The Garifuna

Today, I visited Dangriga to learn about the Garifuna. I had never heard the word “Garifuna” before coming to Belize. But one of the most interesting parts of travel is learning about different cultures. I am excited to learn about the Garifuna history!

The history of the Garifuna people starts with a shipwreck. In the 1600s, two slave ships from West Africa crashed near the island of St. Vincent. The slaves that survived were brought to St. Vincent by the Carib Indians. At first, these West Africans fought with the native Carib Indians. But when French and British settlers arrived in the New World, the Carib Indians and West Africans joined forces. They did this to protect themselves from the Europeans. Soon, the West Africans and Carib Indians mixed with and married each other. These people became known as the Garifuna.

Today, most Garifuna people live along the coast of Belize and a few other Central American countries. They have their own traditions, cooking style, and language.

In Dangriga, I learned to make cassava bread. This is a traditional Garifuna food. Cassava is a root vegetable that is similar to a potato. Cassava bread doesn’t have many nutrients. Like a lot of breads and starches, it’s used to help you feel full. It’s best served with a traditional dish like fish in coconut soup.

Music and dance are also an important part of Garifuna culture. I met a group of Garifuna singers and dancers. They welcomed me with the hungu-hunga or the ‘shake-shake’ dance. I joined in to shake-shake with them for a little while. Then, they explained some of their other traditional dances.

The dance I enjoyed most was the Jankunu dance. For this dance, male dancers wear brightly-colored headdresses, strings of shells on their knees, and white clothing. The costume is meant to make the dancer look like a white European master. Each step tells the story of the Garifuna.

Jenny