Sharing Florida's Traditional Culture
Each year the Florida Department of State's Florida Folklife Program presents the Florida Folklife Area of the Festival.
Culture on the Move
By Amber Dodge, Amanda Hardeman, Emily Herrington, and Patricia Silver
The terms folklore and folklife refer to the living traditions currently practiced and passed down within groups by word of mouth, imitation, or observation. In The Spirit of Folk Art, folklorist Henry Glassie wrote, “Folklore is variable. The tradition remains wholly within the control of its practitioners. It is theirs to remember, change or forget.” Culture is dynamic and folklife is a mirror that reflects community values, challenges and successes. The traditions that remain are as telling as those that evolve or fall to the wayside. The artists and tradition bearers at the Folklife Area this year and next represent Florida’s cultural diversity; the effects of immigration, migration, and diaspora on culture; and the many ways that newcomers enrich the state today.
Puerto Rican artists Sonia and Marilyn Cruz Monserrate turn found objects into beautiful art. Their work features culturally significant images from the island such as the coqui (frog), vejigante masks, and los reyes magos (Three Kings). From early childhood, these two sisters were drawn to the arts. Before mosaics, Sonia was certified in needlework. Marilyn is also a painter, and both are now certified in vitromosaicos, or glass mosaics.
Master quilter Betty Ford-Smith learned to make pine cone quilts from 92-year-old Arlene Dennis, known as “Miss Sue.” The pine cone quilt is an African American style that consists of three dimensional, overlapping triangles pieced in a circular pattern. Betty apprenticed with Miss Sue for six years and is now passing on this tradition to apprentice Megan Stepe who will present what she has learned.
2017 Florida Folk Heritage Awardee and vejigante mask artist Lilly Carrasquillo was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico where she began selling art. As a product of cultural synthesis, the vejigante tradition is a colorful representation of a folk figure with origins in medieval Spain, influenced by Puerto Rico’s African and native Taino cultures. Originally made from cow bladders, masks are now created around a variety of objects that are used as molds. Since 1987, Lilly has worked to build folk arts into curriculum and engage immigrant youth with their culture.
Like others in the Puerto Rican diaspora, Darlene Ramirez honors the Three Kings and uses her skill in mundillo (bobbin lace) to decorate Three Kings in her home. After Hurricane George in 1998, Darlene moved to Florida and began studying with master lace makers Aida Etchegoyan and Jorge García. Her passion for mundillo led her to learn about lace making techniques around the world, and her daughter’s interest in pushing the traditional mundillo envelope has brought her to introduce color into the tradition. Darlene teaches mundillo, and has hosted a festival featuring lace makers from Puerto Rico, Germany, Spain, and Dominican Republican.
Puerto Rican–born artisans Vidal Torres and Wanda Pedrosa are the founders of Orlando’s cultural center Arte Borikua Cultura Viva. According to Vidal, an artisan is someone who has many artistic venues for expression. Vidal makes a musical instrument called the güiro, first fashioned by the indigenous Taíno. He also paints, makes miniatures, and games for his grandchildren. Wanda makes dolls and paints representations of the Three Kings and other iconic Puerto Rican imagery. Vidal and Wanda continue to provide a place where Puerto Ricans can experience and explore their culture from their home in Leesburg.
Music and Dance
African ensemble Dôdô Awoko will showcase the culture of Côte d’Ivoire and on Saturday evening, will host a griot style campfire gathering at the Folklife Area. The group features five accomplished West African musicians who now call Florida home. Director Dobode Martin Zagbo began performing with the National Ballet of Ivory Coast as a teenager. He now performs at Disney's Animal Kingdom and coordinates Camp Africa Florida. Master kora griot Morikeba Kouyate began his training at age eight and has hosted his own radio show in Dakar and appeared on Senegalese television. Since 1998, musician and dancer Seguenon Kone has conducted workshops in traditional West African arts, drumming, dance, masking, and fire-eating. Drummer Eric Bli Bi Gore began studying at the age of six; he has performed across the U.S., Europe, Africa, and South America, using his gift to make a positive impact. Dancer Dijan Tie formed his first company at age 16 and placed first in Côte d’Ivoire’s 1993 National Dance Competition. His choreographic skills span traditional Africa Zaouli style to hip-hop.
With Polimbatree, master and apprentice duo Lepoleon Williams and Abena Whasayo Isake explore the African diaspora through spoken word poetry, music, and dance. They strive to awaken and reinterpret African culture in the Florida panhandle. At the Folklife Stage, their presentations will cover the transition of traditional African music from the motherland to the plantation and the Jim Crow-era South.
The Haitian American Art Network (HAAN) is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Haitian art and culture in Central Florida. The HAAN children’s group will demonstrate folk games, and Executive Director Nattacha Wyllie and poet/drummer Anderson Dovilas will perform Haitian folk dances and rhythms. Presentations will also feature political activist and folk artist Limoné Joseph, who has used art to combat social injustice and political corruption in Haiti since the 1940s. In Haiti, he recited poems and played the conch shell to entertain and deter violence at political rallies. Today, Limoné is chiefly known for destigmatizing Haitian heritage in Florida and instilling cultural pride among Florida’s Haitian American youth.
Afro-Cuban ensemble Ogundamasa includes master and apprentice duo Dany Illas and Hans Hernandez. Dany is a babalawo, or high-priest in the Santeria religion who has mastered the sacred songs and rhythms derived from the Yoruba people of Africa. Hans was born in Miami, but has spent the last 13 years reconnecting to his heritage by studying Afro-Cuban sacred music.
“One-man Cuban band,” Renesito Avich, hails from Santiago de Cuba where he began singing and playing the tres guitar. Avich performed with some of Cuba’s hottest groups and toured internationally before settling in Sarasota in 2014. Considered a virtuoso of the tres, a guitar featuring three sets of two strings, Avich has mastered the son, or traditional folk music of Cuba, and continues to explore related styles in original compositions. He keeps area audiences dancing, and teaches music at Sarasota County Technical Institute. Avich recently released the album A Solo, featuring songs inspired by his homeland.
With a passion for pre-Columbian cultures, 2017 Florida Folk Heritage Awardee, David Peñaflor, began his artistic career as the director of Huitzilin, a group that presented Mexico’s regional folk music and dances. He was contracted by Epcot Center at Walt Disney World in 1996, and Huitzilin performed at Epcot’s Mexican Pavilion until 2001. He has served as Coordinator of Cultural and Educational Programs at the Mexican Consulate, taught folk music and dance for migrant education programs, and currently serves as the Statewide Coordinator of Adult Education at Redlands Christian Migrant Association.
Director of the Raymi Dance Company, Silvia Huddleston, is a Peruvian folk dancer raised in Lima, where rural and indigenous folklife was once viewed negatively. She joined the Folkloric Ballet in Lima and while traveling to perform, deepened her appreciation for the Spanish, Afro-Peruvian, and indigenous influences in Peruvian folk dance. The group played an instrumental role in promoting national pride in Peru’s folk culture when they performed at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
Bharatanatyam is a style of traditional Indian dance that tells the story of Hindu mythology. Director of Sarasota’s Sai Nrityalaya Dance Troupe, Shaila Sateesh, and apprentices Kiran Kadiyala and Meera Nair will share this 3,000-year-old tradition and how Indian American youth engage with their heritage through dance.
Tarpon Springs boasts the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the U.S. It is home to master musician Leonidas Zafiris who performs with his band Ellada, leads workshops in bouzouki and is currently sharing outi traditions with apprentice Nicholas Athanasatos. The outi is a Greek-style oud brought to Greece by displaced musicians from Thrace and Asia Minor (present day Turkey). The duo will share the outi repertoire and host a Greek dance workshop at the Folklife Area.
Calendar customs and festivals serve as a unifying thread connecting many of the tradition bearers at the Folklife Area. For Florida’s Puerto Rican community, Three Kings day on January 6 is an important day commemorating the gifts given to Jesus by los reyes magos. Artisans Sonia Cruz Monserrate, Eric Jimenez, Wanda Pedrosa, and Darlene Ramirez will discuss how they celebrate Three Kings and how it influences artistic expression.
Parades and Carnival traditions are emblematic of the Caribbean. Like the vejigante of Puerto Rico, Bahamian Junkanoo includes street parade with music, dance, and colorful costumes. Master designer DeVaughan Woodside and apprentice Samuel Wallace will present the Junkanoo costumes they have created for the 2018 Orlando Carnival.
In a narrative session titled Caribbean Perspectives, artists from several Caribbean islands will discuss their respective traditions and experiences, cultural preservation efforts and cultural synthesis.
Each year for Three Kings, the Jimenez family hosts a large gathering where guests sing songs for the year’s blessings and enjoy holiday food and drinks like coquito, Puerto Rico’s rum and coconut-based version of eggnog. Delmarie Jimenez will share her seasonal recipes and samples of non-alcoholic coquito at the Folklife Stage.
Jacksonville is home to a community of resettled Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees. Businesses such as Ibex and Nile Ethiopian Restaurants, and Merkato Ethiopian Market serve the community by offering familiar ingredients and flavors. Muna Ibrahim made Jacksonville her home in September of 2011. Previously, she lived in Sudan for over 20 years and as a result, speaks five languages including Arabic, Amharic, Tigrinya, and English. She is a devout Orthodox Christian and currently works at the University of North Florida. At the Folklife Area Saturday, she will share traditional Ethiopian foods and present a coffee ceremony. Muna takes pride in her cooking and that coffee originated in Ethiopia and wants others to know that Ethiopian culture, which is usually passed down from mothers to children, is hospitable, welcoming, and vibrant.
On December 30, 1960, young Marisella Veiga, her mother, and siblings boarded a plane from Havana to Miami. Marisella was raised in Minnesota where her family resettled, miles away from all that was familiar. She is now an avid home cook in St. Augustine and the author of “We Carry Our Homes with Us,” a memoir that highlights the effects of living in exile. At the Folklife Stage, the Veiga Sisters will discuss how they learned to carry their home with them through stories, food, and Cuban coffee.