Flavio Alvarez

Garifuna Wanaragua traditions

Master Garifuna Wanaragua master artist Flavio AlvarezThe Garifuna Wanaragua – related to the satirical Jonkonnu (or John Canoe) dances of the British Caribbean – is a masked dance performance that reenacts colonial encounters.  In a traditional presentation, dancers travel house to house on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, performing at each location.  Drummers and singers accompany the dancers.  Dancers form a circle in front of the drummers and singers, and then individual dancers step forward and perform dances.  The dancers’ movements include shaking the knees which are adorned with shell rattles, and upper body movements which satirize colonialists.  Dancers’ movements are performed in relation to the drumming, enacting a form of call-and-response between dancer and drummers.

This is a community event.  At each location, extended family and friends from the Garifuna community gather to view the dancers, drummers, and singers.  Some who have danced the Wanaragua in their home villages in Honduras, Guatemala, or Belize, may join in the dancing.  For all, this is a commemoration of their ancestors.

Flavio Alvarez learned the Wanaragua as a child from watching his relatives dance and practice in his home village of Labuga (Livingston), Guatemala.  Flavio now serves as Wanaragua chief amongst a group of drummers, dancers, and singers in Los Angeles who represent Garifuna traditions from Central America.

Of performing and teaching the Wanaragua tradition, Flavio says, "The Wanaragua is with me every day.  For us, this is not just a dance.  It commemorates our ancestors.  For Wanaragua dancers, our ancestors also dance.

"It is important to keep [Los Angeles-based Garifuna] together.  We become a family, and I consider the drummers, dancers, and singers part of my family in Los Angeles.  We get together regularly, and like a family, we can count on each other when we need help.  In Guatemala, I had an extended family all around me.  Here in Los Angeles, I have the Wanaragua group."

Flavio is a current master artist in ACTA's Apprenticeship Program with apprentice Taija Rae Garcia.  The apprenticeship aims to deepen Taija's skills and understanding of the Wanaragua, including Garifuna history, language, and dance techinque.  Taija, whose grandfather was a Wanaragua dancer, has been dancing with Flavio since 2008.

Flavio particiated in ACTA's Apprenticeship Program in 2009 with his grandnephew and apprentice Carlos Gonzales.  During the apprenticeship, they worked on Carlos' dancing techniques and group leadership in the Los Angeles Wanaragua community.


Click on any image to view slideshow.

A Wanaragua mask by Flavio Alvarez (Sherwood Chen, 2009)
Flavio Alvarez (in blue) and his 2009 apprentice Carlos Gonzalez (in yellow) at a Wanaragua celebration (Sherwood Chen)
Flavio Alvarez (in blue) at a Wanaragua celebration in Los Angeles (Sherwood Chen, 2009)
Flavio Alvarez (left) and his nephew and 2009 apprentice Carlos Gonzalez (2009)
Flavio Alvarez (left) and his nephew and 2009 apprentice Carlos Gonzalez with a Wanaragua mask made by Alvarez (2009)
Garifuna Wanaragua dancers at 2010's Garifuna Settlement Day celebrations (Photo courtesy of Flavio Alvarez)
Master artist Flavio “Paps” Alvarez and his 2012 apprentice Taija Rae “Tye Tye” Garcia (Photo: Russell Rodriguez)
The cover of the video Wanaragua in Los Angeles 2012 (Filmed and Edited by Francis Estrada)
Two Wanaragua dancers sharing in a driveway during Christmas 2010 (Photo: Francis Estrada)

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