CALLING THE ANCESTORS TO ENTER: Introducing the Garifuna Dugu


Procession to the seaside to greet the fisherfolk for the Dugu
Copyright Tony Rath


When in the summer months of July and August, people  from young to old are seen walking the streets of Dangriga or Punta Gorda or Hopkins or any Garifuna community for that matter in Garifuna attire oftentimes in identical outfits, they are likely going to participate in a great celebration in honor of Ancestors. This celebration is called adugurahani or dugu (doo-goo) for short and it is a very elaborate and sacred event. To the one who loves and appreciates this very powerful and meaningful component of Garifuna culture, this time and this event is eagerly anticipated. It is exhilarating to hear throughout the day and night the drums beating from afar in that steady, sacred rhythm like the beating of a heart.


Taking seafood back to the temple for offering.
Copyright Tony Rath


 Over a year of preparation has taken place when a dugu finally occurs. Animals have to be raised - roosters and pigs - which will be offered as well as consumed during the event. Sometimes a temple has to be built. Family members have to be informed and invited to the event. Specific attire for the different families involved have to be sewn. Drummers and singers must be hired. Regular meetings between family members and the spiritual healer officiating the event - the buyae (boo-yey) - have to be held.



Greeting the sunrise and welcoming the fisherfolk back
Copyright Tony Rath


 A family usually finds out that there needs to be a dugu when a member becomes suddenly ill. In the past, people would immediately consult with a spiritual healer to determine if this illness involves Ancestors. In the present, people seek the guidance of modern medicine first which of course fails and the person does not recover from illness. When that happens, families then go to the spiritual healer for guidance. It may also happen that members dream an ancestor or another and get messages in those dreams. It may happen too that members may see ancestral spirits or get possessed by an ancestral spirit. It has been known to happen that a person may have grown up without speaking the Garifuna language or following the Garifuna traditions yet one day that person suddenly starts speaking Garifuna in a voice that is not her or his own. Many amazing things have happened in regards to honoring Ancestors in Garifuna tradition.


The Dabuyaba (da-boo-ya-ba) or Garifuna temple.


The dugu can be likened to a family reunion. It indeed brings together extended branches of families. These days, it is at a dugu that people will learn of their blood relation to someone they may have gone to school with or seen around but never knew as their relative. The event congregates several generations in the Garifuna temple and it involves different activities there throughout the day for an entire week. Most Garifuna communities have this venue available for community use but at times, Ancestors request that their families build one for their specific dugu.


Entering the Dabuyaba to officially begin the Dugu.


The Dabuyaba is considered a sacred space and there are rules of conduct that participants are expected to abide by during a dugu. For example, the colour black should not be worn at all in the Dabuyaba. Females on their menstrual cycle should not enter the Dabuyaba nor be in the vicinity where a dugu is taking place. Women must wear long skirts and the head must be wrapped with cloth. The rules are explained to family members during preparation for the dugu. People who have challenged these rules have faced severe consequences and such stories are many since too many have moved away from tradition.

Even though the maintenance of tradition is threatened by modernization and other factors globally, the Garifuna dugu fortunately continues to survive the challenges. Each year, therefore, in various Garifuna communities the drums can be heard from afar beating in the dabuyaba as the Garinagu call their Ancestors to enter.

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Dabuyaba: Sacred Garifuna Architecture

This is probably one of the most important vernacular Garifuna architecture found in Central America. This building, called the dabuyaba, is where traditional ceremonies are performed, among those, the Dügü. This one in particular is located in the Barranco Community in Southern Belize.

The Garinagu (plural of Garifuna) translate the word Dügü into English as “family reunion.” The Dügü is indeed a week-long family reunion, but not of just one family; it is a reunion of all the families in the community. One family is the host, while the other families attend as a sign of unity.

Even Garinagu from outside the community travel long distances to celebrate this very special event. They all get together to celebrate life after death, as the Garinagu believe that the spirits of their ancestors are also present in the sacred ceremony.

The Garinagu believe that the flesh dies, but not the spirit. Also, they believe that unhappy ancestral spirits can cause bad karma, so they try to appease them with a feast during the ceremony.

During the Dügü, all the participants concentrate in the dabuyaba and spend the week there; celebrating, eating, playing drums, praying, dancing, and even sleeping. Three drums play different traditional tunes. Each drum represents the past, present, and future. A buyei, or traditional healer, blesses people and things and communicates with the ancestors.


The dabuyaba is considered as a temple. The dabuyaba is built facing east, towards the Caribbean Sea and welcoming the sunrise light as a sign of life. On this side there’s an open area that resembles a porch. On its sides, it has doors facing north and south. At the closed west end is the priest’s inner sanctum, dugeirugu, where the host family retires whenever anything important is about to happen. The main room in the center, tanigi dabuyaba, is the heart of the ancestral house – where everyone gathers as one.

A new dabuyaba is built if the ancestors request it. If so, the process begins with the gathering of cohune palm leaves. The gathering of leaves and materials for the new temple constitutes a ritual of purification. While builders chop and gather leaves, the drums are played. The land where the dabuyaba is to be constructed is incensed, blessed with holy water, and sprinklered with rum. Then, the wood posts and lintels are put in place to create the structure, followed by the palm leaves for the roof and walls.

This type of building is always located closed to the beach and has a longitudinal shape often used in “traditional” temples. There is no better evidence than this building to say that spirituality and cultural identity is what keeps the Garifuna community together.