Dera Gai is an Aruban cultural festival which has been celebrated for about 100 years with traditional song and dance.
Aruba’s harvest festival is now a cultural celebration featuring traditional song and dance. The symbol of the rooster and bright red and yellow costumes are central to events held at various locations, including community centres.
Dera Gai, which translates to "burying of the rooster" in the local language, is a cultural festival which has been celebrated with traditional song and dance for the past century or so. This holiday is rife with both pagan and Christian symbolism reflecting the influences of the Arawak natives and Spanish missionaries on the island.
Traditionally, the Dera Gai celebration centred around an unusual ritual. A hole was dug in the ground and a live rooster buried in the hole up to its neck. Blindfolded revellers would then be given three tries to decapitate the rooster with a long pole (piñata-style). (The Catholics considered this ritual to be symbolic of the decapitation of St. John the Baptist while the pagans believed that the spilling of the blood would fertilise the earth for the next growing season.) The one to successfully execute the deed was rewarded with bottles of alcoholic drinks and other prizes.
Today, a more humane approach is taken. For example, at the Dera Gai celebration in Santa Cruz, one of the biggest Dera Gai celebrations on the island, revellers are blindfolded and tasked with locating a flag staked in the ground while swaying their hips to the rhythms of a band. Every now and then, the coordinator of the game fools the blindfolded participants by moving the flag while the game is in progress. Folk dance groups also reenact the burying and decapitation of the rooster using a plastic rooster. Decked out in bright red and yellow costumes, with the yellow said to represent the bloom of the local kibrahacha tree in June, these groups also perform harvest dance rituals.
Many years ago, bonfires were built on the eve of St. John's Day in order to communicate the arrival of the holiday. The old chaff from the previous year's harvest would be burnt in preparation for the coming growing season. Nowadays, fires are burnt all over the island on St. John's Day itself, serving as an olfactory reminder of this unique local festival. For more information contact the Department of Culture Aruba.
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