A Short History of Dangriga and the Stann Creek District
Founded in 1823 as a refuge for the Garifuna people who escaped the oppression of British rule in Honduras, Stann Creek proved a permanent home at last for refugees of mixed ethnicities (specifically African and Carib Indians). This east-central Belize settlement was strategically located at the mouth of the North Stann Creek situated along the Caribbean coast, and settlers were quick to realize the geographic potential of this area.
Given its proximity at the mouth of the creek, Stann Creek became a mecca for more waves of Garifuna people eager to escape neighboring countries to help create a community of like-minded people. A heavily trafficked port was established at the edge of the creek, enabling these enterprising people to establish trading centers and export businesses. On any given day, one might have seen fish, coconuts, bananas and timber being ferried out of Stann Creek destined for other Central American ports. Renamed Dangriga (Sweet Water), the town’s potential seemed limitless.
From Mayas to Brits, Dangriga’s roots are diverse
This area of Belize lays claim to deep Maya roots dating back to years spanning the Early Classic to Postclassic eras, which is why Dangriga’s cultural presence in Belize reflects so many Maya influences. But the Maya weren’t the only notable people contributing to this region’s history. According to archaeologists, English buccaneers used the area as a base camp to do battle with Spanish invaders in the 1600s, so by the time the Garifuna arrived, the region had already been occupied by myriad societies.
Life in contemporary Dangriga as a colorful amalgam of the past and the future. From enterprises like the town’s orange juice processing plant to a lively, popular cultural mecca, celebrations in the community are considered essential for anyone wishing to know more about Dangriga’s history. From November 19th — on which Garifuna Settlement Day is recalled with dancing, music and festivals — to ethnic holidays reminding citizens of other heritages, Dangriga remains awash in opportunities to celebrate the past.
Dangriga moves effortlessly into the future
To what do the people living in Dangriga owe their ability to remain true to their past while maintaining a presence that’s contemporary and vital? The fact that the townspeople are hardworking, creative and respectful of their heritages, which is why the Creole dialect is still spoken everywhere. Agricultural endeavors – especially bananas and citrus fruit – are thriving and there is no shortage of natural splendor in the area.
The name may have changed from Stann Creek to Dangriga, but the enthusiasm and contributions made by the immigrants who risked everything to establish a homeland has not changed. This area grew in direct proportion to people’s collective desire to practice unique lifestyles, observe deep religious convictions and contribute to the area’s cultural scene in meaningful ways. Having a history this rich and colorful makes Dangriga one of the most fascinating places to visit in Belize and there’s no indication that the town will lose its charm and uniqueness anytime soon!