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GARINAGU flourished, in part, because the genetic mix from Africa enabled them to resist malaria, including the Caribs who speaks garifuna in Seine Bight. Benjamin Palacio, Nefertiti Palacio

Garifuna Settlement Day

The Garifuna came to Belize from the Bay Islands of Honduras on 19th November 1802. They are the result of the intermingling of African slaves, Carib Indians and some Europeans. Garifuna dominate the southern towns of Punta Gorda and Dangriga as well as the villages of Seine Bight, Hopkins, Georgetown and Barranco. Some Garifuna are also residing in Belize City and Belmopan.
Fishing and agriculture is a traditional way of living for the Garifuna. Garifuna are mostly employed as teachers or civil servants and are known as remarkable linguists and students. Rituals and traditions are still being retained as the Garifuna strive to maintain a place in Belizean society. November 19th is a national holiday in Belize to commemorate the arrival of the Garifuna to Belize.


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Emigration of the Garifuna
At the same time that the settlement was grappling with the ramifications of the end of slavery, a new ethnic group, the Garifuna appeared. In the early 1800s, the Garifuna, descendants of Carib peoples of the Lesser Antilles and of Africans who had escaped from slavery, arrived in the settlement. The Garifuna had resisted British and French colonialism in the Lesser Antilles until they were defeated by the British in 1796. After putting down a violent Garifuna rebellion on Saint Vincent, the British moved between 1,700 and 5,000 of the Garifuna across the Caribbean to the Bay Islands (present-day Islas de la Bahía) off the north coast of Honduras. From there they migrated to the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and the southern part of present-day Belize. By 1802 about 150 Garifuna had settled in the Stann Creek (present-day Dangriga) area and were engaged in fishing and farming.

Garifuna Settlement Day In Hopkins Village, Another beautiful Garifuna Village with lots of beautiful women, (Ionie Reynolds-Palacio) great food and Bum - Bum Garifuna Music

Referenced, with kind permission, from the book "Garifuna History, Language & Culture of Belize, Central America, & the Caribbean" by: Sebastian Cayetano B. ED and Fabian Cayetano B. ED (p 105, 127,138)
The Garifuna Culture
Garinagu, the people, whose language and culture is Garifuna, have a rich and interesting culture which in Hopkins is continued and preserved more than any other Garinagu settlement in Belize. The shipwrecked Africans (see our history page) quickly adopted as their own the Carib Arawak language, customs, traditions, occupations, music and dance, and traditional religion -- chugu, amuyadahani, and the highly celebrated "Dugu" --Aduguruhani-- the Feasting of the Ancestors, which is conducted by the Garifuna traditional healer --Buyae or Shaman. At the same time, the Garifuna African ancestry can be traced back to the region of West Africa, to the Yoruba, Ibo, and Ashanti tribes specifically, in Ghana, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, to mention only a few.

Other Garifuna later came to the British settlement of Belize after finding themselves on the wrong side in a civil war in Honduras in 1832. Many Garifuna men soon found wage work alongside slaves as mahogany cutters. In 1841 Dangriga, the Garifuna's largest settlement, was a flourishing village. The American traveler John Stephens described the Garifuna village of Punta Gorda as having 500 inhabitants and producing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
The British treated Garifuna as squatters. In 1857 the British told the Garifuna that they must obtain leases from the crown or risk losing their lands, dwellings, and other buildings. The 1872 Crown Lands Ordinance established reservations for the Garifuna as well as the Maya. The British prevented both groups from owning land and treated them as a source of valuable labor.

American Threat to a Proud Heritage
The Garifuna, descended from shipwrecked Africans, have fended off many dangers to their unique culture. But assimilation could be the greatest menace yet.

They were never slaves.
That is something Garifuna parents always tell their children about their shipwrecked African ancestors, whose inter marriage with indigenous Caribbeans created a fiercely independent New World ethnicity the European colonialists called the "Black Caribs."

(kbz) (KEY) , native people formerly inhabiting the Lesser Antilles, West Indies. They seem to have overrun the Lesser Antilles and to have driven out the Arawak about a century before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. The original name by which the Caribs were known, Galibi, was corrupted by the Spanish to Caníbal and is the origin of the English word cannibal. Extremely warlike and ferocious, they practiced cannibalism and took pride in scarification (ritual cutting of the skin) and fasting. The Carib language was spoken only by the men, while the women spoke Arawak. This was so because Arawak women, captured in raids, were taken as wives by the Carib men. Fishing, agriculture, and basketmaking were the chief domestic activities. The Caribs were expert navigators, crisscrossing a large portion of the Caribbean in their canoes. After European colonization began in the 17th cent., they were all but exterminated. A group remaining on St. Vincent mingled with black slaves who escaped from a shipwreck in 1675. This group was transferred (1795) by the British to Roatán island off the coast of Honduras. They have gradually migrated north along the coast into Guatemala. A few Caribs survive on a reservation on the island of Dominica. The Carib, or Cariban, languages are a separate family. Carib-speaking tribes are found in N Honduras, Belize, central Brazil, and N South America.

Though commonly referred to as "Garifuna", the people are properly called "Garinagu" and the culture and language are "Garifuna". The Garinagu are recent arrivals to Belize, settling the southern coast of Belize in the early 19th century. The epic story of the Garinagu begins in the early 1600's on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. In 1635, two Spanish ships carrying Nigerian slaves floundered and sank off the coast of St. Vincent. The slaves that survived and swam ashore found shelter in the existing Carib Indian settlements. Over the next century and a half, the two peoples intermixed, intermarried and eventually fused into a single culture, the Black Caribs or Garinagu.

By 1773, the Black Carib was the dominant population of St. Vincent. But, European politics began to exert its influence throughout the Caribbean. A series of wars between the French and British on St. Vincent culminated in a final battle on June 10th, 1796, where the French and their Carib allies where forced to surrender and leave the island. Thus would start a journey by the exiled Caribs in search of a home. The British deposited the Caribs on the island of Roatan, Honduras. Shortly after, the entire marooned population migrated to the mainland of Honduras and allied with the Spanish in the fortress town of Trujillo. Unfortunately, a brief civil war in 1832 found the Caribs on the wrong side and once again many were forced to flee to neighboring British Honduras.

Seine Bight Village looking towards Placencia

According to tradition, the first Garinagu arrived in then British Honduras on November 19th, 1802. This day is now a national holiday in Belize celebrated with drums, dancing and pageantry. Today, there is one town in Toledo - Punta Gorda - that is considered a Garifuna town, and two Garifuna villages - Barranco (the oldest Garifuna settlement in Belize) and tiny Punta Negra.

1997 the Black Carib culture known, as the Garifuna were reminded of their ancestors’ resilient struggle to overcome the brutal racism put forth by the European settlers in the New World.  This day marked the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Garifuna on the shores of Central America after being forcibly removed by the British from the island of St. Vincent located in the Caribbean.  Though this culpable relocation of their entire culture by the British was meant to circumscribe the Garifuna, they have survived like members of their ancestry did when they were enslaved and brought from Africa during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Today the Garifuna populations can be found in Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and many have migrated to the United States.  The Garifuna, also known as the Garinagu, are direct descendants of the “Island Caribs” and a group of African slaves who escaped two ship-wrecked Spanish slave ships near St. Vincent in 1635(Garinagu Early History, 1).

The Island Caribs were descendants of South American Indians known as Arawaks and another group, the Caribs, who migrated from South America to the Caribbean at a later date. Through the admixture of these cultures as well as the influence of European settlers in the Americas, the Garifuna obtained a diverse culture that incorporates African traditions of music, dance, religious rites, and ceremonies; Native American cultivation, hunting, and fishing techniques; and a French and Arawak influenced language.

Garifuna Landing Day

The Garifuna culture displays many influences of its African heritage, and this is extremely evident when comparing their music with the indigenous music of the African societies from which their ancestors originated.  According to one source, “most of the slaves brought to the Caribbean were taken from the Niger and cross Delta regions in the Blight of Benin (present-day Nigeria) in West Africa, and from further south in the Congo and Angola”(A History of Belize 5th chapter, 1).  Much like the music of these areas, the Garifuna style of music relies heavily on call and response patterns.  These patterns are less overlapping than many traditional ones found in Africa, but none the less the Garifunas’ “leader/chorus organization” is very consistent with those of African styles (Franzone 1995,294). 

In addition, the importance of the drum in Garifuna music is another similarity to their African influence.  Garifuna music relies heavily on the drum, and in many instances their music is dictated by it.  Often times a particular drum style will call for two drummers (except for sacred music, which usually uses three). Typically, one drummer will play a fixed, consistent pattern. This drummer is usually called the segunda player.

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Another more intricate part made up of cross-patterns is normally played by the primero player (S.Cayetano,1). The drums of the Garifuna are usually made of hardwoods that are uniformly shaped and carved out in the centers.

The ends of the drums, whether it be one or two, are covered with skins from the peccary, deer, or sheep (S.Cayetano, 1). These drums are always played with the hands, and some drummers have been known to wrap metal wires around the drumheads to give them a snare-like sound. Some musicians accompany the drums with gourd shakers called sisira, and even instruments like the guitar, flute, and violin have been adopted from early French, English, and Spanish folk music, as well as, Jamaican and Haitian Afro-Caribbean styles (S.Cayetano,1

In accompaniment to their music traditions lie the Garifuna songs and dance styles, which are an integral part of their culture.  These songs and dance styles that are performed by the Garifuna display a wide range of subjects like work songs, social dances, and ancestral traditions. Some of the work songs include the Eremwu Eu, which is sung by the women as they prepare to make cassava bread, and the Laremuna Wadauman, a song men regularly sing when collectively working together (S.Cayetano, 2).  As for songs and dances in the social context, pieces like the Gunchei are quite customary.  In this dance style the men take turns dancing with each woman.  Another very popular dance style performed by the Garifuna is called the punta.  According to one Garifuna author this style is, “ the most popular dance performed at wakes, holidays, parties, and other social events”(S.Cayetano, 2).  It consists of different couples attempting to dance more stylistically and seductively with hip movements than their other competitors.  While most of these songs and dances is more modern in origin, the Garifuna still maintain many traditional pieces.

One of the most famous of these is called the Wanaragua.  This dance, which is also known as the John Canoe, is a dance that originated in times of slavery and is performed around Christmas time.  The participants will dress up in white masks and venture from house to house in order to receive food and drinks from that household. The dance is said to have been started by both the Creole and Garifuna during encounters at mahogany camps where they were forced to work, and the intent was to mock their white slave owners (Palacio 1993,14).  Other traditional dances are defined as:  “the Charikawi- a mimed dance where a hunter meets up with a cave man and a cow, and the Chumba-a highly poly-rhythmic song, danced by soloists with great individualized style”(S. Cayetano,

The works of Greg ULMAR Palacio - the son of Clifford & Rita Palacio ( Proud Garifuna parents

While many of the song and dance styles mentioned above are uniquely Garifuna based, none of them emit the echoing tidal wave of African ancestry like Garifuna ancestral rites and ceremonies do. There are traditionally three main ancestral rites portrayed by the Garifuna. They are defined as: “1. The Amuyadahani- bathing the spirit of the dead  2. The Chuga- feeding of the dead, and 3. The Dugu- the feasting of the dead”(S. Cayetano & F.Cayetano 1984,1).  The Garifuna perform these rites because like many African societies they believe that spirits of their ancestors, which are both good and evil have direct impact on the lives of people in the living world.  One author confirms this when she says, “Instances of natural death are prepared for. However, sudden or untimely deaths suggest the influence of evil human or spiritual factors, and much care is taken to prevent the restless spirit of these deceased from returning to bother the living”(Franzone 1995,152). When this unexpected death occurs it is announced to the rest of the community by wailing women who go door to door with the sound of drums (Franzone 1995,152).  It is for this reason that the Garifuna take great care in providing for their dead ancestors the three ancestral rites, the most extravagant one tends to be the Dugu.

making cassava bread

Since it is recognized that the Garifuna are meshed together with influences from many different cultures; it is also possibly in some degree to begin to separate parts of their culture to determine their roots.  One example of this is their Amerindian influences of the Arawaks and Caribs collectively known as the Island Caribs. When the African slaves intermixed with the Island Caribs they brought into the culture many African based influences that have been previously discussed. However, in order to better understand whom the Garifuna are it becomes necessary to relate other adopted characteristics of their culture to they're other major ancestral influence, the Island Caribs. This Island Carib culture was one that was founded on yucca and cassava farming as well as hunting and fishing sometime before 1000AD(Garinagu Early History, 1).  It is quite amazing then that the Garifuna women are still widely known for their tradition of making cassava bread (Palacio 1993,1-3).  In addition, the Garifuna men have always been known for their maritime skills since they were mainly away hunting and fishing from various islands throughout the Caribbean and Central America (Global Neighbors: Garifuna History, 1). It is not hard to understand then why the Garifuna are both a matrilocal.

This means that the women are at the center of the household and descendants trace their bloodline through their mother’s family.  According to one author, “The women are very actively a part of the Garifuna social culture and are known for their leadership ability and articulate speech”(Global Neighbors: Garifuna History, 1).  Therefore, while the women are the farmers in which they grow mostly cassava, they are also major role models and figureheads for the young children.

Another influence that the Garifuna had in their defining lines of their culture was the obvious influence of the French during the beginning stages of colonial development in the New World. It was during this time that French missionaries were exploring the region of the Caribbean and teaching the Island Caribs many words of their native tongue, including the use of French numbers and counting systems. Certain expressions were than fused with the Arawak language that the Island Caribs were speaking.  This created the Garifuna language that can still be heard counting in French today (Global Neighbors: Garifuna history,
All of these things combined have provided a brief understanding of who the Garifuna are, and where they come from.  Furthermore, it has become apparent through reference points to other cultures and more in-depth studies of the Garifuna that their roots were cultivated in many places around the globe. For example, the traditions of their music dance, religious rites, and rituals are all very much seeded in their link to their African ancestry.  While the Garinagu forms of subsistence, on the other hand, are more associated with their Island Carib ancestors.

Even the European settlers of the New World had a very profound effect on the development of the Garifuna culture. The same culture that is characterized by the blending of distant pieces of worldly influences, driven by the human intuition to survive, and fueled by the desire for freedom.

In the Garifuna culture, the spirits of the deceased continuously hover about the living to provide protection and guidance. For this reason, homage for those lost must be paid in grand, dramatic style at the moment of death and at any time thereafter if disturbances or instability in both the spirit and living worlds arise. The moment one dies, a glass of water with a cross is placed by the body with a burning candle to symbolize the soul that is still alive. While family members are discouraged not to cry or speak in loud voices so as not to disturb the soul, elders clean the body in a bath of strong rum before dressing it for viewing.

Buyei Works at its peak Drumming

After the ninth night celebration, the community does not sever the lines of communication with the departed. The spirit may opt to contact a family member via dreams and request assistance from the living. The scenario, dubbed "the bathing of the dead" can happen anytime and requires immediate attention. Usually, those contacted dig a hole and simulate washing the body using a calabash to represent the deceased. Salt and fresh water, various herbs, and cassava water are poured into the hole and the spirit is addressed. The spirit may also call for a mass. During this form of transmission, friends and family hold a church mass and gather food offerings. Men and women then perform gender-specific dances for the deceased. Again, drums and music are integral parts of the summoning of the spirit world.

Garifuna Offering - Presided over by a Buyei or shaman

Perhaps the most well known form of communication with the dead in the Garifuna culture is the dugu. In this unification ceremony, the extended families of a person gather to give thanks and promote the healing of an ailing member. When someone falls ill in a family, the high priest, or buyei, will inform the family if a dugu is warranted or not. Throughout the weeklong ceremony, offerings are made in hopes that those ill regain their strength. Singing and dancing to particular beats often hypnotize participants and send them into trance-like states that captivate onlookers and convince them that this activity should be performed by trained personnel only! Again, the community involvement astounds those cultivated in more reserved cultures where death is a personal grievance shared by only one family. The encouragement by the Garifuna culture for all to join in the dancing, drinking, drumming, singing and merriment creates a familiar atmosphere intoxicating to visitors once wary of being dubbed "stranger."


Black Caribs, descendants of Indian peoples mixed with escaped African slaves, represent the genetic good news evolving from the collision. "They have expanded from fewer than 2,000 people in 1800 to more than 200,000 today," Crawford says. Black Caribs were deported by British colonialists from St. Vincent Island to what is now Honduras. They flourished, in part, because the genetic mix from Africa enabled them to resist malaria.


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