Our annual harvest festival, Seú, dates back to the 17th century when slaves would gather together in the kunuku (countryside) to pick the harvest at the end of growing season. A good harvest consisted of sorghum stalks, pumpkins, peanuts, watermelons, cucumbers, peppers, and other vegetables. Some years tended to be better than others depending on awa seru (‘water from the hills’). Needless to say, manual harvesting in our hot equatorial sun was by far the most labor intensive activity of the entire growing season, but leave it to our grandinan (ancestors) to turn the hardcore chore into one big happy Seú celebration… for the ages and all ages!
For as long as we can remember, we’ve worn freshly pressed work clothes (women – saya ku djèki ku lensu di kabes; men – straw hats). Our men play soulful music on the tambú (bari), chapi (garden hoe), kachu (cow horn). A male or female Kantadó Mayó (lead singer) tells stories and lifts spirits in Papiamentu. Hips ‘wapa’ as arms reach out to pick a stalk or reach for peanuts, transforming repetitive picking into a rythmical dance. All lined up, straw baskets filled with harvest resting on heads or hips. The journey always goes un pia un pia (slow step by slow step), feeling joyous, thankful, hopeful about good fortune against unfavorable odds (physical and emotional oppression, harsh arid climate, drought, to name a few) Once at the warehouse, the Shon would pay the workers with a portion of the year’s harvest and the celebration would continue well into the night.
Though we don’t harvest much nowadays, our Seú tradition is alive and well and celebrated in two parades: one in Bandariba (Otrobanda) on Easter Monday and one in Bandabou two weeks later. Over 45 groups, approximately 5,000 people – kids, teens, adults – participate in Seú, making it just slightly smaller than our Carnival (held 40 days earlier) but much more orderly.
2013 Photos by Joke Van Eeghem.
Nowadays Seú honors our resilient grandinan, teaches our chikínan (little ones) about our indigenous practices and values, and gives thanks… in the spiritual sense, “Seú isn’t just about giving thanks for what we’ve ‘harvested’ (earned) over the past year; it allows us to reflect on our accomplishments; good grades in school, a big win in sports, a promotion at work, an enjoyable vacation, good health in old age, etc” says Ramon Yung, leader of one of our largest Seú groups ‘Ambiente ta Tota’. Ramon’s proud to announce that his oldest member is 84 (!) years old.
2013 Photos by Monique Gomes Casseres.