Column: Celebrating The Season With Gombeys

January 3, 2020 | 0 Comments

[Column written by Glenn Fubler]

The festive season – Christmas through New Year’s – includes a mix of traditions, dating back two millennia. That birth in a stable speaks to the power of humility; a challenge to the current culture of hyper-consumerism and self-promotion. The visit to Bethlehem by those following the star reminds us of the importance of wisdom. It all speaks to the precious potential of young children and all of us.

Bermuda’s festive season wouldn’t be complete without the Gombeys. While rooted in West African culture, they also combine elements from Native America [tomahawks] and Britain [snare drums]. Gombeys bring joy to the world, inviting all to join a crowd on New Year’s and Boxing Day – a British tradition of sharing food with neighbours.

Here we are reminded of the mission of that movement rooted in that first Christmas: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself”.

Slideshow of the 2019 Bermuda Gombey Festival:


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The all-powerful Roman Empire felt so threatened by that suggestion that they tried to wipe out that grassroots movement in its infancy, but it was sustained by humble folk – shepherds, fishermen, etc.

In Bermuda, during the era of slavery, that cruel system supporting three powerful empires, Gombeys emerged, celebrating heritage and promoting neighbourliness. The status quo restricted their activity in a variety of ways. However, this tradition was sustained by humble folk, understanding the importance of artistic expression in leveraging one’s essential humanity.

As recent as December 1980, there was a police-announced reminder that Gombeys should be off the streets by 6.00pm. However, according to the January ’81 issue of ‘The New People’s Journal’ [Vol. 2; No. 3], due to the accidental merger of three Gombey crowds, hundreds of people moved through Robert’s Avenue around 8.00pm that New Year’s Day. This initially caused happy confusion, but it was soon resolved without incident, as it has for decades.’

This example of love power exemplifies wisdom prevailing over rules. That collective consciousness was important during an historic crisis, only months later, in May 1981.

There was a protracted strike in April involving the BIU’s Government & Hospital members, testing the premise of ‘love your neighbour’. A grassroots Strikers’ Family Support Committee collected groceries and $7,000 cash, exemplifying that mission. However, frustration began to boil over and some protesters began blockading the airport.

On May 1, 1981, following the star, grassroots efforts fortuitously sparked a spontaneous peaceful protest march of 700 people through Hamilton. Senior Police Officer Campbell Simons flipped the script, choosing wisdom over rules, and guided the illegal procession, minimizing traffic disruption.

The spirit of the Gombeys’ conga drumming empowered that march, relieving community tensions. This laid the groundwork for teachers and BELCO workers to show love for their neighbours on May 5, 1981, leveraging the crisis’ resolution and leading to peace and goodwill.

Decades later, during the festive season of 2019, the Gombeys are thriving. Our National Football Team is formally known as ‘The Gombey Warriors’. The Department of Culture organizes the annual Gombey Festival and they play a key role in the annual Bermuda Day celebration.

Gombey Boy is one of many pre-school Bermudians who are developing their love for themselves, and love for their neighbours. Many love Gombeys more than they do the Marvel heroes. Using their toys’ boxes as drums offers an antidote to hyper-consumerism.

With YouTube, these youngsters are self-learning the choreography of this art form.

Surprising? No, not recalling the miracle of how – on their own – a child learns the complex task of walking. Parents and others – following the star – provide a nurturing space for children to appreciate their heritage, but more importantly, to appreciate their sense of self.

It would seem that there’s a renaissance; spreading the joy of learning of the arts and our collective selves, the journey towards wisdom.

All that remains to be said is: ‘Yaay Ooh!’

- Glenn Fubler

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