Garifuna People (Garinagu)

Garifuna People (Garinagu) descend from shipwrecked Africans who mixed with Carib and Arawak Amerindians on the island of Saint Vincent.

 Garifuna People (Garinagu)
Around 1635, some slave ships from the west coast of Africa were wrecked near the coast of Saint Vincent in the Caribbean.  The slaves who survived mixed with the descendants of Arawak and Carib Amerindians already living on the island.

The dark skin and culture of the Africans mixed with the language and culture of the Carib Indians.  This created a rich new ethnicity and culture, now known as Garifuna.

The French and British colonists battled for control of St. Vincent in the 18th century. The Garifuna sided with the French.  But in 1795, the British defeated the French, and expelled all Garifuna people from the island.

Garifuna families set off across the Caribbean in small wooden canoes carrying important crops with them to plant wherever they settled.  Half died before reaching land and safety.  Those that survived, settled along the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Belize.

Garifuna Language and Songs

Today, Garifuna language blends Arawak, English, Spanish, French and west African languages.  ‘Garifuna’ describes the culture and language, but use the word ‘Garinagu” to describe the people as a whole.  Music, singing, drumming and dancing are integral parts of Garifuna culture.  Many of the songs and dances tell stories about Garifuna history and culture.

Garifuna Settlement Day

Every year on the 19th of November, Garifuna people in Belize celebrate the arrival of the Garinagu people in Belize.  Drumming and dancing continues through the night.  By sunrise, boats arrive to re-enact the arrival of their ancestors to Belize.  The arrival of the boats is celebrated by those onshore with drumming and dancing.  A parade then takes place through town ending at the Catholic church.  Celebrate with us if you visit in November!

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Mundian to Bach Ke (Ronald McDonald vs. Punjabi MC)

The face off

I have a terrible singing voice. I love to sing, but only in private when (I think) nobody is listening. Ray has a good overall singing voice and a great Garifuna singing voice: Garifuna songs don’t require you to be in perfect tune or for you to sing like a bird, but they do require character and confidence, both of which Ray has when he sings. He sings all the time, and regularly puts a smile on my face by randomly running up to me and singing in my ear.

Sometimes, he tries to get me to sing along to a well-known Garifuna song. For whatever reason, even though we’ve been married almost one year and together almost 4, I get stupidly shy at such requests and refuse: I hate being put on the spot. My usual excuse is I can’t because it’s in Garifuna and I don’t know the words. Ray always tells me that doesn’t matter I just need to listen.

Once, when I was with him at his mum’s house, he was saying this to me again when his 12-year old niece Kathlyn was there. Kathlyn only started living with Ray’s family recently, as previously she was living with her Creole mother in Belize City, so she has only been learning about her Garifuna side the past 2 years. Kathlyn is a lovely girl, and agreed with me that it was hard to sing a song when you didn’t understand the language. (All credit to her though, she was at least willing to try!)

Ray however again claimed he had no such difficulties or inhibitions. So, I searched through my phone for a song I could test him with, and found the song Mundian to Bach Ke by Punjabi MC. I played it full volume through Ray’s amp and speakers, and challenged Ray to sing along. It has to be said that the performance of Mundian to Bach Ke – possibly the first time a Garifuna musician has sung in Punjabi – was hilariously funny but also quite impressive, and I thus completely failed to prove my point.

 

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How to shake your arse (Belize style)

Go to any bar with live music at night in Belize, and you will witness the dominant form of Belizean dancing, which like the dominant form of Belizean music (Punta rock), originates from traditional Garifuna culture.  That is, it involves shaking your arse.   Visitors to Belize often marvel at how Belizean women especially are able to “move their ass completely independently of the rest of their body”, and think that they have developed special arse muscles that allow such frenetic yet well-controlled booty manoeuvres.

I have a secret to share: no special arse muscles are involved.  In fact, I would venture that you don’t really use your arse muscles at all.  Or even your waist muscles (not at beginners’ level punta/punta rock dancing anyway).  The key is all in the feet and legs.  If you stand still, feet shoulder width apart, bend your knees slightly, and then bend one knee more than the other, you will find your other knee straightens.  Then you switch and bend your other knee forward more.  Keep doing this, and you will find a funny thing happens: your arse moves side to side.  No special arse muscles required.

Of course, to look professional, you have to do it in time to the music, and be able to move around side-to-side, forwards, backwards, in a circle, and a few other little fancier movements here and there, but that is the basic secret.  So stop focussing on your arse, shift your knees, and be prepared to look like an idiot.

Ray likes to take credit for the fact that I can now dance punta (and paranda, and to a certain extent hungu-hungu), and while he did give me two or three lessons (where even though it was just me and him in the house I still felt like a complete idiot!), I think most of it just came from getting bored sitting down watching everyone else having a good time, and finally thinking “ach stuff it who cares” to all those that wanted to laugh at the white gal who (couldn’t) dance.

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Yurumein: The story of the Garifuna

Every year on 19th November, Ray, his family, and pretty much every Garifuna person in Belize (plus lots of other interested Belizeans and visitors) will attend their local “Yurumein” on the national holiday known as Garifuna Settlement Day, the anniversary of when the largest group of Garifuna people arrived on the shores of Belize.

 

Yurumein is the Garifuna name for St. Vincent, the island where several Spanish slave ships were wrecked in the 17th century, allowing their occupants to escape slavery and mix with the local indigenous Arawak and Carib Indians living on the island, creating the Garifuna culture, language and ethnicity.  But the word “Yurumein” now also refers to the annual re-enactment of when the Garifuna arrived in their new homelands in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua after being expelled from St Vincent by the new British colonialists in the 19th century.

In PG, this re-enactment involves two or three boatloads of Garifuna people paddling towards the main dock, carrying essential crops such as banana, plantain, cassava and coconut to plant wherever they land.  The also carry their flag, and also come playing drums to announce their arrival.  Unlike the original arrival, in the Yurumein re-enactment, hundreds of local Garifuna people line the shore and the dock waiting to greet their brethren, wearing traditional clothes and also carrying flags, drums, and crops, and singing and dancing in greeting.  Local British/Zimbabwean/Belizean Jack Nightingale, who is a portly middle-aged white man with blonde/white hair and an English accent, takes on the role of the British Governor General, and thus when the first boat requests permission to settle in Belize (British Honduras way back then), he refuses the request.

 

 

He refuses two or three more times, and the lead boat paddles back to discuss the next move with the other boats, but persistence pays off, and eventually the Garifuna boats are granted permission to land and settle the uninhabited coast in the south of Belize.  The new arrivals land their boats, and join in with the singing, dancing and drumming, and parade town to much celebration, before going to church for a brief ceremony.

Last year, 2010, 19th November was a rainy day, but although rain stops many Belizeans going out under normal circumstances, the Yurumein still went ahead, and had even more poignancy, as made you ponder what it must have been like to travel across the sea for weeks looking for a new homeland, only to be refused entry.  I would have persisted also!

And so the coastal Garifuna towns and villages Dangriga, Punta Gorda, Hopkins, Barranco and Seine Bight were formed.  The other Garifuna village in Belize, Georgetown, is inland, but was only founded after some families from Seine Bight relocated following a bad hurricane.  While Garifuna people make up less than 10% of the population of Belize, their influence is widespread, especially in the areas music and education, with the majority of Belizean musicians and a large percentage of Belizean teachers being of Garifuna heritage.

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Ronald McDonald learns to ceilidh

According to Ray, I dance to everything the same way.  I admit I’m not the world’s greatest dancer, but I know for a fact that I definitely do not dance to Teenage Kicks the same way I dance to Ray’s drumming.  Living in Belize for several years has a strange affect on your dancing style though.  Instead of tapping your foot or bopping your head along to music, you end up shaking your arse.  Even while sitting down.  Even to The Proclaimers.  Ray is a good dancer, and thanks to me, has even mastered the Gay Gordons and Military Two Step.  We had a mini-ceilidh at our wedding, which was definitely the highlight of the reception, as Belizeans love to dance, and so we had a room of people in hysterics as they all attempted to keep up with the old heel-toe-heel-toe in the tropical heat of Belize.   Sadly all my official and unofficial photographers also joined in, so I have no photographs of this epic moment, but we may repeat the event annually since everyone enjoyed it so much!  Ray will get his ceilidh skills tested to the max this New Year’s however, as we joining in on the Edinburgh Hogmanay Street Keilidh – he’ll have to dance or he’ll freeze!  Now if only I could persuade him to don a kilt…

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The Drum Whisperer

Ray is famous in PG for his drumming. He may never have one the annual “Battle of the Drums” competition in PG (clearly the judges aren’t in their correct minds), but anyone that loves drumming will hire Ray and his family to drum for any event above any other local group. As Ludwig Palacio, local poet, artist and veterinarian once said to me: “some people knock drum like they’re at war with it, like they’re trying to knock it into submission… but Ronald – he caresses that drum and produces something magical” Of course I am totally biased, but I do happen to think Ray is the best drummer in Belize, possibly the world. One day, I asked Ray how he learned to play the Primero. I knew that he taught himself from age 5, but obviously he must have been watching someone. Sadly his inadvertent teacher (called Simon) is no longer alive he said, but he must have been good. Ray says his teachers at school would always scold him at school for drumming on his desk…it’s such a shame they couldn’t have channelled his talent instead of telling him off about it.

 

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