Perspectives on Punta Dance: Adebisi Akinrimisi
Garífuna women of Triunfo de la Cruz, Honduras chant traditional songs while dancing the rhythmic punta. August 1998. Credit: Drew Irwin.
Adebisi Akinrimisi
Garífuna Sociologist
San Francisco, California

My Ethnic Heritage
My name is Adebisi. I am a first generation North American born to Honduran and Nigerian parents. My mother is a mix of Garífuna, Black Creole, Spanish and Dutch descent. She was born in Tela, Honduras. But she migrated to the U.S. with my grandmother in the 1950s. My grandmother came to this country to pursue her nursing career. My grandfather later joined her because of their long separation. In the United States, my mother met my Nigerian father. I was born shortly after my parents met. My Honduran grandparents have told me a great deal about my ancestors.

My Current Research
I recently completed my graduate work in health and human services. My thesis explores the social experience and survival issues of the Garinagu people in the U.S. As a researcher, I have learned a great deal about the Garinagu population in Northern California and the East Coast. I've also participated in many Garífuna events in the U.S. and Honduras. I've attended several Garífuna Settlement Day celebrations in Los Angeles. Last year, I presented a paper to the California Association of Black Social Workers on the impact of Hurricane Mitch on Garinagu villages in Honduras. I believe it's important to raise awareness about Afro-Central Americans, whose needs have often been neglected.

Punta Dancing in San Francisco
Besides educating myself about my people, I like to attend punta dances. In the last decade, punta dancing has risen in popularity in San Francisco and the Bay Area. Some punta bands are brought all the way from Honduras to perform. Other punta bands have started right here in Northern California. For example, Waguia is a local band that performs widely in San Francisco and Palo Alto. Their music attracts a wide range of audiences, but mostly the Garinagu and Hispanic community. My knowledge of punta dance comes from what I have observed from Garífuna punta bands playing in San Francisco. I've also interviewed several Garinagu about the meaning of punta. Most of my informants were Garinagu people who migrated from Honduras and Belize.

My Understanding of Punta
What I can tell you about punta is that it is a dance usually between a man and a woman - who try and outdo each other by shaking their hips and buttocks, and moving their feet to the beat of drums or punta rock. Usually, the band members initiate the challenge by playing the drums faster and faster. They dare the couple or group to keep up with the rhythm. If they dance well, the crowd will cheer louder and louder. The music lifts your spirits and gives you energy, regardless if you are dancing or watching. Although competition plays a major role in punta, the dance is about the joy and love of music.

The Garinagu take incredible joy in dancing punta. They celebrate punta at nearly all social events today - holiday gatherings, communions, or birthday parties. But punta was not always danced for its own enjoyment. Before, it was a tradition performed at wakes. Nine days following a person's death, the Garinagu danced punta. This was to celebrate the spirit's entrance into the next world and the beginning of a better life.

Changes to Traditional Punta
Punta has changed over the years. In the past, only Garinagu adults danced punta because it was inappropriate for children to dance. Now children can dance punta too. Drummers used to be mostly men, but now more women are playing. I even saw an all-women's punta band from Honduras perform in San Francisco. It's interesting - with the male punta bands that I've seen, the women tend to be the entertainers. They wear short skirts when they dance. This never used to be the case. Women used to dance composed. They knew they were beautiful and that men were attracted to them.

Traditionally, punta was a courtship dance between a man and a woman. Both men and women dancers would gather around in a circle. A man would court a woman by extending his hand and inviting her to dance. The woman would respond by spinning toward the man until they met face to face. Once they made contact, they would dance punta. One of my Garífuna relatives told me that this courting was similar to the way roosters mate. Female roosters would circulate toward the male rooster to court him.

Traditional punta music was played with two to three wooden drums, a conch shell, and maracas. Today, acoustical and electric instruments have been added, creating a new music called "punta rock." Punta rock is one of the Garinagu's major exports in Central America. It generates followers in cities such as Los Angeles and New York In my observations, punta dance has grown very popular throughout Central America and in some parts of the United States.

On February 5, 2000, the Multi-Cultural Talent Showcase performed in Berkeley, California. Punta was among the many Latin dances performed. The Showcase was a smashing success. The next Showcase is scheduled for the summer or fall of 2000, and will be held in Alameda. If there are any Punta dancers and/or bands that wish to participate or attend the next Showcase, please contact Adebisi Akinrimisi.

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Credit: December 13, 1999 interview between Adebisi Akinrimisi and Kristina Stevens, Master's student, Latin American Studies, Stanford University. Based on anthropological survey on punta dance developed by K. Stevens and Susan Cashion, Chair, Dance Division, Stanford University. Administered by Akinrimisi to Gar¹funa informants in San Francisco and Los Angeles in December 1999. Transcribed by K.Stevens and revised by A. Akinrimisi; 4/20/00.