Garifuna Settlement Day: A celebration of cultural resilience and human heritage

by McNab Editorial Team

Brief History of the Holiday

November 19th is a public holiday in Belize. Set to commemorate the arrival of the Garifuna people to the country’s southern shores. In the 17th century, British and French slave traders brought Sub Saharan African slaves to the islands of the Lesser Antilles. There, those slaves intermarried with native Island Carib and Arawak people and gave birth to the vibrant Garinagu. Moreover, the seamless mixture of traditions, together with, their unique language and music stem from a deep-rooted appreciation and acknowledgment of who they are as people. Persecuted and exiled from Caribbean islands like St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Garinagu made their way to Roatan and then Belize finding refuge and a new beginning.

Garifuna Culture

The Garinagu make up approximately 6% of the country’s total population. Yet they are one of the most outstanding, lively and culturally rich ethnic groups in Belize. It’s November in Belize when the melodic percussion of drums fills the air and you find your waistline moving to the beat. They are a society with a matriarchal structure. Passing down ancient traditions through the women of the community is the way they preserve their culture. The Garinagu believe that the will of the dead influences the lives of the living. In fact, the practice of the “Dugu” ritual is so that women can become possessed by their ancestors thus gifting them with wisdom.

In 2001, UNESCO named the Garifuna culture a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Their infectious music, unique language, delicious food, and valued traditions are preserved in the spirit of their people. Experiencing their culture is a must-do when in Belize!

Garifuna Mural in Hopkins Village

Garifuna Settlement Day was created by Belizean civil rights activist, Thomas Vincent Ramos, in 1941. The day then became a national holiday in 1977.
As a result of Ramos’s effort, the celebration of their settlement is a joyous event in contrast to the people’s suffered past. It involves parades, street music, traditional dancing and annual reenactments of the first arrival. The epicenter of the day’s celebration happens along the southeast coast of Belize in towns and villages like Punta Gorda, Dangriga, Hopkins and Seine Beight. You will see flags of white, black and yellow everywhere you turn. If you find yourself “down south” for the 19th, you are in for a treat!

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