Monday is Garifuna Settlement Day, Belize's richest cultural observance. And today schools across the city held cultural appreciation sessions.
Our teams visited three schools and I started at Sadie Vernon High where the history of the observance was put into context:..
Monica Bodden reporting
Garifuna Settlement Day is Belize's most richly celebrated cultural observance. It marks the arrival of the first Garinagu to Belize - and apart of tradition, many Belizeans enjoy traveling to Garifuna communities in southern Belize - to part-take in the festive observance, a mixture of African music and religion with native Carib language and traditions.
But while many are getting prepared for this long weekend of festivities,
Celebrations have already started for the students at Sadie Vernon High.
Laura Baptist - School Principal "Activities leading up to the culture day stem from the social studies topics that the students have studies in first, second form and presently."
Reporter "Its Garifuna and Garinagu culture is pronounced but I also see some Mestizo dancing going on."
Laura Baptist - School Principal "Yes that very interesting to see because we try to acculturate whatever we do here we involve all ethnics groups that are willing to be a part of our activities and these girls right here - they took part in the Belize Central Garifuna pageant last week and so I invited them to come so that my students can see that you don't have to be a Garifuna to be a part of our activities."
With the 19th just being days away, the students of Sadie Vernon High took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the Garifuna culture.
Laura Baptist - School Principal "We have music, food, artifacts on display and we have history that the students research and put together."
Monica Bodden "Tell us a little bit about the food?"
Laura Baptist - School Principal "As you can see I am serving hudut and if you look on that side, that's the makeshift kitchen, I am trying to depict exactly how a Garifuna setting would look like on an everyday basis. Today we have hudut, we also have sahol and then we have sere."
Reporter "What's the difference between sere and hudut?"
Laura Baptist - School Principal "When you have only the gravy with the fish - that's the sere, but the hudut have to include the plantain as well."
And just before we left we caught up with two well respected Garifuna Women of the Garifuna Choir - who were enjoying a big plate of the famous cultural dish called the Hudut.
Thelma Martinez -Directress of the Garifuna Choir "This is the famous hudut, its very delicious for this occasion. This is the outfit that is being used, it's a skirt and blouse and this is official outfit that the Garifuna people usually used for mass and for official purposes as well."
And while that high school held a cultural day, there were 2 primary schools which each held their own cultural fairs.
7News was invited to the Wesley Upper School to take part in some of the festivities, and we saw what these students prepared in honor of Belize's diverse society.
Marlette Lacayo - VP, Wesley Upper School "Today what we choose to do was divide our entire school into the different groups of people who live here in our country and so we have been very brave; we have the Maya, Mennonite, East Indian, Hindu, Jamaican, creole, Garifuna, the whole Kit and Caboodle, the Mestizo, everybody, even the Chinese Lion is here today and so we decided to let each class represent a culture and that is what we are doing today. We are looking specifically at areas like history and we have looked at the cultural beliefs and practices and those areas."
Daniel Ortiz "How have the students received the efforts of this committee in terms of this cultural fair portrayal?"
Marlette Lacayo "At first it was a little hesitant and then what we advised the teachers to do was to first show that you as a teacher you are willing to be open minded about the multi-cultural society that we have and they took it from there and it has been absolutely amazing. Can you imagine a child looking at you and asking questions about the Mayas and stuff like that and you see them in cultural wear - we don't have children who are Chinese here in our school - but you see the children in that cultural attire. You see them in all different types of cultural attire just embracing and accepting and being very cooperative."
And right across the street, Queen Square Primary School also held their cultural fair. Here's a few of their presentations:
Tanya Broaster, Teacher - Queen Square Primary "We are portraying the Mayas. At our school today we have 8 different cultures depicting the theme "Diverse cultures celebrating unity." Out of the 8 different cultures we are the Mayas and you can ask some of my students some things about the Mayas. I think they have a good understanding about the Mayas."
Student #1 "The Maya dance is called a Deer Dance."
Student #2 "Some of the Maya foods are ducunu, tamales, beans and meat."
Daniel Ortiz "What is the Maya clothing?"
Student #3 "The boys wear long sleeve shirt and long pants. The colors are white and black."
Shawn Jones, Teacher - Queen Square Primary "The Std.1 classes are doing Nigerian. We are just focusing on the clothing, flag, map and a little bit of food. It took us at least a month before preparations because we had to practice with the kids in the evening especially some of the parts that were important and so far yes they do understand especially the dancers."
Daniel Ortiz "Are they enjoying learning about a new culture?"
April Hill, Teacher - Queen Square Primary "Yes they are especially that have seen that some of the things especially with the Garifuna as well the Creole - they see some of
the similarities in the food. For instance; the Nigerian they love ripe plantains, we also use ripe plantains, Garifuna use the ripe plantains as well as the green plantain in making the hudut."
Alexander Flores, student - Queen Square "The name of the dance is San bai Dance. San bai dance is a traditional fertility dance. One at a time a dancer comes into the ring, the girls dance sensuously and the boys dance athletically around the fire for 15-30 seconds then selects a new dancer to take his/her place. Everyone in the community joins in for this event to watch and most often to take turns dancing the San bai. The San bai usually takes place at weddings and birthdays."
A journey through Garifuna history: After 210 years in Belize, “We Keep Going Forward”towards what destination?
Amidst the challenging socioeconomic realities of Garifuna communities and the constraints of Garifuna leadership to collectively define, promote and pursue development opportunities for their people, the annual revelry that defines Garifuna Settlement Day has served to reaffirm among Garinagu their cultural survival against all odds throughout the two centuries that they have lived in Belize. The mere survival of Garifuna culture after the attempts by the British superpower to exterminate it, is still quite an exceptional feat to celebrate.
Following the unsuccessful defense of their homeland territory of St. Vincent against the British invaders in 1797, the Garinagu were rounded up, loaded in ships and exiled almost two thousand miles away to the most barren sections of the island of Roatan, then another British territory. About two decades earlier, the British had considered returning this rebellious group of fierce warriors to Africa but that would have been too costly. Roatan was a strategic decision. It ensured that the Garinagu would be permanently separated and kept very far away from their homeland and from other British territories such as Jamaica, Barbados, Dominica or Trinidad and Tobago where slavery still existed. This forced deportation was to ensure that the Garinagu fomented no other rebellion. Those who were allowed to remain in St. Vincent were legally banned from all expressions of their ancestral culture, until its extinction.
This year marks 210 years since the Garinagu first arrived in Belize. They came in 1802 as the first group of free people to settle in Belize: – decades before the Mestizos settled the North in the late 1840s and before the Mayas returned in the 1880s in flight from brutally oppressive labor conditions in Guatemala.
Technically, the Garinagu were not welcomed in Belize, as the settlement was still a slave society. There was fear amongst the English settlers in Belize Town that the Garinagu, as free blacks who were well known for the fierce war that they fought at St. Vincent only five years earlier, might not be completely loyal to them and might even foment rebellion among the slaves. Consequently, a strict ban was imposed to prevent them from staying in the settlement for more than forty eight hours and a hefty fine was set for anyone who hired or employed any Garifuna within the settlement. In compliance with the law, Garinagu formed their own settlements south of the Sibun River border where they have remained ever since. Seeds of discrimination and mistrust were also planted by the masters among the slaves to ensure that the two groups of Afro-descendants – one enslaved and the other free – remained separated. Such seeds havelargely remained firmly rooted in the collective psyche of the royal descendants, such that to date there remains the lack of genuine interest in the roots of their common bond and the systemic exclusion of Garinagu from higher offices in the public, judiciary, diplomatic and other services.
Today, relative to all Afro-descendant people throughout all the Americas and the Caribbean, the Garinagu remain one of the very few who have kept their unique African-indigenous hybrid ancestral language, their ancestral spirituality, food, music and other aspects of their traditional culture all intact. For that reason on May 18th 2001, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), proclaimed the Garifuna language, music and dance a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” These alone are exceptional accomplishments to proudly celebrate.
Besides all that, however, within the bubble of Belize’s rather colonially-oriented and city-centric versions of its historical awareness and discourse, there seems very little knowledge and appreciation of the critical contribution of the Garinagu in shaping the nation’s economic, territorial, and cultural history.
Shortly after the first group of Garinagu arrived in Belize in 1802 and perhaps as early as 1799, as a rare group of free blacks in the region during the time of slavery, they became the primary agents for two of the most prevailing European interests: – (i) the commercial interest of Belizean woodcutters to expand Belize’s lucrative mahogany interests further south beyond the legally established Sibun River boundary, and (ii) the evangelizing interests of European, later American, priests to expand the Catholic faith to various ethnic groups all over Belize.
By the late 1790s, the major economic activity in the Belize settlement was the harvesting of mahogany for export. Mahogany had replaced logwood which had declined in demand since the 1770s when the use of synthetic dye became more popular. Prior to the arrival of the Garinagu, the Belizean logwood contractors were forced to grapple with two major economic challenges that threatened the very existence of the settlement. Firstly, virtually all the stands of mahogany within Belize’s legally established territory had been depleted. In order to satisfy the steep demand for mahogany in Europe, it was critical for the Belizean contractors to expand their operations south of the Sibun River – a territory which was outside the limits of Belize’s boundary as established in 1786 by the Convention of London.
Secondly, the plan for expansion of the woodcutting operations was constrained by a severe labor shortage in Belize. In the 1790s, several of the slaves (who comprised seventy-five percent of the population of the Belize settlement) had escaped to nearby Spanish territory in Mexico or Peten. Given the frequent and heavy losses of slaves, and constant threats of slave rebellion, the woodcutters desperately needed a reliable source of labor. They would either have to import more slaves and risk further losses, or hire labor from among the Garinagu. By that time the Garinagu had made themselves well known in the region for their intelligence, independence, resilience, discipline, strong physique, hard work and excellent maritime skills. Consequently, they became eagerly sought after as the prime source of labour for the mahogany industry.
Emboldened by their resistance against Spanish invaders in September 1798, and with the prospect of a new and reliable source of labor, the Belizean contractors decided to ignore the established Sibun River boundary of the Belize settlement and expand their operations further south. In 1802, they sought and were granted permission by the Superintendent of the settlement, R. Basset, to import 150 Garifuna labourers from Roatan to be employed as woodcutters. With some government assistance, many of them were shipped and many more managed to find their way to the southern coast of Stann Creek and Toledo Districts.
The early influx of Garinagu in 1802, and the subsequent major influx in 1823 to seek refuge from civil wars in Central America, provided a major boost in the pool of labor to expand the operations for the Belizean timber contractors. For decades, the eager, hardworking and skilled Garifuna woodcutters penetrated the dense forests south of the Sibun River all the way to the Sarstoon River. The ill-feelings they harboured against the British following their deportation a few years earlier had been set aside as they focused on their own economic survival. It was not unusual for Garifuna women and children to accompany the men to the lumber camps. The stable pool of labor from the Garinagu derived great economic benefits for the Belizean contractors and the settlement. Along with the booming mahogany trade, the communities that the Garinagu established helped to lay the foundation for the expansion of Belize’s territory from the Sibun to the Sarstoon River, until it was formally incorporated as part of Belize in the Anglo-Guatemalan Treaty of 1859.
Given the tremendous involvement of the Garinagu to ensure a lucrative supply of mahogany, it is unfortunate that Belize’s history hardly admits that one of the two black men symbolized in Belize’s Coat of Arms is the Garifuna man. The other is the enslaved African Creole man, whose forced labor harvested all the remaining stands of mahogany north of the Sibun. The tremendous labor of both groups formed the backbone of the economic history of Belize – shoulder to shoulder, under the shade of the tree.
As for the Garifuna women, their primary productive work was in agriculture. It was they who produced much of the foodstuffs, chickens and pigs for sale in Belize.
Over decades, the tough rigors of their work in forestry, their strong maritime culture, their harsh history of battle against European powers and subsequent deportation, their Catholic background, as well as their productivity, natural intelligence, facility for language and resilience, had all molded among the Garinagu the pioneering spirit and work ethic that made them and their descendants prime candidates for the Catholic Church to establish its schools throughout the remotest areas of Belize.
They were the first group of Catholics to arrive in Belize. The first Catholic Church was established in 1832 amongst those residing near Mullins River. The earliest date recorded in which a Catholic priest conducted missionary work in Punta Gorda was in 1841. In May 1845 Jesuit priests built a church and established its first mission in P.G. long before there was any mission in other parts of the country.
Garifuna men were well known to provide many of the best school teachers in the colony. To be employed as teachers they had to possess a reasonably solid and above average education, qualities of leadership, good character, a pioneering spirit and the physical and mental stamina and adaptability to survive harsh, rugged life in these remote settings. They were also recognized by the Jesuits to possess a natural ability to teach and the mental aptitude to learn different languages. From the 1870s to the 1970s, Garifuna men were trained and deployed by the Jesuits as teachers/catechists to spread education and the faith to rural communities all over Belize. Primary education was the tool used to facilitate indoctrination into, and spreading of, the Catholic faith. It is not surprising then, that as a natural progression from the foundations laid by their ancestors, a number of Garifuna men became priests and a number of women became nuns. Bishop O. P. Martin, formerly a Garifuna teacher, became the first Belizean Roman Catholic Bishop. Although the Garinagu became steeped in Catholicism, however, the secrets and practices of their ancestral spirituality remain firmly rooted, even among their priests and nuns.
Interestingly, as the brightest and the best Garifuna leaders were deployed to serve other people and other communities throughout the length and breadth of Belize over several decades, this brain drain has arguably diluted the likely powerful development impact on their own Garifuna communities to result in the impoverished and vulnerable socioeconomic conditions that these communities face today.
Despite the solid economic and cultural contributions that Garinagu have made to Belize’s development, the legacy of an embedded colonial value system has continued to keep them marginalized and often treated as second class citizens in their own country. This same colonial mindset and value system is also evident in the condescending behavior towards indigenous peoples who seek to maintain their own ancestral cultural values. Such state of affairs is yet to be uprooted in order to transform our society into a truly inclusive Belizean one. At the same time as Garinagu remain proudly inspired by the tremendous contributions of their ancestors, someday when the current generation becomes the future ancestors, the new generation will ask: How dedicated and effective were the elders in promoting and pursuing opportunities that ensure the wellbeing of current and future generations? Given the power of ancestors in Garifuna culture, what sort of ancestor will you be? Wawansera Mémeba Lau Lubafu Bungiu hama Áhari – We Keep Going Forward with the Power of God and the Ancestors.
Celebrations have already begun in San Pedro in advance of Garifuna Settlement Day which is Monday, November 19th.
“Oh I hear drumming,” said an American tourist as she walked down Pescador Drive in San Pedro Town. “It is a dance,” asked another. “No!” said a Belizean walking with them. “It’s the drums of the African ancestors signaling that they are glad to have found a land of peace,” he explained. And certainly, with the 19th of November just a few days away, schools as well as other cultural organizations are gearing up for the National Garifuna Day Celebration which is being celebrated this year under the theme, “Wawansera Memeba Lau Lubafu Bungui Hama Ahari – We keep going forward with the Power of God and the Ancestors.”
As part of the Garifuna celebration, today was observed as National Garifuna Awareness Day and various schools allowed students to attend classes in the traditional Garifuna outfit. At the Little Angels Pre-school, the teachers planned activities around the National Garifuna Awareness Day and had a small cultural exhibition depicting many of the traditional Garifuna food.
Holy Cross Anglican Primary School took the opportunity to celebrate Cultural Day. Students were divided into different ethnic groups. The various groups were tasked to create a booth displaying the music, food and the visual aids for visitors and other students to learn more about the cultural groups in Belize. The event was open to the parents who were also at hand to support and assist their children in the cultural presentations.
Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos in the San Pedro Sun
Garifuna Settlement Day Celebrations Underway in San Pedro, Belize
Garifuna Celebrations are underway here in San Pedro Town and in commemoration of National Garifuna Settlement Day there are many activities happening in San Pedro Town, Belize which you must attend to obtain one of Belize’s best cultural experiences.
The Garifuna Community in San Pedro takes pride in everything they do and proudly present the very best of their culture during their exhibition and food sale. You can learn a lot about the type of clothes they wear, their rhythmic music, their instruments, their lifestyle and their delicious food!
Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos in the Ambergris Today
Saturday, November 17, 2012 - *Jankunu Dancing - House to house dancing – 1:00p.m to 6:00p.m *Entertainment: Drumming/Singing/Cultural Dancing at Central Park from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00p.m.
Sunday, November 18, 2012 – *Entertainment Night – Drumming, Dance: San Pedro Dance Academy, Jankunu Performance – Two Foot Cow/Hunterman/Cherikanari – Castillo Drummers – Miguel Dance Group – San Pedro Punta Rock Band – Punta Boys – Mad Skills and Battle of the Drums – At Central Park 7:00 p.m.
Monday, November 19, 2012 – *Garifuna Settlement Day Reenactment (Yurumei) – 5:30a.m. from Central Park to Boca Del Rio – Parade down to church trough beachside and mass begins at 7:00a.m.
Official ceremonies, marching bands, drumming and carnival group parade through town after mass.
Commentary: Garifuna Settlement Day celebrated in Belize but dependency is haunting the future
By Wellington C. Ramos
The Garifuna people first arrived in Belize in 1801 and settled in Dangriga Town with about one hundred people. At the time of their arrival, Belize was a British colony and they were the ones who removed the Garifuna people as “prisoners of war” from their native land Saint Vincent on March 11, 1797, to Roatan, Honduras, where they landed on April 12 of that same year. During this time the British and the Spanish were rivals competing for territories in the Caribbean, North America, Central America and South America.
The British knew that the Garifuna people were skilled warriors because of the wars they fought against them from the late 1790s up until 1797 to keep their homeland Saint Vincent, known to them as “Yuremei”.
In a book published by Nancy Gonzalez, an anthropologist, titled “The Ethnohistory of the Garifuna In Central America: Sojourners of the Caribbean", she mentioned that there is evidence in London that the British also had intentions to use the Garifuna people to fight on their behalf to keep Belize away from the Spanish. This reasoning tend to make a lot of sense due to the fact that in 1798 between 7 and 10 September the British fought against the Spanish in the Battle of Saint Georges Cay to maintain possession of Belize.
In addition, they assisted the British with fighting against the Spanish in Honduras and Nicaragua for territories they had occupied during that time. These territories were later given to the country of Honduras in a treaty signed and agreed by both countries in 1859 due to pressure on the British by the United States. The Bay Islands later became a Department of Honduras in March of 1861. Likewise, the Garifuna people fought in the Revolutionary War in Honduras, which caused some to be executed by the “Nationalistas” and others fleeing for their lives to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize in 1823, where they live up to this day.
Later in Belize, other Garifuna settlements were established only in the southern part of Belize, where they were restricted to remain. These settlements are Punta Gorda, Hopkins, Seine Bight and Georgetown. At the time the Garifuna people migrated to Belize, slavery existed in Belize and the British did not want the Garifuna people to intermingle with the Creole slaves. However, some Garifuna people were taken to cut logwood and mahogany and there is a village in Belize District called Bomba where they live.
Garifuna and Maya people were forbidden to own lands so Crown Lands were granted to them only for settlements. The Garifuna people used the Crown Lands to engage in farming, which is an important aspect of their culture. Through farming, fishing and food production, the Garifuna people became independent and were able to maintain their towns and villages with little help from the governments.
As Belize started towards nationhood, many Garifuna people moved from their villages and towns as teachers to help educate Belizeans all over the country with the help of the Catholic Church. Others became civil servants, police officers and members of the military. Since the time of British colonization, the Garifuna people have had strained relationship with the Creole people, the largest African ethnic group in Belize, up to this day. This was due to the brainwashing tactics used by the British to keep these two African ethnic groups divided. Over the years the Belizeans of African descent have migrated to the United States in huge numbers.
Today, the African Belizeans have become the minority. They also have the most economic problems and many of them live in poverty. Politically, they are losing representation to the Mestizo Belizeans. Garifuna people are now struggling to survive while maintaining their culture. Thomas Vincent Ramos fought not only for a holiday but for his people to be self-sufficient, economically productive, autonomous, proud and to preserve their culture by practicing it daily.
On Monday, November 19, the Garifuna people, and indeed all Belizeans, will celebrate Garifuna Settlement Day, to mark their arrival on these shores in the first part of the nineteenth century. We take a lot of things for granted in this Jewel of ours, but there were no guarantees over 200 plus years ago when the Garifuna people were deported from St. Vincent by the British after a prolonged bloody battle with the greedy colonialists.
The story is that sometime in the first half of the 17th century, a number of Africans landed on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, by way of shipwreck. It is these surviving Africans who intermingled with the indigenous people of St. Vincent, the so-called Caribs, and it is their children who are considered the first Garifuna.
The British occupiers, goes the story, wanted to use the island for sugar cane plantation, and so they employed all manner of treachery, including violence, to steal the lands of the Garifuna. But the ancestors of present-day Garifuna were no pushover: they mounted a fierce resistance. That resistance against the overly powerful British cost the Garifuna dearly. Sometime between 1796 and 1797, the British rounded up well over 4,000 Garinagu men, women and children and took them to a small island named Balliceaux, a dependency of St. Vincent.
Almost half of them reportedly died from diseases and malnutrition, before the approximately 2,000 survivors were eventually taken to Roatan, an island off the coast of Honduras. From there they fanned out to several Central American coasts, including Guatemala, Nicaragua, and later Belize.
It was the late Thomas Vincent Ramos who led the efforts to celebrate Settlement Day in British Honduras, an objective he achieved in 1941. Incidentally, the great T.V. Ramos was a prominent member of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which had a branch in Stann Creek Town, as today’s Dangriga was then called.
The Garifuna people are a phenomenal people in so many respects, but their arrival in Belize did not mark the end of their struggle. The British colonialists here were scared of them, the stories of their heroic and sensational resistance having preceded them. So, that while they were prodigious laborers, and legendary producers of food, and fisher folk, they were treated to all manner of discrimination and isolation at the hands of the British in the Settlement of Belize. They were confined to southern Belize, and at one point in the early 19th century, needed a permit to be in Belize Town, present day Belize City.
That discrimination continued into the 20th century as the colonial government, the biggest single employer in the then colony of British Honduras, refused to hire Garifuna men and women for the civil service. Instead, it was the direct descendants of the British and the so-called Creoles who were the beneficiaries of those jobs. Again, the Garifuna man and woman were confined to farming, fishing and laboring.
And that explains why in the early part of the aforementioned 20th century, their intellectual elite accepted the tough teaching opportunities in the far-flung villages of the country offered by the Jesuits. Today, we identify the Garifuna with cultural dominance and excellence, and even football prowess, but it was that singular sacrifice back then to teach the Maya and Mestizo children, why, arguably, all of Belize should be eternally grateful to the Garifuna.
It was some brilliant Garifuna men who made the treacherous journey to remote villages in the harshest parts of Toledo, and Cayo, and the rest of the country, to help establish schools and churches. They ventured where no one else dared – many times sacrificing their families in the process. There were no roads to village schools in those days, and many times they had to trek through thick forest trails for days, sometimes through deep swamps to reach their schools. Once there, they couldn’t leave, not until school was out for the holidays.
There were no cell phones in those days. No Internet and no Facebook. You were locked off from the rest of civilization pretty much. There was no postal service to those areas. These Garifuna teachers had to learn to speak Maya, Spanish, and English; and we weren’t talking any big salaries then. Not that any teacher today hauls home any huge salary to speak of. But, you get the point.
According to the educator Jerry Enriquez, due to the harsh living conditions in the Toledo village of San Antonio, none of the first five children of his late grandfather Andres Enriquez, who was the head teacher at the Roman Catholic school in San Antonio, and his wife Jane, were born alive. The couple went on to have six other children, born in more hospitable communities like Progresso and El Cayo, says Jerry Enriquez. Still, the late Andres Enriquez reportedly spent a total of 28 years in San Antonio over the course of two stints in the first half of the 20th century.
Today, as in the rest of Belize, all is not so well in some of our Garifuna communities. T.V. Ramos’ brilliant granddaughter, our very own Adele Ramos, in the Wednesday, November 14 issue of Amandala, quotes Sebastian Cayetano, a founding member of the National Garifuna Council’s Belize City branch, making a clarion call of sorts to the Garinagu.
But that aside, there is no gainsaying, the contributions of the Garinagu have been nothing short of spectacular, whether in education, culture, sports, and the list goes on. We join the rest of Belize in saluting our Garifuna brethren and sistren on this Settlement Day, here and in the diaspora. Maximum respect, from us here at Kremandala.
On Monday, the country will pause to celebrate the arrival of the Garinagu to our shores. All during this week, various educational institutions featured the Garifuna culture as part of their school activities. Today, it was time for Sadie Vernon High in Belize City … and Love TV’s Marion Ali and video journalist Brian Castillo were there to capture it.
Great photo essay by Lebawit Lily Girma ... currently in Belize writing for Moon Travel Guides.
Despite being declared endangered by the United Nations in 2001, the Garinagu -- one of the smallest cultural groups in Belize -- has managed to sustain its traditions through music, dance, food and worship. The Garifuna people are descendants of Carib Indians (South American natives who settled on the Caribbean island of St Vincent) and West Africans who were said to have escaped from Spanish slave ships in 1635 and made the island their home. Resistant to the arrival of the British to St Vincent in 1763, the Garinagu fought attempts to use their land for sugar cane plantations and many were killed or imprisoned. Those remaining were exiled to Honduras and eventually migrated by dugout canoe along the Central American coast, reaching Belize in 1802. Today, Garinagu communities make up only 4% of Belize’s more than 325,000 people, and most can be found along the country’s southern coast in the towns of Dangriga and Punta Gorda and the villages of Hopkins, Barranco and Seine Bight. (Lebawit Girma)
In November…be one with the Garinagu of Belize
The Garinagu are a resilient group of people that dominate the most southern part of Belize. Their music, food, practices and beliefs are rich; tracing back to the long journey and struggle that their ancestors endured over the centuries.
Today, the modern Garinagu annually reenact that long historical journey when their ancestors landed as slaves to this region and intermarried with the Arawak Indians of the West Indies region. This culture is vibrant and dominates the ethnic heart of the country with the month of November in Belize looking back at the past while celebrating the present rich traditions of these people. Today, like many other ethnic groups the Garinagu struggle to keep their culture alive. In recognition of the important Garinagu history in Belize the 19th of November is celebrated annually as National Garifuna Settlement Day countrywide with a public and bank holiday granted.
As the 19th of November approaches, many of the Garinagu settlements are filled with the sounds of the rhythm of the drums.
The drums are handmade from cedar and mahogany, with dried deer skin stretched tautly, ready for the continuous drumming that brings the unique African beat alive in the various communities. The drumming is always complimented with the “shaka” which is a rattle made from the gourd tree, special seeds and a hard wood handle. Often times, women join the men in the singing and dancing. Today, the drumming, singing and dancing are an integral part of most Garinagu celebration.
Click here to read the rest of the article and see LOTS more photos in the San Pedro Sun