Garifuna Settlement Day

As I’ve mentioned before, Belize is an incredible melting pot of cultures and people. In the month of November, there are celebrations countrywide to honor one of these cultures: the Garifuna. These culminate on National Garifuna Settlement Day, when people all over the country celebrate the settlement of the Garifunas on the mainland. Garifuna culture originated in the Caribbean Islands, but they arrived on the mainland of Central America when they were banished from St. Vincent and the Grenadines by the British in the late 18th century. Today, they have a strong presence along the shore in Belize and other Central American countries.

The first celebration I got to experience was the Battle of the Drums in PG. Garifuna bands from all over the country gathered to compete for best drumming and best traditional dancing. The party went late into the night — I tuckered out and went home long before it stopped, but I heard rumors that there was still drumming as the sun rose.

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The man in the white mask is a traditional dancer. He has rattles on his knees, and he is moving his lower body very fast while keeping his upper body perfectly still.

On the eve of Garifuna Settlement Day, people gathered at the central park in PG to dance into the wee hours of the morning. Since the actual Settlement Day celebrations start at sunrise, revelers traditionally stay up all night in anticipation of them. My friends and I vowed to join them, but unsurprisingly I failed; I crashed around 4 AM and woke up two hours later to rejoin the festivities.

At dawn, with a crystal clear sunrise burning through our sleepless haze, we joined dozens of people on a dock to watch a reenactment of the settlement. We peered at the horizon until we saw them: a handful of Garifuna men paddling towards us in wooden canoes, the sun rising behind them. The sight of their  silhouettes approaching us, complete with waving cassava branches, was strikingly beautiful.

When they reached the dock, they asked a man clad in colonial English garb if they could live in Belize. The English man refused them three times before allowing them onto the mainland.

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After the reenactment, the drumming started. All around us, people fell into step behind the drummers and proceeded to parade around town, waving cassava branches in the air and dancing to the music. It was a sight to behold.

Here’s a short video I took to give you a better impression of what this sounded and looked like! I apologize for the shoddy recording quality.

Needless to say, my own parading was minimal. I’m simply not made to stay up all night! After a large, satisfyingly greasy breakfast of eggs, fry jacks, and beans, I went home and slept the day away.

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I know this picture is duplicated but I just love it! That smile says it all.
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