The Garifuna History, Language and Culture







Historical accounts prove that long ago, around 200 BC, native Amerindians had inhabited the Greater Antilles as well as parts of the South American mainland.

Two main groups of such Amerindians namely the Arawaks and Caribs, were always in conflict over the occupation of territories both on the mainland and on the islands. While the Arawaks were settled on the islands of Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, the Caribs chose to settle on smaller islands like Guadeloupe, Martinique, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada and Trinidad & Tobago.

The native Caribs led by Joseph Chatoyer fought fiercely against the European influence in defense of their territories. Chatoyer was subdued in 1795. This followed a deportation of the Caribs off their stronghold occupation of St. Vincent. They were driven off to nearby Becquia and soon set sail en route to Roatan on March 11, 1797.

Both Black and Red Caribs occupied Roatan. They came from the Lesser Antilles by the thousands and before long they had occupied other coastal territories off the coast of Honduras. Carib intermarriage with subdued enemies gave rise to an exchange of cultures. Hence today we have the Garifuna - a fusion of the native Amerindians and early European influence.

The first recorded arrival of the Garifuna to Belize was in 1802. From that time onwards they had become recognized in the coastal township of Dangriga and soon spread to other nearby shores. Thomas Vincent Ramos led the Garinagu into the occupation of several coastal communities.

Today we have come to know the Garinagu as a distinct culture having their own language, food, music, and even a very intricately weaved religion.

A burial feast known as Beluria (Spanish: Velorio) is a nine-day prayer and devotion in honor of the dead which is culminated with a festive show of drumming, dancing and food galore. The Dugu is a more diverse and deeply religious ceremony in which a Buyei (high priest) leads a generation into contact with deceased relatives.

The ancestral rites come in three parts: The Amuyadahani (Bathing the Spirit of the Dead); the Chugu (Feeding of the Dead), and the Dugu (the actual Feasting of the Dead).

These religious activities bring together relatives from Honduras, Guatemala, even from as far away as the U.S.A. The Buyei summons the presence of three drummers, a group of Afuna-hountiuya (dressed in red cultural outfit), a number of Gayusa (singers) and fishermen to gather seafood (Adugahatinya).

The purpose of having a Dugu is to appeal to ancestors for help in resolving some problem in the designated family. The Ancestral Spirit or Gubida penetrates the congregation and communicates with his people during an Owehani (comparable to Pentecost).

The major highlight of the Dugu is a series of dancing which comes in four parts: Abeimahani, Amalihani, Awangulahani, and Hugulendu.

The entire Dugu ceremony usually lasts a few days in addition to several weeks of tedious preparatory work. Forty eight hours of continuous drumming and dancing in the temple (Dabuyaba) creates the mood for dialogue with the Spirits which satisfies the purpose of the Dugu.

Apart from dances highlighted in the Dugu, the Garinagu, a festive people, have to date earned recognition for the Punta: a dance in which coupled dancers try to outdo each other with a variation of movements. A milder version of this dance would be the Hugu-Hugu involving the singing of sacred rhythms by Gayusa in unison. A fusion of these two dances creates modern-day Combination.

Another very colorful dance is the John Canoe (Wanaragua). Dancers in white costumes and Caucasian masks dance to intimidate European slave masters. Even the lyrics are designed with the same objective. This dance is mostly done around Christmas time culminating with a grand showdown on January 6th (Dia de los Reyes).

Collectively other dances, like the Chumba, Sambai and Gunjai call for fancy footwork and a variation of costuming and style. Other less significant dances include the Matamuerte, Eremuna Eigi and Leremuna Wadagumani. Worthy of mention also is the Charikanari which is a dance accompaniment to the John Canoe.

Today's unique people, the Garinagu in Belize, have gained respect for having a very diverse culture. The Garifuna language is of alarming interest to others, both locally and internationally. The language is derived from several other languages fused together through an intermarriage of the Caribs with French, Arawak and German as well as Spanish cultures.

In 1922 the Carib Development Society (CDS) evolved through the efforts of Thomas Vincent Ramos in Dangriga. After the death of this champion in 1955, the work was taken up by the National Garifuna Council (NGC) along with the CDS. It was in 1981 that the NGC tabled its objectives and since then its tiresome efforts continue up to the present. It has branches in several Garifuna communities in Belize as well as a strong affiliation with Sister Societies in Honduras, Guatemala, St. Vincent and the U.S. The work of preserving the Garifuna-ness of a people continues and today we have even seen the formation of a Garifuna committee in San Pedro Town, A.C. "There is no turning back" is the theme under which we operate.







The Garifuna History, Language and Culture


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