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Garifuna Settlement Day: What is It?
Garifuna Settlement Day: What is It?

Of the many reasons as to why November is the ideal month to vacation in Belize, the country’s observance of Garifuna Settlement Day and the celebration of American Thanksgiving tops the list. While both holidays are incomparable and individually unique, one thing is true; both occasions celebrate diverse identities and rich cultural history. If you find yourself vacationing in Belize in this particular month, be sure to bring along your dancing shoes and an open mind; November at premiere tourist destinations across Belize is annually a big deal. Let us tell you why:

On a local scale, the nation of Belize celebrates its diverse identity with the observance of Garifuna Settlement Day every November 19th. As history has it, the Garinagu people, who have contributed significantly to the antiquity of Belize, arrived and settled in British Honduras (now known as Belize) and along Central American territories in the early 1800’s. Over the next century, the population inter-mixed with settlements of Carib Indians and fused into a single culture called “Garinagu” (or “Black Caribs”).

Around the 1800’s, the Garinagus were a dominant population in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but European politics began to exert its influence throughout the Caribbean. A series of wars between the French and British on St. Vincent culminated in a final battle on June 10th, 1796, where the French and their Carib allies were forced to surrender and leave the island. Thus would start a journey by the exiled Caribs in search of a new home.

History books reveal that “the British deposited the caribs on the island of Roatan, Honduras … thereafter the entire population migrated to the mainland of Honduras where they faced another brief civil war and again were forced to flee in neighboring British Honduras”. [ref: A History of Belize]. Historians have penned that the Garinagus arrived in dug-out canoes/dory in Honduras in 1802. In 1832, led by the charismatic and ambitious Alejo Beni, a group of Garifuna arrived on the southern Belizean (formerly British Honduras) coastline. It is this miraculous marine arrival that is celebrated every November in various Garifuna areas, including Dangriga, Seine Bight, Hopkins and Punta Gorda in southern Belize.

As the population boomed, so did their individualistic qualities in the 1900’s. Civil rights activist Vincent Ramos, who was a stewardship for the Garinagus in 1941-1943, was the driving force behind the establishment of Garifuna Settlement Day. This day was recognized as a public holiday in the southern districts of Belize by 1943, and officially declared a national holiday by Rt. Honorable George Price (Prime Minister of Belize) in 1977.

This year, Belize will commemorate its 185th anniversary of the arrival of the Garinagus to Belize. The most sought after Belize destinations to watch the magic of the Garinagus is in southern Belize, particularly Toledo, Punta Gorda and surrounding villages namely Barranco (the oldest known settlement of the Garifuna) and the Punta Negra. The entire month leading to the 19th, these areas are ripe with celebratory events including non-stop drumming sessions, houses outfitted with the traditional flags of white, black and yellow dot the streets in these areas and the general mood of the communities is high energy. Food, drumming, spiritual rituals and cultural presentations are key elements in the celebration of this National Holiday throughout Belize. And if you find yourself in Belize at this time, take advantage of countless activities aimed at awareness of this diverse and very unique culture.

In Ambergris Caye, the National Garifuna Council has planned several activities highlighting the occasion including the much anticipated re-enactment of the arrival of the Garinagus to our shores. This is an extremely great time to stay at Banyan Bay Suites and Grand Colony Island Villas so that you can enjoy this colorful and vibrant celebration of Belize’s melting pot of cultures. This year, the National Celebration is being held under the theme “Lidan Nei Uarani Awanseruni… Mabuleida Wamei” which translates to “Progress Lies in Unity… Always Remember it.

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