Perspectives on Punta Dance: Andony Castillo
Garífuna women of Triunfo de la Cruz take a break from punta to show us the parranda dance. Panchi Ranch, Triunfo de la Cruz, Honduras. June 1998. Credit: Drew Irwin and Klaus Staffa, InCorpore Cultural Association©.

Time and Location
The punta takes place at a specific time, but the date is not important. The hour is a concern. Night is the specific time. This is because night symbolizes silence. And the silence signifies farewell to the deceased. It also acquires greater spiritual and rhythmic concentration. In terms of the event's location, a type of small house is usually built, known in Garífuna as gayuney. It is located near the house where the protagonists live or in the house of the supposed deceased. Inside this house, people sit down to tell stories, sing, eat different kinds of foods, and remember the things that the deceased did when he was alive. Meanwhile, others are dancing punta.

Based on the moral laws of the Garífuna community, the punta protagonists have to be the heads of the family or adults. Young people, adolescents, and children are not supposed to effect the dance or play an instrument that is related to the propitious ceremony. The participants are males and females. They have to accompany each other on the dance floor. This is why the cultural message is a debate between the male and the female. Thus, they follow a sequence based on a moral and spiritual reality. The symbols related to punta are basically the costumes. For women, they are dresses, skirts, and handkerchiefs. For men, they are pants, shirts, and a hat.

Instruments and Communication

Drums are one of the most important instruments in Garífuna culture. Inclusive, they were one of the first methods of communication along with the conch shell. Therefore, they represent something more than a simple percussion instrument. In terms of the artists or dancers, they receive all of the respect and admiration of the village. This is because they have facility and divine gift to develop their artistic capacity.

A particular and well-defined relationship exists between the drums and the dancers. For example, when the drummer plays the drums, the beats accord with the dancers' movements. The drummer concentrates on observing the dancers' feet and body. And the dancers are also attentive to the sound and the drummer's changes in rhythm. A very profound relationship, spiritually and psychologically speaking, exists between the dancers and the drums.

Communication is very important in the punta dance. During the ceremony, the artists, drummers, dancers, and observers are in constant communication. But they follow a moral law and discipline. For example, while the drummers play, there exists internal communication with the dancers. And verbal communication exists between the artists and the dancers because they sing to one another. This combination exists to lift up the dancers. On the other hand, the artists and the spectators applaud. This is another means of communication that gives everyone strength, especially the dancers and the drummers.

In punta, competition exists, but not aggression. Competition can be observed when the dancers, taken by the rhythm, makes spectacular movements. The dancers earns the sympathy of the observers, including that of the entire village. It is because they are identified according to their talent as dancers or artists. A challenge does not exist. It is simply a way of demonstrating their feelings by effecting rhythmic movements.

Punta's Transformation
There have been drastic changes to the punta dance, which have shifted the meaning of the cultural principles of the Garífuna community. One example is the incorporation of foreign elements into punta. We can observe that children, adolescents, young people, including adults, dance the punta with extraordinary rhythm. This breaks the traditional rules because young people were never participants in this dance, only adults. And the fact that everybody dances punta at whatever time and at whatever place.

This allows the moral laws of the traditional culture to be broken. But, this can not be stopped. The only thing that we can do is try to educate and explain the history of each particular detail - according to what we deem best. Because if a people have an idea of their historical principles, they can easily understand modern culture. Due to systematic social changes, some elements are capable of shaping other people's culture. But, we can all have a date with victory.

Clarification: Garífuna culture has been transformed by the incorporation of American elements. But despite everything, Garífuna culture conserves its originality. And this gives us pride to continue investigating and document the most necessary things in the most effective manner. It will also provide historical material to those interested in knowing the historical, ideological, and philosophical origins of the Garífuna culture. I want to clarify that all of these questions were responded to in detail according to the moral principles and religion of the Garífuna culture. This has been the result of a thorough study about the conceptions of Garífuna culture.

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Credit: Andony Castillo©; Cultural Anthropologist, Bronx, New York; 12/3/99. Castillo is the author of the book, Filosofía y renacimiento de la cultural neogarífuna, and founder of the Garífuna website, Garinet. All rights reserved. Response to an anthropological survey on punta dance developed and transcribed by K.Stevens; Stanford Center for Latin American Studies; 12/20/99. Supervised by Susan Cashion, Director, Dance Division, Stanford University.