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Belize: Garifuna

Belize: Garifuna

The Garifuna

The majority of Garifuna people live along the coast of Belize and several other Central countries, but their family roots are across the Atlantic Ocean and began with a random accident.

In the 1600s, two Spanish slave ships from West Africa crashed off the shore of St. Vincent. Those slaves that survived were brought to St. Vincent by the Carib Indians. What happened next is a little unclear, as most of their history was passed down through storytelling. We do know that the West Africans fought with the native Carib Indians at first, but soon had to join together with the arrival of French and British settlers. The West Africans soon mixed with and married members of the indigenous population and created a new ethnicity: the Garifuna.

Today, the Garifuna have their own customs, cuisine, and language, and their culture is celebrated throughout the country.

As part of my Garifuna cultural immersion crash-course, I learned to make cassava bread. This is a staple of traditional Garifuna cooking, and forms a cornerstone of their diet. Cassava bread also doesn’t have many nutrients, so it’s typically served with other dishes, like a fish and coconut soup. Like a lot of breads and starches, it’s mostly used to help you feel full, and to stretch more expensive ingredients into a full meal.

Music and dance also play an important part of Garifuna culture. Arguably, the most culturally significant dance is the Jankunu, which is usually performed at Christmas time. For this dance, male Garifuna dancers wear brightly-colored headdresses, strings of shells on their knees that rattle as they dance, and mostly white clothing. The costume represents a white European colonial master, and the aim of the dance is to mimic and mock the Europeans in a fast and intense drumbeat-driven dance. Not just fun to watch, the dance is filled with stories and meanings. It tells parts of the history of the Garifuna by mixing in African dances and rhythms, while also alluding to the history of colonialism in the Caribbean. I can just picture the Garifuna of the 1700s and 1800s dancing behind the backs of the local Europeans!



watch: Young dancers perform the Jankunu


watch: Dancers and musicians in Mauritius perform the Sega

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