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Burying the Rooster- Dera Gai

One of the most unique festivals celebrated annually in Aruba is Dera Gai. Begun centuries ago by the Indians in Southern Mexico and Guatemala, it marks the agricultural ending of the harvest year and the beginning of a new year. While clearing the fields of old crops and to honor various gods, huge bonfires were set over which men jumped and competed with challenges and betting to the accompaniment of tall tales, food and drink.

Dera Gai continued with the migration of the Indians across South America to Venezuela and eventually to Aruba where relics discovered date their arrived in about 2500 B.C. As elsewhere in the region, Roman Catholic priests arrived in the 1500’s to convert the pagan Indians to Catholicism. In order to bring them into fold, the Catholics chose the Feast of St. John the Baptist, June 24th, which was the closest religious holiday to the long established Dera Gai celebration and combined the two. The Indians kept their celebration and the Christians, theirs.

On June 23rd, heaps of agricultural refuse would be burned just after sunset and the horizon was alight with flames. Women wore bright yellow dresses and crimson ribbons in their hair and if the kibrahacha tree was in bloom with their bright yellow flowers, a good harvest was promised. On the 24th, in the morning and early afternoon, games for children were played to show off their athletic abilities. The men had tougher games riding horses and donkeys. In the afternoon, the ceremonial “ burying of the rooster” (Dera Gai) began. A young rooster would be placed in a hole in the in the ground with a gourd (calabash) over his head to level the ground. Musicians would accompany the chosen man and blindfolded he would dance with a lady who purposely confused his sense of direction. With a 3-foot stick and still blindfolded, he would then have 3 chances to find the gourd protecting the rooster.

If he did not succeed, another man would try to strike the gourd; the winner received the rooster. During the proceedings, there was much singing, dancing and rhythmic clapping encoring the blindfolded man. Today, there are events held at many location with singing, dancing and athletic competition but no rooster is invited to participate. Instead the calabash symbolizes the rooster. Reprinted with permission A.M. DIGITAL

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