Of the many cultures and ethnic groups that make up the identity of Belize, none is more synonymous to November than the Garinagu/Garifuna culture. An annual celebration held in Belize on November 19th, a public and bank holiday, signals their prominence and arrival to our southern shores; almost 4 centuries ago. This holiday is known as the Garifuna Settle Day in Belize. Here are a few facts focusing on this unique culture and people that share part of our identity as a country.
History of the Garifuna
More than four centuries ago, the British began importing slaves from Africa to work on plantations in the Caribbean. Over time, these people began intermarrying with local Carib and Arawak natives, developing a new culture called the Garifuna. After rebelling against the British, the Garifuna were pursued throughout the Caribbean. First landing on the island of Roatan (part of modern Honduras) where they adopted cassava into their diet, the Garifuna eventually arrived on the shores of Belize on November 19, 1802, establishing themselves in villages such as Barranco, Seine Bight, Dangriga, Hopkins and Punta Gorda.
The unique Garifuna Culture
While Garinagus are known as skilled crafters and talented painters, there biggest contribution has been their Garifuna Music. Its infectious sounds of traditional drums is impacting fanatics throughout Belize and the world over. They are also well-known for their dances and story-telling. The Gariguna have used music to convey sentiments of their souls, of their history and present state of their lives. This group is particularly famous for their Punta, Paranda and Wanaragua or ‘John Kunu’ dance.
Garifuna “Ital” Food
Most people associate “Hudut” as the traditional meal of the Garifuna, but you would be amazed that most of their meals are based around chicken, fish, and ground foods including cassava.
The Iconic Flag
Prominent and synonymous to the Garifuna flag colors are three horizontal strips of black, white and yellow. This flag has long been accepted internationally as the flag of the Garifuna Nation and the colors have been used in any forum where Garifuna people assert their Garifuna identity.
The 19th Celebration
Annually, November 19th is celebrated as a momentous occasion to commemorate the national holiday of Garifuna Settlement Day. Re-enactments of the historic voyage begin at dawn, and the rest of the day continues with a celebration of the music, food, dances, and culture of the Garifuna people. Dancers wearing elaborate head masks and ropes of shells fill the street while drummers beat out the rhythm of traditional Garifuna music or rock out to the strains of punta music, a style of music that blends African rhythms with reggae. Everywhere you go, Garifuna food favorites like cassava bread, hudut (a soup made from fish and bananas), and dharasa (a kind of tamale made with green bananas) is served on this day that celebrates all things Garifuna.
And if you happen to travel to Belize in November, Banyan Bay Suites, located just outside the town of San Pedro on the island of Ambergris Caye, the award-winning resort of Banyan Bay is an excellent place to stay in Belize. The resort features one of the top restaurants in the country, luxuriously-appointed villas, concierge services, and a complete range of spa services. After enjoying the festivities, guests can explore the beaches on the island or head to nearby popular spots on the Belize Barrier Reef, including Shark Ray Alley and the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, a mecca for snorkeling, sailing, and scuba diving.
Today, out of an estimated 500,000 Garinagu world-wide, there are about 15,000 Garinagus residing in Belize, which is equivalent to about 7 % of the total population. This year’s celebrations are being held under the theme, “Garifuna Progress: A task for all Garinagu! Lawanserun Garifunaduau: Hadasi sun Garinagu!”