Garifuna in Belize

Garifuna (plural: Garinagu) people are descendants of West African, Central African, Island Carib, and Arawak people. As an ethnic group they come primarily from the Caribbean – mainly St Vincent, however, after fleeing form the English during colonial times, they’ve left their homelands and settled in diasporas.

Today there are about 600,000 Garifuna people all over the world, primarily living in Belize and the United States (New York), also Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Due to the English people’s successful attempts to destroy local traditions, Garifuna culture is these days rarely known or celebrated in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. However, there are both local and international activists (like well-known in Vincy James Lowell) who aim to re-introduce the Vincentians to their roots. Conversely, the culture is celebrated in Belize, especially during the national holiday Garifuna Settlement Day on November 19th.

Garifuna Settlement Day 2014, Punta Gorda, Belize
Garifuna Settlement Day 2014, Belize

Garinagu have their own language and colorful culture. The symbolic colors are: black, white and yellow, which are making up the Garifuna flag as well as appearing on different items and clothing.

Nowadays the Garinagu in Belize are primarily Catholic with many influences from other traditions. The traditional practices are led by a shaman (buyei), and many rituals bear similarities to African-derived voodoo and mystical practices.

The culture itself is very colorful, with a lot of drum music and dancing which appear during any major celebrations. Traditional food is cassava bread called ereba, bananas, plantains and rice are also very popular in traditional dishes.

The familial relations among Garinagu are very interesting. Traditionally a woman is the head of household, keeping the power over family in her hands, even if, due to work shortage, she is more often than not financially dependent on her husband.

Traditionally men believe that a very strong spiritual bond is created between the father and his newborn son. Because of that, men often have to give up some of their work (usually farming) duties for awhile in order to take care of and spend the time with their sons.

The Garifuna language, dance and music have been proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. The steps are being taken to preserve and revitalize Garifuna Language, create inventories of art and promote the cultural heritage of Garinagu.

Watch this short movie by UNESCO to learn more about Garifuna.

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Garifuna in Belize
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