troupe, remember to throw coins as a sign of appreciation.
Look for the Gombeys at the following venues:
Harbour Nights Street Festival – Front Street, Hamilton, 7 to 10 pm, Wednesdays, May through August.
Gombey Saturdays – Queen Elizabeth Park, Hamilton, 12.30 pm Saturdays, June through October.
Bermuda Gombey Revue – Pier 6, Front Street, Hamilton, 4.15 pm, Tuesdays, November through March.
Bermuda Day Parade – Hamilton, last Friday in May.
Boxing Day, December 26th – in local neighbourhoods.
Good Friday – in local neighbourhoods.