Play, Jankunú Play - The Garifuna Wanaragua Ritual of Belize
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By Oliver N. Greene, Jr.
color, 45 min, 2006
The Garifuna are a Central American people of West African and Native American descent. One of their most popular rituals is wanaragua, a three-fold system of masked Christmas processionals commonly called Jankunú. This ritual is a unique blend of African, European, and Native American (Arawak and Carib) art traditions in which social and cultural identities are expressed through music, dance, and costume. As dancers adorn themselves in colorful regalia to mimic past foreign oppressors they symbolically affirm their identity. They perform stylized movements to the accompaniment of drums and social commentary songs composed by men. Descriptions of the three processions and dance styles are interspersed with interviews by Garifuna singers, drummers, dancers, cultural advocates, and scholars on the significance of rituals.
Rare footage of wárini, the now extinct ritual that is the Africanized predecessor to wanaragua, is accompanied by commentary on the significance of the ritual. Examples of wanaragua drumming and dance styles demonstrate how drummers rhythmically interpret the unique movements of each dancer. Translations of song texts show the Garifuna language on screen and reveal themes commonly found in songs. Gender play and role reversal become part of the revelry as Garifuna men mimic European women. Occasionally, Garifuna women, disguised as male wanaragua dancers, join in the festivities. The antics and songs of Charikanari, a ritual featuring stock characters such as the Two-Foot Cow and Devil, are also presented. Images of similar processionals in other locations include photos of Masquerade in St. Kitts-Nevis, Gombey in Bermuda, Jonkonnu in Jamaica, John Kuner (now extinct) in North Carolina, Junkanoo in the Bahamas, and Fancy Dress in Cape Coast, Ghana. Also included are photographs and footage of wanaragua as performed by Garifuna from Guatemala and Honduras with oral accounts explaining why costumes in these countries differ from those traditionally worn in Belize. Play Jankunú Play places the viewer within the context of the Garifuna world at Christmas where music, dance, and art reflect the past to empower the future.
"Play Jankunú Play is a highly significant accomplishment for the Garifuna people, in their effort to preserve their culture and share their rich heritage with the world. It is an invaluable communication tool that can lead to greater understanding among peoples and a deeper appreciation for cultural diversity.” — Andy Palacio, Deputy Administrator/Cultural Ambassador, National Institute of Culture and History, Belize
"The documentary film Play Jankunú Play introduces us to a fascinating Garifuna ritual tradition which continues to flourish in Belize, one of the lesser known countries of Central America. Oliver Greene, the film's author, draws upon his extensive fieldwork to bring to life this little known segment of African Diaspora culture. With visual allusions to parallel traditions in Jamaica, the Bahamas, Ghana, and elsewhere, the film offers the viewer a rich tapestry of Garifuna dance, drumming, and song, explicated by revealing commentary. We are provided with insight into the Garifuna people and reflections on the meaning of the arts in human life. Scholarly in depth, the film will appeal to a large audience including those with interest in world dance, world music, and in the African Diaspora.” — Richard A. Long, Atticus Haygood Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, Emeritus, Emory University, Atlanta, GA
“Greene shows us with well-chosen images and narration how Garifuna Jankunú connects with both African masquerades and the broader African-Caribbean Yuletide performance tradition known as Jonkonnu (or John Canoe) - which, according to one scholar, ...could lay good claim to being the most ancient and most enduring non-European cultural form in the Caribbean... This visually striking and culturally sensitive documentary will be welcomed not just by students of the Garinagu and the Central American countries they inhabit, but by all those who are interested in the performance arts of the Black Atlantic.” — Kenneth Bilby, Director of Research, Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College, Chicago, IL
Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Annual Carribean Studies Association Conference, Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, 2007
Garifuna Community Forum, Bronx, NY, 2007
Annual Conference of the National Garifuna Council, Dangriga, Belize, 2007
Annual Meeting for the Society for Ethnomusicology, Honoulu, HI, 2006
African Studies Association Conference, Rutgers University, NJ, 2007
XVI International Festival of Ethnological Film, Belgrade, Serbia, 2007
"Ownership and Appropriation," Joint Conference of the ASA, the ASAANZ and the AAS, University of Auckland, New Zealand, 2008
An article on Play Jankunú Play by Michael Stone, Executive Director, Program in Latin American Studies at Princeton University.