The origin of the word is unknown but Sambai refers to the rhythm style, drum style and event from the village of Gales Point Manatee. The Sambai rhythm is the most unique aspect of Kriol culture from Manatee.
It is theorized that since the escaped slaves, or maroons, were likely first generation slaves, they probably remembered rituals and rhythms from their home in Africa. Since the Goombay (gumbeh) drum was not outlawed until 1790, it’s easy to say that these rhythms were brought with these escaped slaves to the area near runaway Creek. It is likely that the rhythms migrated from their origins as the people themselves did carrying with them the flowing and mutating rhythmic dialects of their own style, still strongly rooted in Africa.
The Sambai is by tradition considered a fertility dance and occurs during the full moon cycle. Farmers plant and harvest crops directly related to lunar cycles as well and this may contribute to the reason that the Sambai is considered a fertility ritual. Also, many lyrics are sexual in nature such as
“Hok-i-nani-beh…here here ….hok-i-nani-beh…koko faiya.”
In recent times the Sambai has developed into simply a social event and is no more a fertility ritual then most other nighttime activities involving music, dancing and sometimes alcohol. See sub page drum to listen to sambai music
Elders remember the days when children were not allowed to participate in the Sambai. Although children are allowed to be at a Sambai now the event has not changed much since the old days. A circle of dancers and drummers gather around a pine wood fire. Drummers begin playing and “call” the song then the crowd answers. This “call and response” style is typical of the African tradition. For example:
Call: “Aanti Kala Kala Kalala sohnting so”
Response: “Aanti noh badi mi”.
The dancers enter one at a time and “Jump Sambai” as it is referred to. When the individual exits the ring he or she chooses the next dancer by pointing to or “reeling in” with a gesture or simply exits next to the person they are calling in.
Often subtle courtships were explored as individuals frequently choose the candidate of their pursuit for the evening. If the person was interested they would return the gesture by choosing back the potential partner. If the person was not interested in the courtship then the discrete lack of reciprocation would be noticed only by the pursuer of the courtship.
Bram & Brokdong
The brokdong rhythm is mostly played around Christmas time. To participate in the festivities is to BRAM. The Christmas time custom of Bram is still practiced in Gales Point. It’s one of the few places that do.
On Christmas Day drummers and partiers gather at one end of the village. They drum, dance, eat and drink their way from one end of the village to the other. Participating households offer food like rice and beans with ham, black cake or light cake, homemade wine and soft drinks. There’s Anise, rum, and Campari too. The drummers play traditional Brokdong call-n-response songs. They finish the evening with a Sambai. The next day, Boxing Day, the whole process starts over where they left off and the crowd parties its way back to the other end of the village. see sub page drum to listen to brukdong music
Notice the difference in dance styles between Bram and Sambai. When people Bram they dance together and in a crowd. Women often dance together with body contact. Of course there is no circle around a fire when people “deh bram” because they are moving house to house.
The following account was given by Gladys Stuart in the National Studies Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1 January, 1973:
The town came alive with the throbbing of drums—the bram! Groups of friends would gather at a home with the furniture pushed against the walls, leaving an open space in which to bram. The bram consisted of a stamping dance to a variety of beats. Hips and bellies were gyrated, shoulders swung, and arms flung about with abandon, resulting in flowing contortions of the body while the legs kept up a rythmic bram! bram! bram! Music was supplied by any combination of two or three of the following: drums, accordions, banjos, guitars, mouth organs, forks pulled across graters, pint bottles tapped against each other, combs covered with soft paper, brooms stuck on the floor. Enthusiasm replaced harmony and the tempo increased as the liquor flowed: rum, rompopo, spruce, and wines made from cashews, blackberries, oranges, craboos, or ginger.
Christmas songs composed about recent happenings—an elopement or a robbery—were sung. A session of bram in one house might last from a half hour to three or four hours depending on the amount of food and liquor served. When the food and drink were consumed, the whole group moved on to another house.
Bram continued for two full days without stopping. When someone became too drunk to follow the crowd, he was left behind to sober up. On December 27th certain sections of the community would make an effort to get some work done, but in Carillo Yard, Water Lane, Chiclero Camp, and Pinks Alley the Waikas went full steam ahead, thumping their drums and hearts in rythem, pushing their legs to bram! bram! bram!