November 19 marks a special holiday in Belize — Garifuna Settlement Day.
The Garifuna, or Garinagu in Garifuna, are mixed African, Carib Indian and Arawak Indian people who were deemed enemies of the British during a series of Carib Wars in the 1700’s. They were exiled to Roatan from St. Vincent, which they found uninhabitable at the time. They then made their way to the mainland, eventually settling along the Central American coast.
Belize is home to numerous Garifuna villages, including Hopkins, Dangriga and Punta Gorda. The Garifuna culture is such an important part of Belize’s history that even UNESCO recognizes it. In 2001, UNESCO proclaimed the language, dance, and the music of the Garifuna as a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Belize.
In the week leading up to November 19, celebrations and events are held all over the country to recognize and share the importance of the Garifuna culture in Belize. Here is a look at several of the annual events I attended during this year’s celebrations.
Garifuna Reenactment Ceremony in San Pedro, Belize
The island of Ambergris Caye holds an annual reenactment ceremony on November 19, but this year, I attended a special one held a few days earlier just for one of the elementary schools in town. It was an afternoon filled with lots of drumming, singing, and the reenactment of the Garifuna landing in Belize for the first time. Central Park was filled with school children and a number of tourists who happened to stumble on the event. Following the arrival of the Garifuna on Belize’s shores, participants paraded down the streets of San Pedro, singing and drumming, along with the elementary school marching band.
Battle of the Drums in Punta Gorda, Belize
This year marked the 7th annual Battle of the Drums in Punta Gorda. Villages from all over Belize, and several international teams, meet to show off their skill and artistry in five different types of Garifuna drumming. The event is always held the Saturday before the 19th, which fell on November 17 this year. People come from all over Belize to attend the evening event and support their favorite teams and local villages. The team from Honduras took top honors this year, beating out last year’s winners from Hopkins.
Garifuna Celebrations and Punta Concert by Aurelio Martinez in Hopkins, Belize
On the eve of Garifuna Settlement Day, villages throw big parties and stay up all night before heading straight to reenactment ceremonies. In Hopkins, Honduran Punta artist Aurelio Martinez held a concert that went until nearly 4:30 a.m. Party goers stayed until around 6:00 a.m. before wearily making their way to the beach.
Punta is a style of Garifuna music and dance typically performed during celebrations and other festive events. The dance is easy to spot as it involves a lot of hip and buttock movement, while the torso tends to remain motionless. As you might imagine, punta can definitely border on the PG-13 side of things as some couples delve into a seductive style of dancing.
Admittedly, I did try to sneak a couple minutes of shut eye between the concert and setting up for the reenactment ceremony — only about 30 minutes worth back at Hopkins Bay Resort!
Garifuna Reenactment Ceremony in Hopkins, Belize
Since we were staying in Hopkins, we attended the reenactment ceremony there versus driving north to Dangriga like many other concert-goers did. Dangriga is known for throwing the biggest and most elaborate celebrations for Garifuna Settlement Day, but we wanted to see what Hopkins could do.
Things got off to a much later start in Hopkins versus some of the country’s other villages, but once it got going, it was a grand celebration with hours of drumming, dancing, and singing.
Garifuna Culture Year Round in Belize
In addition to the events and celebrations held around Garifuna Settlement Day, travelers to Belize can experience Garifuna culture year round. If you visit one of the traditional villages, you can enjoy local food, observe cultural traditions, and even take a drum lesson. And, if you are traveling on the island of Ambergris Caye, email Julia Martinez (firstname.lastname@example.org) at the Black and White Reggae Bar. She is now offering a Garifuna experience to travelers interested in learning more about the local Garifuna culture.