Gibe Memegili Wayumaha; Lidanba Uarani Wawansera
(We continue to have many aspirations; in Unity we advance)
Today is a very important holiday in Belize as the entire country takes time out to celebrate one of the most defining moments in our nation’s history – the arrival of the Garifuna people, or Garinagu, to the shores of Belize.
Beginning in 1943 as a local holiday in the Stan Creek and Toledo districts, November 19 was officially recognised in 1977 as Garifuna Settlement Day, a national holiday to commemorate the arrival of the Garinagu and to celebrate their history, culture, art, music, and many contributions to Belize and the world.
The story of this proud and resilient people stretches back to a fateful shipwreck off St Vincent’s Island in the Caribbean in the 1600s, when surviving African slaves made it to shore and mixed with the local Arawak, or Carib, population.
When England won control of St Vincent after the Treaty of Paris in 1763, it embarked upon the Carib Wars to subdue the local population. After a series of bloody wars and following the death of their leader, Joseph Chatoyer, the Caribs surrendered to the British in 1796, who then separated the more ethnically African people they called Black Caribs from the Amerindian Caribs and, in 1797 deported the Black Caribs to the island of Roatán off the coast of Honduras.
Less than half of the five thousand deportees are said to have survived, but these hardy people eventually made it to the mainland and spread up and down the coast, creating their own villages and steadfastly preserving their language and culture. Tradition has it that Garifuna women secreted cassava in their clothing during the voyage from St Vincent’s, and the rootstock of those plants ensured the survival of the Garinagu.
Settlement Day commemorates the arrival of Garifuna in Belize in 1802, who since that auspicious day established villages such as Barranco, Seine Bight, Dangriga, Hopkins, Punta Gorda and other communities and went on to make important contributions in all areas of Belize society, most noticeably in education, government, arts and music. The Garifuna now comprise about 6% of the population of Belize, and there is a large Belize Garifuna diaspora in the US in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
For Belizeans and visitors alike November 19 is a great opportunity to become immersed in the vibrant Garifuna culture and enjoy their unique, delicious food and entrancing, lively music.
The celebrations begin the day before, and by nightfall the powerful traditional drumming is heard throughout Belize, and especially throughout the southern areas.
On the morning of the 19th the Garifuna flag, yellow, white and black to represent the sun, peace and the colour of the Garinagu people, is raised all over Belize and flies proudly as the re-enactments of the arrival of the people in dugout canoes take place.
The rest of the day and those that follow are celebrated enthusiastically with music, feasting, and dancing.
If you’re lucky enough to be in a Garifuna village this week you’ll quickly become acquainted with traditional Garifuna foods such as serre, fish boiled in coconut milk and usually served with hudut, or mashed plantain, which makes for an incredibly rich and delicious meal. The essential cassava is a foundation of Garifuna cuisine and made into the very traditional cassava bread and various puddings and drinks, including a potent wine. Cassava bread used to be is served with every meal and the ancient and time-consuming process can take several days.
Garifuna music is recognised around the world as being something very special indeed, and is essential to any comprehensive world music collection. Andy Palacio, who suddenly and very sadly passed away in 2008 was an incredible composer and performer of Punta Rock and other forms, and is widely considered, along with artist and musician Pen Cayetano, to be Belize’s greatest cultural ambassador as well as a Garifuna icon. Paul Nabor, or Nobby to friends and fans is over 80 years old and still playing Paranda, a unique, soulful style incorporating guitar and sometimes called Garifuna blues, while Aurelio Martinez is a young musician extending the form to audiences in Carnegie Hall and venues around the world. These and other Garifuna musicians can be found on YouTube and their music is available through Belize’s main record label, Stonetree Records.
If you can’t be in Belize today, get onto the internet and immerse yourself in this fascinating and enjoyable music. It is, as they say, the next best thing to being here…
Here at Chaa Creek we wish our many Garifuna friends, colleagues and extended family all the best on this very important, soulful and joyous day and week, and join all of Belize in acknowledging the many contributions the Garinagu continue to make in our multi cultured, harmonious country and indeed throughout the world.
Gibe Memegili Wayumaha; Lidanba Uarani Wawansera!
We continue to have many aspirations; in Unity we advance