Celebrating Garifuna Day

"Iunraha Wamei Irisini Higiru Wayunagu Waba" is the theme that the National Garifuna Council (NGC) of Belize has selected for this year's Garifuna Settlement Day Celebrations. The theme means - "Lets Uphold the Values left to us by our Ancestors." November 19th, 1998, Garifuna Settlement Day, will be observed as a public and bank holiday honoring the Garifuna culture throughout the entire country of Belize.

The Garifuna originated from the Yellow Island Caribs who occupied the Orinoco Basin in Venezuela, South America. In 1220 the Caribs invaded and conquered the islands in the Lesser Antilles and parts of the Greater Antilles and intermarried with the Arawaks. This mixture gave birth to Island Caribs.

In 1635 African slaves were shipwrecked in the islands near St. Vincent. They intermarried with the Island Caribs; this resulted in the birth of the Garifuna. The Caribs and Garifuna populated these islands but soon after encountered many conflicts with the Europeans. The Garifuna strongly resisted European control, maintaining the tradition of the earlier Caribs. They fought against the Spanish, British and the French. The Europeans had guns and were eventually able to overpower them and they were forced to move to the Bay Islands, off the coast of Honduras.

In 1832, many Garifuna left Honduras after a civil war there and settled in Dangriga, Belize on November 19th. They were led by Alejo Beni. Between 1832 and 1900 the Garinagu in Belize consolidated their settlements and spread from Dangriga to Seine Bight, Monkey River, Punta Negra, Punta Gorda, Barranco, Livingston, Hopkins and Georgetown.

The Garinagu's visionary leader, Thomas Vincent Ramos, founded Garifuna Settlement Day and began the celebration in Dangriga in 1941. The day became a Public and Bank Holiday in the southern districts in 1943 and is now celebrated throughout the entire country.

The Dangriga Branch of the National Garifuna Council has set a schedule of events that commenced on October 25th and will conclude on November 19th. There will be a Garifuna Awareness Day when all the people in the community will dress in the traditional clothes of the Garifuna; this includes school children, workers, etc. On Friday, November 13th, a service will be held at the Epworth Methodist Church in tribute to Thomas Vincent Ramos and a presentation will take place at the T.V. Ramos monument.

The Miss Garifuna Belize Pageant will be taking place in Hopkins on Saturday, November 14th. Other pageants have been arranged at the primary school level as well as other educational programs such as open forums, awareness seminars for the youth and sports days. Sunday, November 15th, will be observed as a national day of prayer. The T.V. Ramos Classic Bike Race will also take place on that day. A parade and school rallies are scheduled for Wednesday, November 18th. On Thursday, November 19th, Garifuna Settlement Day, the reenactment of the Garinagu settlement will take place by the riverside. A Thanksgiving Mass will be celebrated and will be followed by an all day jump up, including the traditional beating of the drums.

Similar activities have been scheduled around the country, especially in the villages of Hopkins, Seine Bight, Georgetown, Punta Gorda, Libertad and Belmopan.

The Garinagu suffered overwhelming obstacles in the process of settling in Belize and had to fight for their rights as a people. Today, they share the culture that we call the Belizean culture. They add a historic past, color, flavor and a unique element to our country. Belizeans all over are proud to celebrate with the Garinagu, a culture that is very much a part of all the citizens of Belize.

Celebrating Garifuna Day

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