Big drum dance is one of the traditional dances that is most prevalent in the sister isles of Carriacou and Petite Martinique.
Big drum dance came to Carriacou during the days of slavery in the 18th century (1700s). The tradition was impacted by an Ordinance that banned the beating of drums. This remained until the end of slavery, and the arrival of emancipation in 1838. From then onwards, Big drum was allowed in Carriacou.
The Big drum dance is performed at:
Big drum dance is done in a large ring, with the spectators forming the outer core of the ring, and the performers inside of the ring. There are three male drummers:
Cutter drum is played by the lead drummer and is the middle drum. This drum beat guides the movements of the dancers.
Boula or bula drums are played by the other two drummers and are on either side of the cutter drum The boula or bula drum act as the bass drum that plays the rhythm of the drums.
In addition, there are singers, about five to twelve singers. Songs are done in patois or creole. There are 129 songs that originate from West African nations and their ancestors: Cromanti, Igbo, Mandingo, Arada, Chamba, Congo, Temne, Moko and Banda. Today, the songs sung are mostly from Kromanti, Igbo and Mandingo.
Women function as dancers. The dancers are barefooted, and are dressed in Traditional African head scarves, white blouses and colourful open skirts. There are sometimes a few male dancers who wear white skirts with dark coloured pants. The main dancer opens the dance with dancing in front of the lead drummer on the cutter drum. The bele dance is one of the dances done as part of the big drum dance tradition. The Kromanti dance is the most significant because the Kromanti, originally from Ghana, was one of the first groups to arrive in Carriacou.
As part of the Big drum dance, there is the Wetting of the Ground. The Wetting of the Ground is done to invoke the gods and ancestors, to bring about blessings and to invite ancestral spirits to participate in the dance. Rum and water are used to wet the ground. Rum and water are poured in the center of the ring before the dancers perform.
Big drum dance is meant to pay homage to African ancestors, and to pay tribute to ancestral lineage. The music and dances are based on West African heritage and traditions and connect to West African roots.
Winston Fleary was one of the most renown big drum dancers and heritage keeper of the Big drum dance. Read more here about Winston Fleary: Winston Fleary (mustrad.org.uk)
Another popular Big drum player was Ferguson Adams, known as Sugar Adams. He was a lead drummer of the Mt. Royal drummers. He played the cutter drum which is the lead drum of Big drum dancing.
Here are some videos that demonstrate the Big Drum dance:
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