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Dera Gai Celebration in Aruba

Dera Gai Celebration in Aruba

Dera Gai is an Aruban cultural festival and has been celebrated for about 100 years on June 24th with traditional song and dance.

Today it is Aruban harvest festival and cultural celebration with traditional song and dance. The symbol of the rooster and the bright yellow and red costumes are the centerpiece of the events held in various locations, such as community centers.

Dera Gai means “to bury the rooster” in the local language and is a cultural festival that has been celebrated for about 100 years with traditional song and dance. This holiday is widely celebrated, with both pagan and Christian symbols reflecting the influences of the Arawak natives and Spanish missionaries.

Traditionally, the Dera Gai celebration took place around a special ritual. A hole was dug in the ground and a live rooster was buried up to its neck. Blindfolded revelers were then given three chances to decapitate the rooster using a long stick (piñata style). (The Catholics considered this ritual to be symbolic of the beheading of John the Baptist, but the revelers believed that the runaway blood would make the earth fertile for the next growing season). Those who were successful were rewarded with bottles of alcohol and other prizes.

Today, the approach is a bit more humane. For example, during the Dera Gai celebration in Santa Cruz, one of the largest celebrations on the island, the revelers are blindfolded and must find a flag stuck in the ground while swinging to the music of a band. Occasionally, the game master tricks the blindfolded party goers by moving the flag during the game. Folkloric dance groups reenact the burial and decapitation of the rooster using a plastic rooster. Decked out in bright yellow-red costumes, these groups also perform a harvest dance ritual, with the yellow color apparently representing the June flowering of the kibrahacha tree.

In the past, bonfires were lit on the eve of John the Baptist’s Day to let neighbors know the holiday was coming. The old remains of the previous year’s harvest were burned in preparation for the new growing season. Today, fires are lit all over the island on St John the Baptist’s Day itself, as an olfactory memento of this unique local celebration. For more information, please contact the Ministry of Culture in Aruba.

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