Belize’s Garifuna Settlement Day a Cultural Adventure

Preparations are currently underway for a uniquely Belizean holiday honouring the Garifuna, a remarkable culture and resilient race of people who continue to play a major role in shaping modern day Belize, The Lodge at Chaa Creek’s marketing administrator said today.

Larry Waight said that while many people might be unaware of Garifuna Settlement Day, celebrated on November 19 throughout Belize, it is an important national holiday that will be celebrated at Chaa Creek with Garifuna music and food.

And many people will also be surprised to learn that there will be celebrations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and other North American urban centres, he said.
“Growing up in Belize you automatically anticipate a day off for the feasting, music and cultural activities that make up Garifuna Settlement Day, and we forget that it’s not a big deal in other parts of the world,” he said, and added, “And that’s a shame, really, as it’s a great celebration that honours one of the most fascinating cultures on the planet.”

The story of the Garifuna began with a 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.

England took control of St Vincent in 1763, and embarked upon what became known as the Carib Wars to subdue the local population. After the Caribs surrendered in 1796 the British separated the more ethnically African people they called Black Caribs from the Amerindian Caribs and, in 1797 deported them to the island of Roatán off the coast of Honduras in 1797, from where they spread up and down the Caribbean coast, creating their own villages and steadfastly preserving a language and culture known as Garifuna or Garinagu. That language and culture is still going strong in Belize today.

Settlement Day commemorates the arrival of the Garifuna in Belize in 1802 where they established villages such as Barranco, Seine Bight, Dangriga, Hopkins, Punta Gorda 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.

“Belize simply wouldn’t be the Belize we know today without the Garifuna, and hearing Garifuna spoken is as traditionally Belizean as rice and beans,” Mr Waight said. “Our distinctive national music, especially in the form of Punta Rock and the softer, beautiful Paranda comes from the Garifuna, as do some of our greatest artwork, dance and other cultural expressions. And the delicious Garifuna cooking is something every visitor to Belize should experience.”

Mr Waight said that while the largest celebrations will take place in the south part of Belize where the Garifuna influence is strongest, November 19 at Chaa Creek will have a definite Garifuna flavour.

“Guests will have the chance to hear and purchase CDs of Garifuna music, see some of the amazing artwork and sample Garifuna food, which is in a delicious class of its own. Our Garifuna staff members will be happy to teach a few words of their language, which, with its blend of Africa and indigenous Arawak is distinctive and beautifully melodic. There’s usually some Garifuna drumming going on at night, and it gives the jungle setting an exotic, romantic atmosphere. There’s really nothing like it,” he said.
Mr Waight added that for those unfortunate enough to not be in Belize November 19, the Belize Travel Blog will feature articles on Garifuna history, culture and music.

“If you can’t make it down here for the celebrations, you owe it to yourself to learn more about one of the most interesting, intriguing and colourful cultures on the planet. It’s a fascinating journey in every sense of the word, and here at Chaa Creek we’ll be taking the time out to join our Garifuna brothers and sisters in saying, ‘Gibe Memegili Wayumaha; Lidanba Uarani Wawansera’, which fittingly translates to ‘We continue to have many aspirations; in Unity we advance’ ,” he said.

Photo credit: National Geographic

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