Aruba celebrates Dera Gay!

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(Oranjestad)—Every year on June 24th, the Aruban community come together and celebrates one of our most authentic traditions: Dera Gay*. This is a national holiday for us, and families and friends usually spend the day visiting several places around the island to delight in traditional cuisine, music, games, ambience and the famous Dera Gay Dance.

Brief history of Dera Gay

Dera Gay is a celebration with various origins and histories. The cultural festival of San Juan (St. John the Baptist), known locally as Dera Gay, dates back to 1862 and is celebrated every year on June 24th.

The origin story of this religious and cultural festival has several versions. The religious origin is associated with the birth date of St. John the Baptist, while the cultural origin is tied to the harvest festival. Although it has a religious aspect, Dera Gay is predominantly recognized as a cultural festival featuring music, dance, and singing. The dominant colors are red and yellow. Yellow symbolizes the flowering kibrahacha tree, while red represents the candle that is lit on the eve to announce the festival of the following day.

According to tradition, the festival begins on June 23rd when people light cornstalks as a symbolic cleansing to prepare for the new harvest season. On June 24th, after sunset, the celebration of San Juan starts in different districts with Dera Gay dance, candle dance, and flag dance. The candle dance is performed for protection against illness and bad luck. The most well-known dance is the Dera Gay, where a man, with his eyes covered and a stick in his hand, attempts to kill the “gay” (rooster). Previously, this dance took place in open fields with a live rooster.

Today, a dummy is used, and the dance takes place in clubs. Those who still perform the dance in the fields or on the ground use a calabash. There is also a flag dance, where small flags are placed on the ground and a person with their eyes covered by a cloth searches for the flags. The ceremony is accompanied by folk music.

The prominent musical instruments are the fio, wiri, and tambu. The Dera Gay chant dates back to 1862. Of course, this celebration is not complete without traditional local food and drinks. The festival of San Juan and Dera Gay regained popularity in the 1970s among the local population, and schools also started paying attention to this popular festival. “San Juan is coming, San Juan is going.”

Some places to visit on this day

Savaneta Neighborhood Center (Centro di Bario Savaneta): Vanessa de Kort, project leader at the Savaneta Neighborhood Center, has informed that on June 24th, they will be celebrating Dera Gay* at the neighborhood center to continue enriching the culture of Aruba. The evening will begin at 6:00 p.m. and culminate at 10:00 p.m. with musical performances by Frank Croes and his Tipico Pega Saya, Masiduri dance group, Nos Cultura group, and as a special guest, Ivy and her group. Additionally, there will be Dera Gay competitions in the categories of children, youth, and adults. At the same time, they will also have a competition for the best Dera Gay attire.

S.V. Sport Boys Club at Angochi: On June 24, 2023, S.V. Sport Boys will celebrate its traditional Dera Gay on the Day of St. John. This cultural festival has been organized for 62 years in its original form and also marks its 65th year of existence.

The celebration will begin at 5:00 in the afternoon. From 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., the Cah’i Orgel Mi Adorada by Chido Marin and a Dance Group under the direction of Madeline Kelly will be performing. From 7:00 to 9:30 p.m., musical group Grupo Stimami will animate the Flag Dance and Gay (Rooster) Burning Ceremony. The person who successfully burns the Gay becomes the hero of the night, and the one who retrieves the Flag of St. John receives their prize. At 9:30 p.m., there will be a Waltz Dance. At 10:00 p.m., the party continues with a dance party led by “Grupo di Betico” with a great musical repertoire to enliven the festivities until the early morning.

Noord Neighborhood Center (Centro di Bario Noord): CBN will have a program that will start at 7:00 in the evening and will be filled with music, dance, and competitions. There will be performances by Banda Grupo un Brindis and various dance groups. Naturally, there will also be a St. John dance competition for couples, as well as the “Gay scream” and “chicken song” competitions for the little ones.

We will have a well-stocked bar and kitchen, and we hope that the general public, especially the people of Noord, will come and celebrate with us.

*Dera Gay: The word “gay” in Papiamento means “rooster”, and is pronounced like “guy”.