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Celebrating the Holidays in Belize - The Story Behind the Jankunu Costumes

The Garifuna communities in Belize celebrate an important cultural tradition during the Christmas and New Year holidays.  The Habinahan Wanaragua Jankunu Festival (also known as the John Canoe festival) is a traditional Garifuna dance festival which sees masked and costumed dancers parading the streets and roaming from house to house accompanied by the beat of drummers.  The festival is held in Dangriga, where Garifuna drummers and dancers from all over Belize gather for a dance showdown.

Jankunu Dancers in Dangriga

The Jankunu Costumes
One of the most striking things about the dancers are their unique and colourful costumes. But what is the history and significance behind these spectacular costumes worn in the Jankunu dances?

According to oral tradition, the costumes have their origin where Garifuna men cleverly deceived British invaders on the island of St. Vincent. Men dressed as women caught the British troops off-guard, expecting the men to be away from their villages.

Jankunu Dancers in Dangriga
The headdress is primarily made of cardboard, but is adorned with coloured paper, ribbons, mirrors, feathers and decorated shells. The dancers heads are wrapped in colourful clothsfabric and their faces are covered with painted white or pink masks which is believed to have been a way for the dancers to mock the British.

Dancers where either women's dress, or ribbons that symbolize it. The cross ribbons are also thought to be reminiscent of the cross gun belts of British military uniforms.

Shells are attached to the knees and are accentuated by the dance. The shells shake and rattle to accent the call and beat of the Primero and Segundo drums. 

Jankunu Dancers in Dangriga

Experiencing the Garifuna Culture of Belize
If you are intrigued about the Garifuna culture of Belize and want to learn more, make sure you check out our blog post on Experiencing the Garifuna Culture of Belize

If you go:

Many of our trips include learning and experiencing the Garifuna culture of Belize. At our Adventure Basecamps on Lighthouse Reef and Glover’s Reef we offer a cultural night. On this evening you will experience a night of traditional drumming, music, dancing and our guides will share stories about the history of the Garifuna people.

The Garifuna village of Hopkins is another great place to immerse yourself in the culture.   Our year round Jungle & Beach Explorer – Hopkins trip, includes a stay at the Bocawina Rainforest Resort eco-lodge and a stay in a beach hotel in Hopkins, allowing plenty of time to explore the village.