While you may be familiar with Germans, Ghanaians, Gambians, Georgians, and Guatemalans, there’s one society you might never have heard of, unless you’ve spent time in Central America. The Garifuna people’s origins are as colorful and exotic as any society you’ll read about, tracing their origins back to Africa, Northeastern South America, and the shores of the Orinoco River that feeds into the Caribbean Sea.
Interesting facts about the Garifuna people
- African and Indigenous Heritage – The Garifuna are descendants of West Africans who were brought to the Caribbean islands as slaves and Carib and Arawak Indians. Their ancestry is a blend of these cultures, which is reflected in their language, music, and traditions.
- Arrival in Central America – After surviving a shipwrecked slave ship in the 1600s and intermarrying with local Carib and Arawak populations on the island of St. Vincent, the Garifuna resisted British and French colonialism. They were eventually deported by the British to the island of Roatán, off the coast of Honduras, in 1797. From there, they spread along the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize.
- Settlement in Belize – The Garifuna arrived in Belize on November 19, 1802. This day is now celebrated as Garifuna Settlement Day, a national holiday in Belize, to honor their arrival and subsequent contributions to the country’s culture.
- Language – The Garifuna language belongs to the Arawakan language family, with elements of Carib, French, English, and Spanish due to various influences throughout their history. The language is considered endangered, but efforts are being made to revitalize it.
- Dugu Ritual – The Dugu is a traditional spiritual ceremony that is integral to Garifuna culture. It involves feasting, music, and dance and is conducted to appease the spirits of ancestors and to seek their guidance.
- Music and Dance – Garifuna music is distinctive and includes various styles such as Punta, Paranda, and Hüngü-Hüngü. Traditional instruments include the drum (primarily the primero and segunda drums) and the maracas. The Punta dance is especially popular and is recognized for its rhythmic and vigorous movements.
- UNESCO Recognition – In 2001, UNESCO proclaimed the Garifuna language, dance, and music as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity to raise awareness of its cultural significance and promote its preservation.
- Cuisine – Garifuna cuisine reflects their coastal origins and reliance on the sea. A traditional dish is Hudut, which is a combination of fish cooked in a coconut milk broth (sere) and served with mashed plantains.
- Punta Rock – A modern music genre that evolved from traditional Punta music is Punta Rock. Popularized in the 1970s by artists like Pen Cayetano, it blends traditional rhythms with modern electronic instruments.
- Resilience and Adaptation – Despite facing discrimination and challenges in preserving their unique identity, the Garifuna people have shown remarkable resilience. They maintain a strong sense of community and continue to adapt while preserving key elements of their heritage.
- Cultural Epicenters in Belize – Barranco, Hopkins, Seine Bight, and Dangriga are the four epicenters of Belize’s Garifuna life today. These communities are vital for the preservation and continuation of Garifuna culture within the country. Each of these locations offers a unique insight into Garifuna traditions, from language to culinary practices to music and dance.
When to learn more about this fascinating society?
Visit Belize around November 19, 2023, when the annual Garifuna Settlement Day is expected to draw visitors from around the world who are eager to pay tribute to these intrepid people who “officially” landed on Belize shores on November 19, 1802. This festive occasion had to be toned down during COVID-19, but it’s returning in all its glory at the four epicenters listed above and at plenty of other places in Belize that love the energy and fun of this celebration. Join us at Belizean Dreams on Friday, November 17th for a vibrant Garifuna Cultural Showcase right on the beach! Explore Garifuna culture with displays of food, attire, rich history, and traditional instruments. Don’t miss the special Garifuna lunch, Hudut. In the evening, groove to the beat of the Garifuna drummers!
What can you look forward to if you come down during the festivities? Dancing, parades, music, drumming, and prayers pay tribute to the ancestors of today’s populace. There are also reenactments of the first landing where boats come ashore carrying cassava, sugar cane, and plantain symbolizing the foods they carried to their new homeland.
Another important stop for visitors is the Gulisi Garifuna Museum where additional information about the Garifuna is headquartered. If you leave Belize before you try traditional Garifuna dishes like serre, hudut, and cassava, you’ll miss an important part of this culture.
The ideal place to reside
Belizean Dreams Resort in Hopkins is the ideal place to sojourn when this week of revelry takes place this year. Choose a Belize all inclusive package and add-ons that fit your budget so you can focus your time and attention on the week-long party.
Currently, there’s a deal described on the resort menu that can save you money, and since this discounted special doesn’t end until December 22, 2023, you may still be able to book accommodations during this annual celebration. Sound like a cultural experience that’s too good to miss? Trust your instincts. You’re going to love every minute.