Maria Nuitter Espinal: “We want to keep the tradition alive” | Own words

I am an artist from the small fishing and tourist village of Puerto Colombia, located in Choroní, Venezuela, forty miles west of Caracas. The village has only three streets, but is famous for its Buroquite celebration. As a teenager, my father and a teacher named Augusta Chavez encouraged me to love my cultural tradition. As a result, I was on tour in Venezuela with the Choroní Dance and Drums Foundation, performing various folk traditions such as the May Cross, St. John the Baptist, Christmas Shepherds and Buroquite. These performances included drumming and various folk dances.

The Burroquite tradition goes beyond what I can think of. People from the village say that a man came from the nearby mountains to dance buroquite at various ceremonies, such as the New Year, in honor of our village patroness, St. Clare of Assisi. He didn’t appear at the dance for two years, and since I was an active performer at Choroní, my family told me, “Let’s bring joy to the village.” Since then, I’ve become Choroní’s Burroquite and danced with La
Campanera, my donkey, for the last twenty-five years. I started with the company of my family, who are musicians – my many sisters, my nieces and nephews, my children, and of course, my husband, Vivi.

Over time, more and more people joined Burroquite to celebrate the New Year. I visited every house in the village with my paranderos. We toasted, danced, played maracas and sang in celebration of the New Year. It is a spirit that people have according to their traditions. A city that does not maintain its tradition becomes a difficult place to live.

Over the years, some family members have settled outside of Choroní, and I have started performing with a group of young musicians playing drums and trombones on the street, El Parampampam. This encouraged more young people to come out and join us during the main festivities throughout the year.

There are between thirty and forty children in my town that I teach to dance Burroquite. Why am I doing this? This is because we want to keep the tradition alive with its original characteristics – Choroní’s Burroquite dances parrandu and to the sounds of drums. In Los Llanos, buroquite dances joropo. Therefore, we do not want to watch buroquite reggaeton dancing.

It is my duty to tell the children in the schools, and wherever I go, that the Buroquite event was originally a man dressed as a woman, with a hat with long braids and a bag hanging from her side. Although every child has their own style of dancing, there is a pattern to follow. It is necessary to listen to music to get the right movements, because the song gives signs that you know when to turn or strike while dancing to the rhythm of drums and trombone.

It is important to me that the Burroquite tradition continues. The Traditional Burroquites Collective has organized Burroquite rallies across the country for more than five years. Hundreds of Burroquites from Apure, Merida, Caracas, Barloventa, Marizapa and Margarita come to Choroní every year. As a result, other Burroquite groups and collectives have done the same and the tradition has become visible in different parts of Venezuela.

In 2016, after painstaking research and interviews, out of 1,500 burroquites and sixty collectives, only twenty-one were declared part of Venezuela’s national cultural heritage, including the Buroquite of Choroní. The ceremony was held in Caracas where they gave us a decree and a diploma that gave me support to take Choroní’s Burroquite to Spain, Curaçao and Aruba. We also traveled by bus from Choronía to Chile, where I had a fantastic experience dancing with the Huasos – Chilean cowboys – and their traditional dance, Cueca. I also met a Senegalese percussion group. I wanted to be in Africa, and Africa was there with me, playing drums in their impressive costumes.

I have been coming to Trinidad for the last ten years, since my daughter has been living here with her family. At first I didn’t dare bring out my burroquite during the carnival. I performed in schools and orphanages, but never at carnival. I respect the tradition of the people and if I want my culture to be respected, I have to start respecting others. Then in 2020 I met the right people and was invited to play with the band Moko Jumbies. I never imagined myself at one of the biggest carnivals in the world, performing Choroní’s Burroquite with my grandson, Thiago Salomon, a born dancer.

It is important for me to pass on my tradition to my grandchildren, who live in Trinidad. I teach them Venezuelan culture, and they also teach the tradition of the place where they now live. There are too many influences that can take them away from their tradition, especially when they are young and feel that other children can make fun of them. Therefore, the more they know, the more confidence and pride they will have to be a part of it.

When I see my grandson dancing with passion because he reflects my passion, I know that a small piece of my country is here with us.

I feel identified with Venezuela when I dance Burroquite because it embodies so many things. A mixture of races – blacks, natives – and music. We connect as Venezuelan immigrants, because our country is rich in cultural traditions. Wherever I go with my husband, my suitcase has my stamp, flag and donkey, and then Vivi and I share his suitcase for our clothes. And wherever I am, I will dance and sing.

Long established as a form of traditional masquerade in Trinidad, Burrokeet – depicting a little donkey and his rider – was originally transmitted by Venezuelan migrants in the nineteenth century across the Gulf of Paria. The original Venezuelan buroquite is still practiced in communities across Venezuela, and has its roots as far back as the Iberian Peninsula.

Interview from Spanish translated by Raquel Vasquez La Roche

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