Happy Garifuna Settlement Day 2012!

Wawansera Memeba Lau Lubafu Bungiu Hama Ahari!

We Keep Going Forward with the Power of God and the Ancestors

We all join the entire country of Belize today to take some time out to celebrate the arrival of the Garifuna people, or Garinagu, to the shores of Belize.

Belize would not be the Belize that we know and love if it wasn’t for the many contributions of the Garifuna, and their proud history of one of the most interesting and enduring sagas humanity has known, beginning with 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 began trying to subdue the islanders with what became known as the Carib Wars. After 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 or Red Caribs and, in 1797 deported them to the island of Roatán off the coast of Honduras.

Less than half of the five thousand exiles are said to have survived, making their way to the mainland and spreading up and down the coast, building villages and steadfastly preserving their language and culture. Garifuna women were said to have hidden cassava in their clothing during the voyage from St Vincent’s, and the rootstock of those plants ensured the survival of the Garinagu and supply gardens today.

Settlement Day commemorates the arrival of Garifuna in Belize in 1802, where they established villages such as Barranco, Seine Bight, Dangriga, Hopkins, Punta Gorda and other communities and went on to help define Belize society, making important contributions to education, government, arts and music.

The Garifuna now make up over 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.

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. For Belizeans and visitors alike this is a great opportunity to enjoy Garifuna culture and sample their unique food and lively music.

In Garifuna villages this week there will be an abundance of traditional Garifuna foods such as serre, fish boiled in coconut milk and usually served with hudut, or mashed plantain; a delicious Garifuna staple. The essential cassava is also 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 now enjoyed around the world and is essential to any comprehensive world music collection. Andy Palacio, who suddenly and very sadly passed away in 2008 was an amazing composer and performer of Punta Rock and other styles, and is widely considered, along with artist and musician Pen Cayetano, to be Belize’s greatest cultural ambassador as well as a Garifuna role models. 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.

Here at Chaa Creek we want to acknowledge the many important contributions the Garifuna have made to Belize and to wish our Garinagu friends and extended family all the best on this special day and well into the future as we all join together in saying:  Wawansera Memeba Lau Lubafu Bungiu Hama Ahari! . (We Keep Going Forward with The Power of God and the Ancestors).

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