BLUEFIELDS – It comes down to hitting the streets and stopping in every open shop to plead your case to those owners you know well and those you don’t know at all.
The conversation might go something like this:“Hey, I’m here because I know how much you care about preserving Caribbean culture, especially during this month of festivities.
How about making a contribution so that the musicians in tomorrow’s fest get paid?” In these weeks leading to Bluefields’ annual Maypole carnival, cash-strapped organizers are rushing to ensure the traditional celebrations to honor the coming of the rain in their own neighborhoods.
These are people such as Barbara Johnson, a long-time community organizer who spent four hours on a recent Thursday evening pounding the pavement in downtown Bluefields to raise funds to pay for the next day’s festival in her neighborhood, the historic Beholden.
“I am so tired right now, so stressed out,” she said, just hours before the big Friday event, recalling weeks of planning everything from the traditional couples’ dance around a tree, a multiple performer concert, children’s games, food and decorations.
During any other time of the year, there would be no getting away with this straightout begging for money. But this is May, and May is a magic month in Bluefields.
“This is the happiest time we have down here,” said Sheyla Clair, a 21-year-old who takes great pride in her community’s tradition.
“The trees start to give us fruit – mangoes and plums and coconut – when the rain comes and fertilizes the earth.”
The Bluefields’ tradition of Maypole – or dancing around a tree or pole to celebrate the fertility brought by the rainy season – comes from the 17th century, during British settlement on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast.
The people who live here today are an ethnic mix of indigenous peoples and Afro-Caribbean descendants who have been historically disenfranchised from the Pacific, mostly Spanish and mestizo side of the country.
Celebrating Maypole in Bluefields is more about local pride than national pride.
“This is the most important month for us coastal people, because we actually take pride in something that is originally ours, we listen to music that is ours,” said Israel “DJ Black In The House” Joseph, who deejayed at the Beholden festival. “In Managua, people think that we’re dancing the Maypole year-round, but that just isn’t the case. The younger generations listen to the same radio music and reggaeton here, too.”
The Beholden festival featured performances from some of the coasts’ most legendary musicians, including: the “Catman” Sabu, who delights in screeching his name when saluted on the street; Mango Ghost, a singer and drummer of Misquito ancestry who’s taught most of Bluefields’musicians in the past several decades; and Kali Boom, a young reggae singer with a soft voice and growing popularity.
All neighborhood festivals serve as a build up to the May 31 citywide carnival – complete with street parades, a beauty pageant, music, dancing and food.
“But the real fun is the barrio festivals,” said Edwin Reed-Sanchez, who directs Bluefields Sound System, a project to develop, conserve and promote local musicians –including most who performed at the Beholden concert.
“That’s where you can see the community get together, and truly celebrate,” he says.