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The Gombey dancer is one of the island's most enduring and uniquely Bermudian cultural icons. The Gombey (pronounced gum-bay) tradition here dates from at least the mid-18th century, when enslaved Africans and Native Americans covertly practiced a unique form of dance incorporating West Indian, British, and biblical influences. Nowadays, Gombeys mainly perform on major holidays. The Gombey name originates from a West African word, which means rustic drum. The masked, exclusively male dancers move to the accompaniment of Congolese-style drums and the shrill, whistle-blown commands of the troupe's captain. The dancers' colorful costumes include tall headdresses decorated with peacock feathers, and capes covered with intricate embroidery, ribbons, and tiny mirrors.
The Gombey tradition is passed from father to son (some of the dancers are as young as 10 years old) and many of the same families have been involved in Bermuda's troupes for generations. Bermudians are extremely proud of their musical heritage and the sight of the colorful Gombey troupe's ducking and twirling to the mesmerizing rhythm of the rapid drumbeat is one of the most enchanting spectacles on the island. The Gombeys appear at all major events on the island and are the central element of the Bermuda Day parade. It's traditional for crowds to toss money at the dancers' feet. Gombeys are also regularly on display at the Bermuda Harbour Nights event on Front Street in Hamilton. Consult the visitors bureau for other locations.
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