A tradition that began when black slaves were first brought from Africa and the Caribbean, “Gombey” is derived from an African word meaning rhythm. They were originally intended to perform only on Boxing Day (December 26) and New Year’s Day – the two days of the year when slaves were given a rest from their labors. Today, Gombey dance on Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, as well as other important events such as football matches, at festivals, parades and holidays, at hotels or guest houses and most importantly Good Friday and Harbour Nights (a weekly market held on Wednesday’s during the months of June – September).
The musical accompaniment is usually a kettle drum with two snare drums, covered with goat skin, and traditionally a beer bottle fife which produces the sound of a flute crossed with a whistle. The acrobatic Bermudian members who perform, base their routine on African, American Indian, Biblical, British and West Indian lore and traditions.
Each Gombey group is called a “crowd”, all of whom have a specifc role to play within the troupe. There is a ‘Captain’, who wears the most elaborate costume and is the crowd leader. The ‘Wild Indian’ and ‘Trapper’ have a perpetual chase, the ‘Chiefs’ carry large tomahawks and shields, while the ‘Warriors’ or ‘Choppers’ include children of family members. Under the Captain’s orders called out by whistle salute, the dancers have duets and solos simulating combat. They have also been know to re-enacted biblical stories, for example, David’s fight with Goliath.
Gombey troupes include Warner’s Gombeys, Norford’s, the Shakey Smith Troupe, Richardson’s, and Wilson’s Troupe. Books include Gombey Boy and Bermuda Gombey by American born Bermuda author Mrs. Louise Jackson.