Perspectives on Punta Dance: Wendy Griffin
  Juan Martínez and Ema Alvarez dance the electrifying punta in Triunfo de la Cruz, Honduras. August 1998. Photo credit: Drew Irwin.  
Wendy Griffin
Staff Writer, Honduras This Week

What "Punta" Means
The best know traditional dance in Honduras is punta, called banguity (new life) by the Garífunas. There are different stories about why punta is danced at wakes. Claudio Mejía, a Garífuna from La Punta, Colon explains, "If a man was a happy, popular kind of guy in life, then you want to give him a happy kind of wake."

This coincides with African traditions, that when the body dies, the soul is in a kind of stupor and does not leave the body immediately. So friends and relatives party one last time with the deceased. Here, new life is understood as making the transition from being a person to becoming an ancestor. Another explanation is given by Fausto Miguel Alvarez, a teacher from Cristales, Trujillo. "People dance, because even though this one Garífuna has died, another thousand will be born." Here new life is understood to be the new life created in the wee hours of the morning after people go home. Garífunas, like the West Africans they descend from, believe in reincarnation. The spirit of the now deceased grandfather, for example, can be reborn in one of the new grandchildren.

How 'Punta' Got Its Name
The story behind the name punta is different from its Garífuna counterpart. Once when an enemy died, the people said, "We are going to celebrate and dance from punta a punta (point to point). The punta here refers to point - a piece of land that juts out into the sea. One Garífuna teacher said, "This is why some Garífunas do not agree with the dancing of punta at wakes. It is as if you were dancing when an enemy died."

Punta Music and Rhythm
Punta was originally danced just by older people. It is the only type of music played at Garífuna wakes. Punta can be sung at the end of mourning ceremonies, known as fin de novenario in Spanish. During a Garífuna wake, there are a number of activities going on. From time to time, family members wail and cry before a coffin that has been put in a specially decorated room. Then, some of the men tune up the drums to play punta. The women sing. People go in one by one or in pairs to dance.

Punta music for wakes is played with traditional instruments. These include first and second drums, maracas, a conch shell and sometimes claves - two hardwood sticks that are beat together. The music is sung in Garífuna with a soloist and chorus, like African music or a Gospel music choir. Punta music sounds happy, but the words are often sad. "Yesterday you were well. Last night you caught a fever. Now in the morning you are dead," says one song.

The rhythm pattern is very complex. One drum plays 2/4 or 4/4 beat. The second drum plays 6/8. This is the beat to which the feet move. The women sing in 4/4 time. Sometimes the songs have counter rhythms. The second drum is steady, but the conch shell, maracas, and first drum improvise solos similar to jazz.

This type of sensual dance performed at wakes has also been reported in Jamaica and West Africa. Music also accompanies the dead to the tomb, a custom probably related to Yoruba burial customs, the same origin as the New Orleans jazz funeral.

Many groups now play modern Garífuna songs to a merengue band. The most famous is Garífuna Kids, a group of mostly Guatemalan Garífunas from New York. If you live far away, do not despair of hearing punta. Garífuna World can sell you via the Internet the best Garifuna music they can find, although few are by Honduran groups.

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Credit: Wendy Griffin. Compilation of articles: Popular punta music readily available at punta shops (10/26/98); Punta's names show different origins (12/26/98). Honduras this Week©. All rights reserved. Griffin is the co-author of Dioses, héroes y hombres en el universo mítico pech, a book on Payan mythology and folklore. She is currently a Staff Writer for Honduras This Week and a resident of the Garífuna community of Triunfo de la Cruz, Honduras