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Maroon Festival: a unique tradition

Maroon Festival: a unique tradition


by Donald DeRiggs

The Grenadines, because of their size, location and topography, have always experienced extended dry seasons and as such, have historically suffered from lack of water, especially during the first half of the year.{{more}}

This year, 2015, was no different. The earth is parched and the grass turns brown after withering; domestic animals are ‘let go’ to forage on their own.

Water in small cisterns is used up and for those who have large tanks, the water level is frighteningly low. When this happens, one either has to buy water, or in the case of the poor, the only and best thing they can do is pray … and that it what the Maroon Festival is all about, praying to the Almighty in faith that it will rain, and invariably it does, if not the same day, within a week or so.

In times past, a few days before the event, a ‘hailer’ would go around village shouting “sacritan palay lot” meaning “all who hear, tell the rest,” announcing the date and day. Maroons are always held on a Wednesday, with the main activities taking place at a crossroads; this year, the activity took place on Wednesday, May 20.

The Maroon Festival is an all day activity, beginning at the crack of dawn. This initial activity is called the ‘sacrifice’. A table is set up at the junction of a crossroad and the community brings whatever foodstuff they have available, which will be cooked during the course of the day. Mostly senior citizens and young children attend this ceremony, during which they sing, read scripture, and exhort one another, and of course pray for rain. People from all walks of life usually join this activity, wearing African outfits. During the final prayer, all who gathered for the ‘sacrifice’ join hands, while a spiritual ‘mother’ sprinkles water on all present, symbolizing the showers of blessings to follow.

The next aspect of the Maroon Festival is the preparation of meals. Traditionally, the men would do the cooking outdoors, while the women would cook at home. One of the main dishes prepared during the Maroon Festival is “Wangu Pois,” pronounced Wangoo Pwah, made from locally produced corn and peas. Other foods like conchs, stewed local chicken (yard fowl), rolled rice, fish, and stewed turkey are also prepared, while drummers pound out their rhythms to keep the spirit of the Maroon alive.

By mid-afternoon, all the food was cooked and schoolchildren fed first, then the adults. According to Mother Allen and Lawrence Alexander, in earlier times, before the food was served, some was taken to the cemetery and the seaside as an offering to the rain god, but that tradition has died. As time went on, persons who were keeping the tradition alive became literate. Now able to read and understand the Bible, they realized that there is but one God and that if they were praying for rain, their petitions should be directed to Almighty God. Therefore, the pagan aspect of the tradition was not held this year and it is doubtful that it will continue.

The grand finale is the ‘nation dance,’ which began about 7:30 p.m. and which ran close to midnight. The activity began with the ‘opening of the ring.’ Four persons danced in a circle, while sprinkling water, rice and strong rum along the main road at an area called ‘crossroads’ or ‘Uncle Peter Gap’, the same area where the morning ‘sacrifice’ was held. After the ‘opening of the ring’, two white towels were placed on the ground to form a cross, and the drumming and dancing began; women wearing skirts with a flare which are flapped like butterfly wings, dance to the rhythms of drums, with children and adults chanting songs.

According to ‘Mother Allen,’ the traditional Maroon dress for women is called a ‘duette’. It is made of two parts, a petti- coat, worn under the main dress, which has buttons only from neck to waist which allows the bottom of the skirt to be held with both hands allowing the dress to be opened, exposing the petti-coat, but not bare legs.

The rest of the Maroon Festival consists of drumming and dancing, with adults and children taking turns to dance, which is quite entertaining.

To close the event, participants sing a song with the words ‘time to go home’ as part of the lyrics and then it is time to go home and of course, wait until the Good Lord sends the rain.

The main organizer for this year’s Maroon Festival was Samuel Saxon of Union Island. The next day about mid-morning, there was a light shower in Union Island.