Why festive traditions matter to our lives

  • Glen Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda

    Glen Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda

  • Big Bermuda tradition: The Gombeys in action at Hamilton Princess (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Big Bermuda tradition: The Gombeys in action at Hamilton Princess (Photograph by Akil Simmons)


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. (small “self”)

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, it combines 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 neighbour as you love yourself”.

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 ordinary people, 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 6pm. However, according to the January 1981 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 Roberts Avenue around 8pm 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 overpower 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 and 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, guided the “illegal” procession, minimising 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, leading to peace and goodwill.

Decades later, festive season 2019, the Gombeys are thriving. Our national football team is formally known as: The Gombey Warriors. The Department of Culture organises the annual Gombey festival and these “minstrels” 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 toy 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” (big “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 represents Imagine Bermuda

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Published Jan 3, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Jan 2, 2020 at 10:13 pm)

Why festive traditions matter to our lives

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