Stitching Holiday Traditions with Martha Mcintosh

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Episode Summary

Stitching Holiday Traditions is a special series of the Stitch Please podcast. These are first-person narratives from women in the Black Women Stitch community. They talk about how the December holidays bring about their creative spirit. Learn how their sewing and making enhances their celebrations. Special guest host, Martha Mcintosh a.k.a. Garichild, takes listeners back in time granting them a front row view from her grandmother’s Livingston, Guatemala home as the sun rises and ceremonies begin. The strength of Martha’s connections to her Garifuna roots is boundless and palpable in this episode as she explores the rich traditions of her people and the focus it brings to her Christmas celebration. Through spoken word, dance, song, rhythm, music, costumery, color, and a bit of trickery, discover how Martha and her family carry traditional celebrations forward well before Christmas so that, to use Martha’s words, “when Christmas comes the energy is bubbling.”

Episode Notes

Martha McIntosh, a.k.a. Garichild on Instagram @Garichild

Garifuna

Garifuna Settlement Day

Wanaragu Dance, Jonkunu, Mascaro

Belize Wanaragua Dancers video

Chatoyer, Garifuna Chief

Paranda

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Read Full Transcript

Lisa Woolfork 0:00

The Stitch Please podcast will be taking a winter hiatus until January. But in the meantime, we will not leave you hanging. We've got some beautiful new episodes coming up just in time for the holidays. The new series Stitching Holiday Traditions are first person narratives from members of the Black Women Stitch community. These are first person special dispatch stories from women in the Black Women Stitch sewing community who are graciously sharing the stories of their family traditions with us. Each of them has a beautiful and unique story that we think you'll appreciate learning about as they talk about the ways that their sewing, crafty and creative lives intersect with the ways that they celebrate the holidays. So prepare yourself to have a really great time as we wrap up 2021

Martha 0:58

Greetings to all who are joining us today on the Stitch Please podcast. My name is Martha also known as Garichild. If you follow me on social media, one should expect to see a little bit of everything. My family, my travels, my life but most of all my journey as a curvy sewist. I'm honored to be sharing with you some of the holiday traditions that we partake in in our Garifuna and Trinidad home. A little bit about myself. I am a Garifuna woman born in New York City. My parents migrated to the United States from Livingston, Guatemala, Central America. My husband is from Trinidad and Tobago, and we are raising two children here in Maryland. Garifuna people are the descendants of indigenous Arawak and Africans who inhabited the island of St. Vincent until we were exiled by the British in 1797. My ancestors survived the attempted genocide and created settlements along the coast of Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua, and can still be found in parts of St. Vincent. When Lisa reached out to me about the series, I have to admit that I had to do a little double take, because the holidays seem to have snuck up on me. It was just January like two months ago. I'm convinced. Like a whole year has passed by, and I'm just not ready [laugh] to accept that fact. The blessing is that my daughter jumps into the holiday spirit with both feet starting on Thanksgiving week, because it usually falls around the same time we're celebrating Garifuna Settlement Day in Livingston, which is November 26. This is a day we celebrate the survival of culture and people. And we find ways to honor our ancestors. We truly carry this high energy with us pretty much until the new year begins. So we've already started the festivities way before Christmas. And so by the time Christmas comes, I feel like, 'okay, we here,' you know, the energy is just bubbling. And we're at ultimate high. You know, one of the is really one of my favorite times to spend back home, because there truly is no words that can describe Christmas morning in Livingston. You know, growing up, I had the pleasure of being in my grandmother's house, which is right by the beach. So is having a front seat to the start of the festivities which begin at the break of dawn, you know. Traditionally what happens is that there's a reenactment of how we, how our ancestors came to the island. And so what happens is that there are canoes that go out way before everybody gets up. So in the morning, as dawn is coming upon us, the entire Garifuna community is finding their way to the beach, in their traditional clothing, and singing, and just joyful, calling out for the canoe to come back, to come back. And the canoe has our traditional dancers and drummers, and they're in the canoe doing a call and response. It is so beautiful to witness. And it is something that I always cherish the memory because, the first time I remember being able to go for Christmas, I was already in my late teens, but I already knew what to expect because of how my parents had prepared me here in the United States. Even though we were not able to go to for Christmas every year, my mom and my dad made sure to tell me and share their memories of what it was growing up and what those experience were, that I was able to just attach my own experiences to theirs and grow it even more. And so I do the same thing with my children and continue the traditional oral tradition. I tell them the story of the first time of seeing the canoes making their way back from the sea, bringing in the drummers and the singers to meet those of us who are impatiently waiting on the beach. And my kids are like, 'this is what happened.' So I already know that now they're curious, so that when the day does come in which we'll be able to do that, that it won't be strange to them, because they know that that was my experience. Trying to figure out what my favorite aspect of our tradition is kind of hard because I love it all. There's nothing there's nothing that I don't love about being Garifuna and so therefore, it is trying to think of 'okay, what what is it that I...' you know, 'what about Christmas? What, what is it that is so Garifuna during Christmas?'...and I must say it's got to be seeing the group of Wanaragu dancers making their way through the crowd. Wanaragua, more commonly known, I guess, in the diaspora as Junkunu, or Mascaro, "Mascaro," meaning mask in Spanish, is a warrior dance. And so therefore, it speaks to my spirit. I don't know what it is, but I tell you, I feel like that is who I am. And it speaks to me, in a way, you know, the drumming, the dancing, the boldness, the boldness, of the colors, and the costume, you know, and, and maybe it's the story is also the story that's behind it is not just the dance. According to Garifuna tradition, you know, shared generation to generation told to me by my grandmother, you know, told to me by my by my parents, and as I share those stories wit my children, the Wanaragua dance is a reenactment of when we were fighting the British in St. Vincent, and one of our known Garifuna chief, known to all as Chatoyer, developed a strategy where the men would disguise themselves in the women's clothing in an effort to trick the British into thinking that the village was unprotected. You know, this is war. This is a strategy of war. And so before the British realized what was happening, the Garifuna warriors overpowered them and won the battle that day. And so today when we dance, Wanaragua, that's what that is, it is a celebration and a reminder of the time that the Garifuna tricked the British and won.

Lisa Woolfork 7:50

You're listening to the Stitch Please podcast, and the special edition episodes about Stitching Holiday Traditions. We'll return to the story after this break. The Black Women Stitch 2020 wall calendar is bigger and Blacker than ever. Not only is the calendar about 15% larger than last year's calendar, it still remains jam packed with so much wonderful history about Black Women's history, sewing history and activist history. There's also a wonderful new feature in this year's version. And that is the quarterly pattern release. At the beginning of every quarter, you'll find original images from Black women artists, the patterns are available as a PDF download, allowing you to resize them to the needs of your project. Order your copy of the Black Women Stitch 2022 wall calendar at blackwomenstitch.bigcartel.com, and we will help you get your stitch together. And now we'll return to Stitching Holiday Traditions. Thanks for listening.

Martha 8:56

You know today the dance is typically done by the men, but I've seen some amazing female dancers hold their own, you know, not just in the dancing but even in the drumming. And I love to see it all. The costume it consists of like a huge, a very big feathered headdress, very colorful. It looks like a crown, and then the dancers also wear this painted face mask. I used to always laugh because the face mask is funny to me, because the face mask looks like a person with a very sharp nose. That's how they paint the masks- a person with a very sharp nose and a mustache and stuff. I was like 'well they must have thought that our woman were ugly or something because why does this mask look like this?' But you know it is the play on that, it is the trickery, you know, that speaks to me. And then if you look at if you look at what the dancer is wearing, it pays an homage to many of our traditional Garifuna clothing. So if you look at Garifuna clothing, we typically favor gingham or checkered fabric. And so the Waranagua dancer has his head tie, because we also wear a lot of headscarves. Traditionally, the elder women of the town usually have their head wrapped, you know,and their head wraps and stuff like that for our traditional dances. And this is what the men do too. So because again, they are in costume. It is a trick. And the one of the biggest distinguishing, I guess, elements of the Wanaragua dancer is this rattle. It is kinda like a rattle. It is a tie that they add to their knees, so that it makes a sound. It's made with cowrie shells, and it makes us sound every time they dance, because the dance is very elaborate. It is one of our most elaborate dances in our Garifuna tradition and is a play with the drums and the song and also the sound of the shells as they do this really expressive dance. And you know I, I encourage everyone who's listening to go on the internet, go on YouTube, you know, and seek out and look at this dance. You will see that is done, not just by the Garifuna people. It is so African in nature. In the Bahamas they have a Junkanoo festival. You'll see there's competitions in Belize, you know. So you'll see many costumes, and there's so many videos out there that I encourage you. Go look at it. And maybe what I'll do is I'll send a video so that Lisa can also post it. It is really just a joy to see and just the colors is just so bright. I think that maybe that's the reason why I love wearing bright colors. It is truly inspired by the culture, you know, my sewing always takes and leads to the bold. You know, that's what that's what speaks to me, that bold fabric, the colorful fabric. I truly, truly credit that to a lot of the Garifuna traditional wares that we do and the dances and how expressive it is. And so therefore, I can't help myself, right? Isn't that what makes me who I am? And so I feel like that is what influences me and influences my sewing. And then just, you know, these traditional ways just speak to me in a way that that's what I kind of tend to lead to. And so, you know, before kids and school schedules and full-fledged adulting, I used to be in Guatemala from Settlement Day, until at least after Christmas, just so that I can really enjoy and partake. And so one of the things is, how do I then do that while I'm here in the United States? Because I can't make it to Guatemala every Christmas, even though I try, you know, but you know is that that's why it's important, and it empowers me to introduce many of these aspects of my Garifuna traditions to our children during the holidays. So the kids already know that this is the season that the Youtube playlist is basically set to all videos from home, to keep them familiar to the streets that they played on when they have had the chance to go back to Guatemala and visit my mom and dad. So that even blasting my traditional Garifuna music while I'm sewing, so it doesn't sound foreign to their ears when they finally do make it back home. You know, speaking into existence, you know, next Christmas, we're gonna to be over there. So these are some of the things that we do in our home. You know, my crafting room is always full of good intentions during the holiday season. But I decided long ago not to engage in making presence for anyone. Like it does me no good. I'm not here for that kind of pressure. But it is the time that I am most inspired to pull out my gingham fabric, my dress fabric, you know any of my plaids any of my checkered fabric, because I'm already in the mood and in that mode in which I'm thinking, 'Ah, what would this look like? Let me get ready for Christmas.' Because that is what I see. This is what I grew up with. And so I want my children to see, that my children know this is the time that mommy really is in the culture. We're going to wear tradition...you're gonna see mommy wear her head wrap. They're gonna see mommy wear her traditional clothing, you know. And so this is how we celebrate it. It is the reason why it's very important that during the Christmas holiday, another aspect is the Paranda. I'll play it, and we make sure that if there's a show nearby that I'm taking the kids. Like if any Garifuna shows or events are happening in the area. We usually do have a community here that has done in the past shows. You'll see some of our traditional dances, especially the Wanaragu, the Punta, the Paranda. They come during the holiday season, so I'm hoping that you know... We in a set of new times, but I'm hoping that this year that they'll come back so that I can take the kids. This is how we celebrate. This is the energy that comes in our home. And so I thank you for taking the time to just listen and you know, learn a little something new, and so from my house to yours, I like to wish you a happy holiday to each and every one of you who are listening today. Sending light and love, Martha.

Lisa Woolfork 16:22

You've been listening to Stitching Holiday Traditions, a special podcast episode of the Stitch Please podcast. Thank you so much for listening. Come back next time and we'll help you get your stitch together.

Hosted by Lisa Woolfork

Lisa is a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast who learned to sew while earning a PhD in African American literature and culture. She has been sewing for more than twenty years while also teaching, researching, and publishing in Black American literature and culture.

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