Garifuna Culture

Garifuna culture unites Garinagu people in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and also those who now live in other countries including the United States.

In 2008 the Garifuna language, music and song were inscribed as part of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO (UNESCO – Intangible Heritage of the Garifuna)

Origin of the Garifuna Culture and People

Garifuna cultureIn the 18th century slave ships from western Africa became shipwrecked near the island of Saint Vincent in the Caribbean.  Several hundreds of slaves that escaped and made it to shore settled on the island.  Already living there at that time were Carib and Arawak Amerindians (originally from South America). The African settlers intermarried with the inhabitants of Saint Vincent.  This created a new ethnic group that became known as the Garinagu (in the past also know as the Black Caribs).  The culture of the African settlers combined with the language and culture of the Carib and Arawak into this new “Garifuna” culture.

Conflict with European Settlers

In the late 18th century French and British settlers in the islands fought for control over Saint Vincent.  The Garinagu population sided with the French.  However the British won, and forced the Garinagu population to the island of Balliceux.  Many thousands died on the journey across the Caribbean and on Balliceux.  Those that survived continued their journey and ultimately settled along the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Belize.

Garifuna Settlement Day

Every year on 19th November Belizeans celebrate the anniversary of the arrival of one of the largest groups of Garifuna people to the shores of Belize in 1802.  This day is called Garifuna Settlement Day, or sometimes simply as “Yurumein”.  Yurumein is the Garifuna name for Saint Vincent, the island where several Spanish slave ships were wrecked in the 17th century.   This eventually led to the emergence of the Garifuna people and culture.

Garifuna Culture and Language

The Garifuna language belongs to the Arawakan group of languages and has survived centuries of discrimination and linguistic domination. It is rich in tales (úraga) originally recited during wakes or large gatherings.  The Garifuna language has also adopted words from the other nationalities that are involved in their history.  This includes French, Spanish and English.

If you ask a Garifuna person to count from one to twenty, you will soon recognize the French influence.  The Garifuna words for window, sheep, and cheese are also examples of the French influence.  Many Garifuna people’s surnames are traditional Spanish names, such as Martinez and Bermudez.  Others are Spanish, such as Augustin and Franzua.

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