November brings a change of seasons here on the peninsula, but more than just a general cooling of the weather there begins the steady arrival of our guests from abroad coming to get a brief taste of how sweet life in southern Belize can be. Locally there are various events to look forward to. The second running of the End of the World Marathon is happening in early December followed shortly thereafter by the glitz and glamour of the Mistletoe Ball. A few folks might even be carving up Turkey toward the end of this month. Tomorrow, however, the country celebrates the arrival of an ethnic group in Belize that has contributed immensely both to our cultural identity and the sound and taste of Belize.
Garifuna Settlement Day is celebrated every year on the 19th of November to mark the arrival of the Garifuna to Belize in 1802. The Garifuna hail from the island of St. Vincent in the eastern Caribbean. This rich culture began when a vessel carrying African captives bound for the slave trade foundered off the coast of St. Vincent in the late 1600s. The survivors of the shipwreck settled on the island and intermarried with the indigenous inhabitants, giving birth to the Garifuna culture. The French and British would both later try to wrest control of the island away from the Garifuna, leading to a war that ended with the death of the Garifuna resistance leader, Joseph Chatoyer. After Chatoyer’s defeat, the British ordered the deportation of the Garifuna to the island of Roatan off the coast of Honduras. The Garifuna that survived the crossing settled on Roatan, and soon after established coastal communities in Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.
In Belize, the centre of the settlement day celebrations is the town of Dangriga. The normally slow paced and sleepy hamlet is transformed into a vibrant and bustling locale for the 19th, with music, dance and food to be found in abundance. Dangriga is less than an hour’s drive from Cocoplum, and can be reached in as little as 18 minutes by plane. Tomorrow I will be on the lookout for Hudut and Ereba. Hudut (shown with fried fish in the photo) is a dumpling made from pounded plantains, and Ereba is bread made from Cassava flour. The fish, usually barracuda or snapper, is often poached in coconut milk or fried whole. The music scene is lively, with drummers in abundance accompanied by traditional dancers and vocalists. There are many different genres of music within the Garifuna music spectrum including traditional drumming, Punta, and Paranda. The traditional drumming is pared down to percussion and vocals only, often accompanied by dancers. This type of Garifuna music is the soundtrack to everything from the most sacred Dugu ceremony, right down to the very playful Charikanari. Punta rock is a fast paced more modern form utilizing electric guitars, bass and keyboards in addition to drums, and is definitely dance floor friendly. Paranda is somewhere in between the previous two, a very melodic and emotional form that often integrates acoustic guitars. Garifuna music became globally recognized with the release of the Paranda influenced album ‘Watina’ by Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective in 2007. Even though Andy Palacio passed away not long after the album received critical acclaim, the group forges forward and has released a new album, Ayo, in tribute to their fallen brother. The photo below is the album’s cover.
The 19th of November is not only a celebration of Garifuna culture, but is also a celebration of Belize’s cultural diversity. Even though the Garifuna are one of many distinct cultural groups found in Belize, the 19th of November is a national holiday celebrated by the entire country. Where will you be this 19th?