Mrs. Nelson Speaks On The State Of The Creole Culture

Photo: Bluefieldspulse

Bluefields, RAAS, Nov. 28-Mrs. Lizzie Nelson is an icon of our society. The Instituto de Danza, (Dance Institute), designated her Regional Delegate of Culture in 1993. However, she is probably the only delegate without an office. All interviews and work are executed from her home. Her work is carried out purely out of kindness since she does not receive any financial assistance from either the regional or central government.

Mrs. Nelson has been struggling to keep the Black culture alive on the Caribbean coast by traveling to foreign countries to perform. Mrs. Nelson mentioned that she has faced difficulty leaving the country in the past years. On one occasion, Mrs. Nelson was invited to take her dance group to China by the Chinese government. They almost didnít make the trip because they (those with vested power) didnít want them to leave Nicaragua. They were allowed to leave the country only after the ambassador of China intervened on their behalf. ďIt is as if someone does not want us to showcase our culture to the world,Ē she said. 

Mrs. Lizzie is now in her seventies and would prefer to play the role of coordinator and delegate the bigger part of choreography to someone else. She voiced her concerns for our culture and worried that unless we do something now, it will rapidly disappear. Mrs. Lizzieís participation was not solicited during the activities last May. Being the Delegate of Culture and not being invited to the activities, which she has overseen for the better part of her life, was wrong and must be avoided in the future.

Pulse: What is the present state of our culture?

Nelson: First of all, I am very thankful that you young men thought of coming to your hometown to find out where we are culturally. In 1993, I was named delegate of culture. I have worked over forty years since the 1960ís here on the Caribbean coast and the Pacific. I am the founder, organizer, and instructor of a dance group. I thought it was the only way for us to identify ourselves as to who we are. There are many ethnic groups. Therefore, we cannot identify ourselves as one solid race. We are a multicultural ethnic group; therefore, we have to be careful and show our people that we are not only one. Culture is not only about dance; it is also our way of speaking, our way of living, our customs, and the way we prepare our food. This is what our ancestors taught us.

There are lots of influences. The people from Pacific took the interest to invite groups with the purpose of copying us. So we are here as though we donít know anything about ourselves. They took all that I have taught them during seminars and presentation about the history of the dances Iíve taught such as where it came from, why we do it and when is the appropriate time for them. We as Creoles are failing because we donít take part in our culture. We keep our mouth shut and hands fold. Now we have to accept whatever the Pacific brings to us.

If you are from the Caribbean coast and you are aware that we are failing, please try and help us promote our culture. Right now my group is being invited out, but we canít go because we donít have any financial help. The Pacific has our videos, and they rehearse the dances and instead send their people to represent us saying, ďHere is the Caribbean coast.Ē All they are doing is laughing and making a mockery of us saying there is the Caribbean coast May Pole. They bring lots of camera to videotape our people in very ugly and vulgar presentation.

CEDEHCA, (Center for Citizen and Autonomic Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast),  has all my documents and promised to print a book. Channel 2 recently came to do an interview with me to see what I was doing. My own regional government has not given me an office since I was named delegate of culture. People here do not know what we do in May, October, December or January. We as Creole people have our own musicians, composers and singers, and everything they have taken and copied for a little bit of money. The Garifunas and Carib people lived among us, but they have their own way of dancing, even the people in Puerto Cabezas have their own way of dancing. What people are doing now is copying what they see on TV. Not because we are of afro-decent means we have to do what the Africans do. We cannot go to Africa and say I am an African, no! Could we? No, we have a different culture. I am begging all of you Creoles who are out to please come and take over. The Sandinistas were the only ones to promote our culture.  

Pulse: How do you compare the participation of the youth today from those in years gone?

Nelson: Our youth will participate because everyone is a dancer. It does not matter what music you play. But because of economical help that we donít have, the participation has been declining. We need help to buy new uniforms.

Pulse: Mrs. Lizzie, when it comes to preserving our culture, do you think our people are too relax, which may contribute to the fact that you are not receiving any help?

Nelson: What do you mean, that they donít have sufficient knowledge about it?

Pulse: Not knowledge but being interested in it.

Nelson:  If they knew enough about the culture, they would be more interested. My first writings about our customs are at CIDCA (Center for Investigation and Documentation of the Atlantic Coast), but they choose people who are not from Bluefields and donít know our culture. Many of our Creole leaders know my work, but I think as you said, itís a lack of interest.

Pulse: So, presently you are fighting this battle all by yourself?

Nelson: Apparently, with the help from a few good people such as BendaŮa, Tablada, Pancho Flores. I can always count on them for help when I need it. They are always willing to help promote this program.

Pulse: Do you think you would be able to generate more help and interest by going door to door to try to reeducate our people here in Bluefields about the importance of preserving our culture? I personally think we have to start teaching the youth, the children who are growing up. It may be tough to change the older folks, but we can try to get to the kids. What do you think itís going to take?

Nelson: My groups have always consisted of young people between the ages of 7 and 9, mostly from Old Bank. I had Orel Bowie, Marvalee, and the Joseph boy. I taught them. My main objective is to educate the youth. I presented a project for the youth to the assembly in Managua, and they promised me I would get help. The ambassador of Japan promised to sponsor the youth, but I havenít seen any help. I donít know who is receiving it. I know itís not me.

Pulse: So you have been promised help, but you still have not seen it?

Nelson: Iíve heard that the Japanese and the French have given a lot of money for the group, but I still havenít seen it. I just donít know who is at the bottom of all this.

Pulse: Mrs. Lizzie, you are very admired everywhere, especially by our group SLC. Unfortunately, we donít spend much time at home here in Bluefields. We come and go because we have to get back to our job, but our intention is to come home to live. We are always trying to see what can be done. Our goal is to try and keep our culture together. We are very curious to know who will follow your footsteps in keeping this battle alive. Do you have anyone to follow your steps when you canít do it anymore?

Nelson: Yes, I have a few people who are waiting to hear if the government will give us help. When Dina Myers and the girl for Solomon were dancers, they took initiatives and saying Mrs. Lizzie letís do this and letís do that. We presented a lot of things, but we need help. We have to continue practicing and if I have these people as monitors, they will be looking for something. Sometimes I have to share my salary with them.  Recently, we had a presentation, and Ricardo Mena asked me the same question. I told him that so long as you guys can help us out with sponsorship, we will be able to survive.

Pulse: SLC is very involve in preserving what is ours and not let them take it away from us. I always refer to a song written by Phillip Montalvan from Soul Vibration  ďBlack History, Black CultureĒ the song talks about how they are robbing our culture. I had the opportunity to talk to Phillip in Managua, and he still feels the same way today as he did when he first wrote the song. We did our first Bring Back The Culture Festival in April, and we are working on our second Festival. We would like to invite you to come out and talk about our culture during the festival.

Neslon: Yes, I wish you all had talk to me before you did the festival, so I can help point out what songs were done by our people. We had many composers, for instance, Woody from Cotton Tree. He was short of speech, but they were the first to make Maypole with the effort of a very good friend from Managua, Roberto Sanchez. I took him to Old Bank to know the people who carry Old Bank such as the Campbellís, the Josephís, and David Vans. In Cotton Tree you had Big Willie, William Thomas and Dennis Wilson.

All these people we can bring alive and let the people know who we are. No one had to come from the Pacific to tell us how to dance and what to dance. Look at baseball the first baseball players were from here and look what they are doing to us now. They are tying to kick us out. Eduardo Green and Mike Omeir were the last. Most of our players ended up being guardias or teachers.  Look at Davis Hodgson, they want to kick him out because the coast must not get any recognition. The new governor called me to give some English history, but I told him first I had a complaint of what was ours and is now stolen. Woody created the song ďKelele Pom PomĒ that song is Woodyís original, and it got stolen. Right now there is a law to protect all original materials because they are all being copy by others.

Pulse: The law you are talking about, is it to protect the dances you invent?

Nelson: People told me I should have done that long time ago, but I wasnít so concern. I felt good that we were invited out to promote the coast, but that was done with the intention of copying our moves. Alejandro Cuadra who died last year used to come here. He said that he was an expert in dance and wanted to help me.  In July, I went to Ruben Dario (theater) and the group had the same clothes we wear.

Pulse: Weíve notice that May Pole has become a big commercial thing. We know that in the U.S. there are always groups from the Pacific performing for as much as $25.00 admission saying they are from the coast.

Nelson: They are many who left my group and are paid, contracted to dance.

Pulse: Thank you for your time, any message for those who will be reading this.

Nelson: Just try and get something out of what I have said here today. 




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