Belize and the Garifuna Culture

Belize is a small country squeezed between Guatemala, Mexico and the Caribbean Sea with a mixture of various cultures. Throughout the years people from different corners of the world have come here and left their mark in the way that locals live. However there is a group that never left and is more alive than ever! They are the Garifuna.

The Garifuna are a very important aspect of the Belizean society. They are such a big and loved community within Belize that the government even gave them a national holiday to celebrate their history and culture. The celebration takes place on November 19th, the day when it is believed that the first Garifuna set foot on Central America. Each year the celebration has a different theme.

Some History: The Garifuna people are actually a group that appeared in the early 1800’s. Their ancestors are people from the Caribbean islands, Lesser Antilles and Africa who managed to escape slavery. Some were never slaves. It is thought that this is the reason why they managed to keep their culture. They weren’t exposed to the European religion and culture for long.

But they were noticed and had to resist British and French attempts to turn them into a colony. They had resist them and some had to migrate, flee and go through the Caribbean coast of Central America. That is why there are also other Garifunacommunities in Nicaragua, Honduras Guatemala and Southern Belize.

Fun Fact: On 2001 UNESCO declared the language, music and dance of the Garifuna people as intangible heritage of humanity.

About their Food: These guys are fishermen in the middle of the Caribbean. It isn’t hard to

figure out what they eat. All of the dishes have a distinct Caribbean taste, plus they are very hearty. The main ingredients used while cooking are: fish, chicken, bananas, plantains, coconut (and its milk), seafood, pepper, milk and cassava.

The staple of the Central American region is corn and it is used for the famous tortillas and tamales. But in the case of the Garifuna cassava is the staple. It is a poisonous potato-like root. Once the poisonous liquid is eliminated from it, it is turned into a sort of bread. This process is an art in itself because it takes several days.

About their Religion: Their religion is a mixture between Catholicism, African and Indian beliefs. They believe that their ancestors are an important link with this world and the spiritual one. All of their spiritual leathers can help you to make contact with the deceased. To achieve this, they need help from drums and dancing.

Another very important aspect of their spirituality is the belief that a person must be good to maintain the harmony with the living and the deceased as well as to avoid misfortune and illness.

About the Dancing and Music: Their dance style is called Punta. It is something really pretty to look at but it is also extremely hard to do. The main instruments are percussion based. This is used at parties and pretty much everywhere, any time of the day when they feel like doing it!

There is also a dance called Dugu. It isn’t as common as Punta because of its special meaning. Dugu is a ritual dance that the Garifuna do to pay respects whenever there is a death in the family.

I am sure that if you ever visit Belize and interact with this people you will discover that they are extremely friendly and will be more than happy to teach you whatever they can about their way of life.

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