September 18, 2020

Legendary Garifuna choreographer Armando ‘Crisanto’ Melendez


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armando_melendezBy Wellington C. Ramos

On Friday, January 9, 2015, at about 6:00 pm, many Garifuna people living in New York City packed Casa Yurumein in the Bronx to listen to a cultural presentation given by their legendary choreographer Armando ‘Crisanto’ Melendez. For years now he has been the head of the Honduras Folkloric Garifuna Dance Company where many Garifuna men and women have been trained to learn all the Garifuna music, drumming, dance and others aspects of this rich culture.

I was anxious to see this great individual because I have always heard of the commitment, dedication and passion he has displayed over the years in preserving his culture. He brought with him two Garifuna master drummers known as Dumbrie. This title is the highest honour given to a Garifuna drummer who is versed in beating the two Garifuna drums namely the primera and the secunda.

The meeting was chaired by Mr Carlos Gamboa, a well known Garifuna activist in the Garifuna community here in New York City, who originated from the Garifuna village of Labuga (Livingston) in Guatemala. He began the meeting by highlighting the life accomplishments of Mr Armando ‘Crisanto’ Melendez over the years. The meeting was conducted with exchanges in the Garifuna, English and Spanish languages. These languages are spoken by many Garifuna people worldwide. He wasted no time in introducing the presenter.

ramos2Mr Crisanto started off by talking about growing up in Honduras and a spiritual experience he had with his grandfather. He was shocked by this experience and related it to his aunt. After the conversation with her, he then decided to commit himself to do something to help preserve his culture through dance, music and drumming.

He went on to elaborate on the history of the Garifuna people from the time they were forcefully removed from their native homeland “Yurumein” now known as St Vincent and the Grenadines to Honduras. Then they subsequently migrated to Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize and the United States of America where they live up to today.

While he was speaking I looked at him with great admiration and I asked myself what would happen if we had more Garifuna people like this man and where would we be as a people today. We do not have too many people among us in our midst who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifices that it takes to preserve our rich culture.

Too many of our people think that just saying that they are Garifuna will be enough to preserve our culture. The history of our people proved that we had to fight and die to preserve it. Otherwise, nothing would be here today for our children, grandchildren and future generations to cherish. We must all be grateful to our ancestors for empowering some of our people to carry on this mantle to preserve our culture. Despite limited resources they allow them to survive and flourish.

How long will this burden be placed on their shoulders is everybody’s wild guess. The earlier each and every Garifuna man and woman commits his or herself to do something to preserve our culture, the greater the guarantee that we will preserve it indefinitely.

Mr Crisanto then had the drummers play all the different types of dance and music that exist in our Garifuna culture. While the drummers were beating the drums, he took the time to explain the significance of each dance and music. From time to time he also displayed his dancing skills, which brought laughter from the audience. Most people laughed because they were happy to see an elderly Garifuna man dancing as if he is a young boy. In our culture it gives our people great joy and pride to see our young and elders dance because that is a reassurance that our culture is still being preserved.

After the presentation was completed, the floor was opened for questions and answers. Many questions were asked but the one that most Garifuna people are concerned about is the attempt by some people in Honduras and the government to change their identity from “Garifuna” to “African Descendants”. From the consensus gathered there today, it was clear that most Garifuna, including myself, are totally against this labeling of our people.

We, the Garinagu people, know who we are and we will fight to keep our identity as Garifuna and Garifuna only. Any attempt by any individual, group or government to change our identity from Garifuna to anything else, will bring about serious resistance from us. Our people have died to retain their identity, to preserve our rich and resilient culture and we have no fear doing the same thing again. After the presentation many people in the audience came forward to pay their respects to Mr Crisanto Melendez.

Born in Dangriga Town, the cultural capital of Belize, Wellington Ramos has BAs in Political Science and History from Hunter College, NY, and an MA in Urban Studies from Long Island University. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science and History
armando_melendez.jpg Renowned Garifuna Choreographer Armando ‘Crisanto’ Melendez

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