Dolls keep Gombey tradition alive
Gombey dancing is in Teresa Warner’s blood. She is descended from founders of both Warner’s and Place’s Gombey troupes.
When she started dancing with Warner’s at the age of 6, it came naturally. However, her father, Gregory Place, a former captain of Place’s Gombeys, disapproved.
“My mother, Noelette Warner, was for it, but my father wasn’t keen on his daughter dancing Gombeys,” she said. “I stopped after about a year. But every event, every holiday and function, I was right there with them.”
In her teens she found another way to connect with the Gombeys — helping her grandmother, Janice Warner Tucker, make replicas of them.
The 75-year-old has been sewing the dolls for 60 years.
“At first I was into helping her sew, but as you grow older you don’t want to be bothered with some things,” Ms Warner said.
She got back into it about five years ago. The line of Gombey dolls that she created made her grandmother very happy.
“I am glad that she is alive today to see what I am doing,” said Ms Warner. “She gives me lots of advice.”
It took her about six weeks to get the process down.
“When I first started making the dolls, it was kind of hard because I hadn’t really done any work on them for a while,” she said. “Now I get six to eight of them done in a week. The dolls are all hand-stitched.”
Her 18-year-old daughter, Joelsha´, helps decorate the capes and masks; her 17-year-old daughter, Janae, helps with the tassels.
Marketing was initially a challenge. “It was a slow start, but they are getting recognised now,” she said.
Ms Warner has sold about 100 of her dolls, including one to the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs. Her Gombeys come in different sizes, with the largest priced at $200.
At the moment, their costumes are a mix of those traditionally worn by Warner’s and Place’s Gombeys, but she plans to start making them using each troupe’s specific designs.
She is also about to bring out a line of colouring and cut-out books to promote Gombey appreciation even further. She has partnered with illustrator Gladwin Daniels for Resa’s Gombey Dolls.
“The history of the Gombeys is not taught island-wide, and it should be,” Ms Warner said. “I don’t want the Gombeys to die out. I created the colouring books because I want the younger children to get the education of Gombeys and what they represent. I want them to see how far we have come and for them to recognise that this is our culture. The Gombeys are a mixture of African, Egyptian and Native American dance traditions.”
Ms Warner makes the dolls in her spare time as she is a part-time caregiver.
She said growing up between two Gombey troupes was wonderful.
“There is some rivalry between all the Gombey troupes,” she said. “But when the costumes come off, everyone is friends. The Gombeys are about unity. They are something that brings people together.
“I was basically born in the middle of it all. I can’t run from it. I was always with the Gombeys. Wherever they were, I was bound.”
•Contact Teresa Warner on: email@example.com or 519-0301. Check out Bermuda Gombey Trackers on Facebook to find out where they will be on New Year’s Day.
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