Celebrating Garifuna Settlement Day in Belize

Garifuna Settlement Day is celebrated each year on November 19th.  The holiday commemorates the dramatic dawn arrival of the Garifuna on the beaches of Belize over 200 years ago.

They are the descendants of the African survivors of human cargo ships that were wrecked off the island of St Vincent around 1675. These West Africans, along with the steady stream of maroons escaping slavery on other Caribbean islands, found refuge and started families with the indigenous Kalinago (Carib) population. An Afro-indigenous culture developed that existed independently of the region’s colonial forced labour plantation system. They became known as the Black Caribs or Garifuna.

garifuna

After clashing with French and British colonial forces, they were forced to flee westward, ultimately arriving in dugout canoes in Belize in 1802.

boats

Today, the Garifuna make up just around four percent of the population of Belize, but their influence is felt nationwide. They have preserved ancient traditions of language, music, and drumming which can be found nowhere else. Indeed, the United Nations honored the Garifuna in 2001 by declaring their music, dance, and language to be a masterpiece of the intangible heritage of humanity. Some 600,000 Garifuna live around the world, primarily in Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Puerto Rico.

In Belize, Garifuna Settlement Day is a time of feasting on traditional Garifuna foods like cassava bread (called “ereba”), conch soup, hudut (a coconut stew with fish and plantains), and darasa (banana tamales).

In Placencia, I was eager to witness the re-enactment and celebrations (my first!) and so, on Saturday afternoon I made my way to The Tipsy Tuna, where the main event was advertised to begin at 3:00 pm. The place was packed.

garifuna lots of people

Nothing in Belize starts on time, and this was no different, so I got myself a drink and mingled. I came across two lovely Garifuna ladies who work in my local pub, both looking beautiful in their traditional dress

At around 4 pm, we spotted the boat and heard the distant sound of drums, a unique beat that I’ve never heard anywhere else – even in my home continent of Africa. It was very moving.

On shore, several Garifuna ladies were singing as the boat approached

garifuna singing ladies

Once ashore, they made their way inside, still singing to the beat of the drums.

garifuna coming ashore

garifuna procession

Once inside, the story of the Garifuna was told followed by more singing and dancing to the beat of the drums

garifuna dancing ladies

Afterwards, there were celebrations and parties all over the village, the singing and beat of the drums being heard late into the night.

Another incredible celebration here in Belize.

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