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Lisa's Box of Treasures Our jewel at VisitAruba.com - Lisa has many gems to share with you. She has a wealth of information about Aruba - and if she doesn't know, she will find out! :) So, enjoy and ask away!

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Old Thursday, June 21st, 2007, 05:18 PM
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Default Fiesta di San Juan y Dera Gai

An Aruban tradition celebrated every year on June 24. History tells that San Juan festivities originated on the South part of Mexico and came down to Guatemala and other countries in Central America reaching Venezuela and passed down to Aruba.

It is a custom brought by the missionaries who evangelized the villages, by introducing a tradition for the remembrance to the sacrifice of apostle San Juan Bautista, who according to the Biblical history was decapitated by order of King Herodes, since he liked princess Salomé.

When the Spanish ruled the island, they brought a couple of missionaries to educate the locals about Christianity. The place they started to preach is where the Alto Vista Chapel is situated now. The first 2 missionaries are still to be found buried on the right front side of the chapel entrance. The missionaries allowed the natives by then to preserve some of their pagan celebrations like Dera Gai, Dande and the Carnival. That is why they combined the harvesting celebration with Saint John day.

Aruba celebrates San Juan in a unique way. San Juan festivities in the early times had to do more with superstition. Mainly because the natives believed in spirits and several Gods, and they were very afraid of them. In order to be in the good grace of the Gods and spirits, they had to make several offerings. One of these was for the harvest. The, purpose of the festival of harvest was to thank the many Gods for the good harvest year and to request them to bless the harvests for the following year.

The father of my grandfather told us that in early times cunukeronan (coo-noo-ker-o-nan, Aruban farmers) after harvesting, they stored the trunks of the several plants like corn and other types of wood, so that they could be burned on San Juan (Saint John's Day). The farmers would then burn the woods, on the night before San Juan as well as throughout the day. Fire means purification and it scares away bad luck resulting in a better harvest the following year.

During the festivities, there were several games like jumping over fire, typical dances, singing, stories and joked being told, all this done around the fire. This festivity was something big in Aruba - it was a holiday. In the past, on June 23rd workers were given the afternoon off and the June 24 the whole day. The festivities start when the night arrives on San Juan's Eve.

The tradition to bury a living rooster (dera = bury and gai = rooster) was very common in those days. Nowadays it is obviously unthinkable to do such a thing.

Every town had it's own festivity. The most important dance was where a rooster is buried leaving only it's head above the ground. Over the years this has been replaced with a calabash gourd, and nowadays a synthetic rooster is placed above the ground. A man is then selected from the crowd and is blindfolded. He is then asked to kill the rooster by hitting its head real hard with a stick.

After the incorporation of San Juan, they expanded the tradition, where now men named Juan have preference over the others. The man is spinned around so that he get disoriented and no longer knows the exact location of the rooster. Then with a corn stick, he has to hit the rooster's head. He has 3 chances , and if he misses another man is given the opportunity. An experienced dancer is guided by the wind and uses his foot to feel the ground in search of the rooster, because as a rule you are not to feel the ground with the stick.

During these festivities, women are dressed with long yellow dresses and yellow hair holders dancing in a choreographed manner. The musicians are dressed in yellow or red with a colorful band tightened on their hips. The instruments used consist mostly of drums and other noisemaker devices. While the music plays, the dancer has to hit the rooster, but the stick is not to touch the ground, or he looses his turn. This is done to symbolize the three times the rooster sang when Saint Peter lied about not knowing Jesus, according to the bible.

In Santa Cruz a century ago they changed the celebration a bit. They do not use a live rooster anymore, but instead changed it to one flag of various colors; red, white, blue and green, and a yellow flag with red border. These flags are then placed on a table. They also allow multiple participants, while blind folded, to try and grab a flag once the signal is given. The one that grabs the yellow flag wins.

Up to this day, Dera Gai is still celebrated in every town. Needless to say that the fire department has their hands very full putting out some of the fires that get out of hand …
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Old Thursday, June 21st, 2007, 05:31 PM
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Default Re: Fiesta di San Juan y Dera Gai

wow! that is an amazing story lisa. again i have learned so much from you. thank you!!!
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Old Thursday, June 21st, 2007, 05:48 PM
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Default Re: Fiesta di San Juan y Dera Gai

I sure am glad they started using gourds or rubber roosters instead of the real birds!
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Old Thursday, June 21st, 2007, 06:17 PM
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I Love Aruba Re: Fiesta di San Juan y Dera Gai

So many things about the flavor of the island, and the beliefs are really, really interesting.

Lisa, it's neat to have you here!!
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Old Thursday, June 21st, 2007, 06:25 PM
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Default Re: Fiesta di San Juan y Dera Gai

My mom and I were in Aruba one year at this time of the year and went to the Dera Gai festival by the Alahambra casino. It was really fabulous to see everyone doing traditional dances and try some food too. We really enjoyed it.
Jen
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Old Thursday, June 21st, 2007, 06:45 PM
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Default Re: Fiesta di San Juan y Dera Gai

The Festival of St. John the Baptist is celebrated in Italy and Spain as well. I was lucky enough to be in both countries at the time of the celebration. Italy did something with flags as well, and big cathedrals are closed to the public, to be used for ceremonies. Spain kept a more local flavor with Spanish costumes and dance. It is so interesting how Aruba creating their own traditions. Thanks, Lisa!
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Old Wednesday, June 27th, 2007, 01:12 PM
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Default Re: Fiesta di San Juan y Dera Gai

Quote:
Originally Posted by LocaLisa View Post
The farmers would then burn the woods, on the night before San Juan as well as throughout the day. Fire means purification and it scares away bad luck resulting in a better harvest the following year.
I wonder.
Is this a case of which came first, the chicken or the egg?
As part of the celebrations, farmers start fires to ensure a plentiful harvest. Today farmers still do that, except they burn their entire fields.

In Downeast Maine the blueberry farmers burn the fields of wild berry bushes after the harvest is done. The following season the field is left fallow to let the plants regrow. The season after that, they again harvest the field and repeat the process.

At any given time, half their fields lay fallow while the rest are harvested. It ensures that the fields continue to produce.
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Old Friday, July 20th, 2007, 10:52 AM
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Default Re: Fiesta di San Juan y Dera Gai

Thank you all for your comments, my next story is about the hurricane season, which started a couple of days ago. In here I'm sharing some personal experience and facts.
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Old Friday, February 29th, 2008, 01:43 PM
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Default Re: Fiesta di San Juan y Dera Gai

Hi Lisa, your story about Dera Gai was very helpful for my research, I am doing a small article on it. One thing I keep seeing is that the rooster's head was covered by a calabash, I am sssuming that it had to be cut in half first to be level with the ground? Am I right?
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Old Friday, February 29th, 2008, 01:59 PM
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Default Re: Fiesta di San Juan y Dera Gai

hi cyberscriber, yes you are absolutely right.
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Old Friday, February 29th, 2008, 02:05 PM
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Default Re: Fiesta di San Juan y Dera Gai

Can you point me to some good pics of the celebrations beyond the usual on the web?
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Old Friday, February 29th, 2008, 02:27 PM
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Default Re: Fiesta di San Juan y Dera Gai

you can check the archive of the newspaper solo di pueblo, you must download the pdf of june 26 the second body to view the colorful pictures that was taken everywhere during the celebration. also here you can view pictures of arubans celebrating dera gai abroad.
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Old Friday, February 29th, 2008, 04:18 PM
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Default Re: Fiesta di San Juan y Dera Gai

Thanks again Lisa, I am also noticing that it is spelled two ways--gai and gay--which is most acceptable?
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Old Friday, February 29th, 2008, 04:30 PM
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Default Re: Fiesta di San Juan y Dera Gai

"gai" would be more acceptable, "gay" will sound funny because we the english is our second language.
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Old Friday, February 29th, 2008, 04:43 PM
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Default Re: Fiesta di San Juan y Dera Gai

Again, thanks, and those pics are great. You are a wealth of information and I am sure I will be pestering you again for something Aruba related
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