25 Things To Learn About The Garifuna Culture of Belize

by Larry Waight

Belize is an eclectic and culturally diverse country. Beyond the uniqueness of the Maya people, you can encounter Chinese, East Indian, Creole, and even Mennonite people living on this land. While Belize is enriched by every culture that decides to settle down within her borders, this article is dedicated to explaining the Garinagu people and their Garifuna culture, especially as we celebrate Garifuna Settlement Day on November 19th.

25 Beguiling Facts About Belize’s Garifuna People 

Image via Hamanasi Resort

  1. While they resisted the British for a time, 150 individuals settled in Belize in 1802. The predominant area the Garinagu relocated to is now known as Dangriga. 
  2. The Garinagu are the only demographic Black people within the Americas who have managed to retain their uniquely Afro-Caribbean Garifuna culture. 
  3. Garifuna religion is a syncretic faith that combines Catholic, African and Indigenous beliefs. They believe their long-dead ancestors watch over a person and the world around him/her. 
  4. Traditional Garifuna foods involve cassava, plantain, chicken, and fish. Notable Garifuna dishes include hudut (fish prepared in coconut broth) and dharasa (a green banana tamale). 
  5. The Garifuna nation and culture has its own flag, consisting of a tri-striped flag of black, white, and yellow. 
  6. The Garinagu were born within South America and the Caribbean. 
  7. Garifuna culture comes from a blend of Black Carib and Arawak peoples. 
  8. St. Vincent is where the Garifuna ancestors lived between the years 1,000 and 1796. 
  9. Garifuna culture believes that God is a woman because their society is matriarchal; women run many of the important social roles in Garifuna society. 
  10. The Arawak moved from the Orinoco Basin in 0 AD. 
  11. The Island Tainos, who we know as the Arawak, met Christopher Columbus during his voyages to the New World. 
  12. The Arawak people spent their time on the islands enjoying the local gold and tobacco and crafted elaborate dates. 
  13. The Caribs raided and traded with Arawak people, eventually leading to the creation of the Garifuna culture and language. 
  14. Once the Arawak and Caribs began to intermingle, the children that resulted from thee pairings took their names from their dads. 
  15. The early years of the Garifuna were focused on long-distance travel. 
  16. Garinagu women and men were equal in all matters; women were even free to participate in activities like warfare. 
  17. The central figure to Garifuna religious actions was known as a Buyeior Shaman. This one person handled all aspects of Garifuna faith and spirituality. 
  18. The British initially referred to the St. Vincent Garinagu as devils. 
  19. The first Belizean Garinagu were exclusively men who arrived to work for the various mahogany logging camps. Since then, their families helped establish places like Barranco, Seine Bight, and the aforementioned Dangriga. 
  20. Some say the Garifuna language is slowly dying out. Children seem less and less fluent in speaking their native tongue as their parents. Some people, including those among the Garinagu, worry about the negative effects that this linguistic deterioration will have on the Garifuna identity. 
  21. The Garifuna language is dualistic. This means that it works for both male and female genders. Furthermore, the Garifuna language is based more on the language of its Arawak ancestor than its Carib one. 
  22. The Garifuna tongue always stresses the first syllable of a word with two syllables. For example, this means that a Garifuna speaker will emphasize the “Bel” in Belize when many Westerners might emphasize the “ize” part. 
  23. The letter Z does not exist in the Garifuna language. Furthermore, “sh” and “ch” are identical in a similar linguistic quirk as the fusion of R and L in Japanese.
  24. The religion of the Garinagu people places a great deal of focus on the unknowable. Their religion exists to help them commune with the spirits of their ancestors, be it through a ceremony, traditional music and dance performances, healing ceremonies, and even astral projection, and other means of communing while asleep. 
  25. The Garifuna only believe in “Seri,” their version of Heaven; they had no concept of an afterlife dedicated to evil until their encounters with European Christians. Forgiveness is always an option to the Garinagu. 

The Garinagu are a fascinating indigenous people that also account for the fourth most prominent demographic in the nation of Belize. Their spirituality is fascinating and their language is as vivacious and captivating as the dancing and music they are known and well-regarded for. If you ever get a chance to visit Belize during November 19th, know that you are typically in for a good time involving some good music, some really tasty cassava bread, and plenty of exposure to the unique Garifuna culture. 

Header image courtesy Hamanasi Resort

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