November 19th marks a very important holiday in Belize. This is Garifuna Settlement Day and it is celebrated each year on this day and during the week leading up to the holiday. This public holiday in Belize is celebrated across the country, but in particular in the Garifuna communities including Dangriga, Punta Gorda, Seine Bight and Hopkins.
As the Garifuna people begin their celebrations in mid November, we explore the history behind the Holiday and also the significance of drumming to the Garifuna culture.
History of Garifuna Settlement Day
Garifuna Settlement Day celebrates the arrival of the first Garifuna people to Belize. The Garifuna people are descendants of Carib Indians (South American natives who settled on the Caribbean island of St Vincent) and West Africans who escaped from Spanish slave ships in 1635 and landed on the island. They rebelled against the arrival of the British to St Vincent in 1763 and fought against the use of their land for sugarcane plantations and many Garifuna were deported to Roatan, an island off Honduras. Eventually they migrated by dugout canoe, carrying their food of cassava, plantain and sugarcane on this incredible journey and reached the coast of Belize in 1802.
The traditions continue to this day. Each year on Garifuna Settlement Day, the locals reenact the arrival of the first Garifuna people by travelling in boats to the shore carrying palm fronds and banana leaves. The celebrations on this day and during the week leading up to the holiday include music, parades, dancing, drumming and eating traditional and local foods.
Celebrating Garifuna Settlement Day
Music, song and dance are a significant part of local life in the Garifuna communities of Belize and are featured heavily in the celebrations around Garifuna Settlement Day. Many of the songs and dances tell stories about Garifuna history and culture so travelers can learn as they participate in the many events.
The Garifuna drum is a connection to the people’s African ancestry. There are two types of drums used, Primero (tenor drum) and Segunda (bass drum). The drum itself is unique in design made of hollowed out hardwood such as mahogany or mayflower. This percussion instrument has one drumhead of skin at the top made from peccary pig, deer or sheep.
Traditional Garifuna music is based on a small number of basic rhythms: Paranda, Punta, Chumba, Hungu-Hungu, Wanaragua (also known as Jonkanu), Gunjei, and Dugu (the sacred rhythm only ever played in the Temple).
Traditional Garifuna Drummers in Dangriga
Drum Making and Drum Playing Workshops
The Warasa Drum School in Punta Gorda offers interactive lessons in traditional Garifuna drumming, dancing and drum-making. It’s a hands on opportunity for travelers to experience Garifuna drumming and explore the unique culture whilst having fun.
Here is a great video showing Traditional Garifuna drumming at the Warasa Drum School:
If you go:
If you are planning to visit Belize around the week of Garifuna Settlement Day on November 19, this is a great opportunity to experience this incredible holiday. Villages and towns all over the country will be celebrating, but the town of Dangriga, the spiritual capital of the Garifuna, is where the most colorful parades, parties, and dramatic re-enactments of the Garifuna’s arrival take place. Make sure you put Dangriga on your trip itinerary if you go and prepare for some great memories.
The Garifuna village of Hopkins is another great place to join in the festivities of the holiday and experience traditional drumming, dancing and local food. If you would like to go and experience this yearly event we offer the Jungle & Beach Explorer – Hopkins trip, a year-round adventure that includes a stay at the Bocawina Rainforest Resort eco-lodge and a stay in a beach hotel in Hopkins.
You can also experience a cultural night at our Basecamps on Lighthouse Reef and Glover’s Reef. This is a favorite evening for guests and includes a night of drumming, music, dancing and our guides will share stories about the history of the Garifuna people.
Cultural night at the Lighthouse Reef Basecamp on Half Moon Caye