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Bonaire’s Maskarada Tradition

It’s a 25-year Bonaire tradition that, on New Year’s Day, the Maskarada perform throughout the day at a variety of venues.

Beginning with the home of the Lt. Governor, these revelers, who cannot speak, and are totally covered so that they cannot be identified, show up to play antics with the spectators, as well as perform short skits by miming and dancing a storyline.   Some of the favorite skits include a bull and bull-fighter who go horn-to-red cape while another reveler tries to lasso a horn.  Or, enjoy the spectacle of a fisherman in a boat, “hooking” a shark and reeling him in.  Once landed in the boat, all the Maskarada join in to be sure the shark isn’t the one fish “that got away.

The Maskarada can perform up to seven times on New Year’s Day, visiting many homes around Bonaire.

After their first performance, the group heads to the elderly home to perform for those living there.  Smiles of joy are always evident everywhere as these folks enjoy this festive tradition.  Then, it was onward to visit homes in the neighborhoods of North Salinja and Tera Kora.  It’s tradition that, when the Maskarada comes to visit, the hosts reward them with food and drinks to keep their energy up.  And energy they need, performing as many as seven times throughout the day.

There is special Maskarada music.

The group dances to the music of Grupo Maskarada, with traditional “squeeze-boxes,” “chapi,” a small percussive instrument made from the metal part of a hoe and struck with a metal bar, guitar, and Quarta, a four-stringed instrument.  The musicians lead the way for entries and exits, as well as the parades down the streets of Bonaire’s neighborhoods.

Who’s behind those masked faces?

The identities of the revelers remain secret throughout the day.  They cannot speak or in any other way give away their identities.  But………at the ending of their final performance, the Maskarada are “unmasked” and finally everyone can see who has spent their day performing for them.For those who miss the revelries on New Year’s Day, there is normally a second chance to enjoy this unique Bonairean tradition.  The Maskarada usually perform on the Sunday following New Year’s Day.  If you are on Bonaire over the New Year’s holidays, be sure to check the schedule as each year it varies.

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