A Marimba for Savana
Homemade Xylophone Becomes Talk of Guanaja

April 25th, 2013
by Alfonso Ebanks

A marimba, a type of xylophone popular in Central America

A marimba, a type of xylophone popular in Central America

One Easter Sunday on Guanaja, in the 1940s, was a very special day for Martin Posante. It was the day he had chosen to reveal his long-kept secret. .

He looked down at the still sleeping village from the hill where his little farm sat among the swaying palms and bright green conifers and could not help but imagine what the reaction of the town people below would be when he unveiled his secret.

Martin had spent several months working a few hours a day in a special thatch-covered hut he had built about a hundred yards in the back on his dwelling house. He was often scolded by his wife for spending so many hours in the hut that only he had access to. When anyone could get close enough to the hut they could hear Martin inside chopping, scarping and hewing on special wood he had harvested from the forest that surrounded his farm.

After working alone for many months, and when his work was almost finished, Martin solicited the help of his brother, Monico, to assemble the device.

Monico was amazed at what Martin had accomplished without any help from anyone. There laid out and ready to be put together were sound bars made of oak, a pine frame, cushions of softened leather and resonators made from young bamboo trees. His brother had been building a marimba!

A marimba, what a stupendous idea! It would be a complete surprise, and for a town that did not even have a radio, this would be a big hit. Monico only wished he had came up with the idea.

Both of them loved marimba music and both had learned to play the instrument back in their old hometown in Olancho. Monico said their brother Oscar would have to be told, because he would be eager to join them with his guitar on the day of the grand unveiling.

The mallets were the only thing missing. These would have to be fashioned from raw rubber. There were only a few rubber trees on the island, and these were on privately owned property.

They found a landowner with some rubber trees, and after explaining the project to him, he agreed to not only let them have the rubber, he agreed to collect the rubber himself. The only condition was that the brothers woudl invite him to the premier of the instrument. They agreed, but the landowner would have to keep the project a secret.

Work on the instrument was running slightly ahead of schedule, because Oscar had been invited to join in. On the day the work was completed, Martin stood on the hill looking toward the town and was relieved to see his brothers and two other men started walking up the hill toward the house.

The assembled instrument was very heavy, and Martin wondered whether even five men would be able to get it down the hill without damaging it.

The instrument was set up in front of Don Camilo’s store, and after a goodly crowd had gathered, Martin removed the tarp he had made by sewing some El Gallo flour sacks together and unveiled his pride and joy.

The crowd went completely silent. Martin could see expressions of awe and surprise and on their faces. But they didn’t remain silent very long, because as themusicians took their places and started to play, with Oscar tuning in on his guitar and singing an all-time favorite, the people began to dance and sing along.

All through the village the haunting tunes of a homemade marimba could be heard chiming the notes of Allá en el Rancho Grande.

Within a few hours the word had spread, and people from nearby villages, and even from the Lower Cays, came to see Martin Posante’s work of art.

It was a very happy day for Martin Posante, and the whole village of Savana Bight was proud of his achievement.

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