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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Observations from A Belizean Bus

I spend four hours a day, five days a week sitting on a Belizean bus on the commute between my home town of Punta Gorda and the “banana belt” villages where I work.  If it wasn’t for my finely honed ability to sleep anywhere, anytime, I’m not sure I could handle it.

Those who have never ventured south of Texas on the American continent may wonder what happens to retired US school buses.  Those who have ventured south know all too well: they are pimped up and forced down every kind of road imaginable, packed full of every variety of person and produce under the sun.

A Panamanian Chicken Bus

A Panamanian Chicken Bus

Belizean buses don’t get decorated as creatively as some of their Central American counterparts, but they are everywhere, and carry every kind of character.  I am sitting on the bus as I write, surrounded by:

Two Garifuna & 3 Mayan women breastfeeding; 3 other babies of various ages and hair arrangements; a smiling old “Spanish” man in a hat, who I took to the eye clinic 2 years ago for cataract surgery, two traditional very blonde Mennonite families in blue and green dresses and overalls; a young Mestizo man selling “golden plum look nice taste nice with salt an peppa”; tens of young Mayan men returning from a week’s work at the banana or shrimp farms; Paul Mahung, a reporter for national TV and radio and the man who conducted our wedding ceremony; some local NGO workers; a nurse; some Belize Defense Force soldiers; various other children, young men and women; plus one backpacker who looks like he is losing the will to live as he adjusts his too-long legs that are jammed in to the seat meant for school children.

Inside a Belizean Chicken Bus

The view outside is a panorama of tropical jungle dotted with Mayan villages with the Mayan mountains and setting sun behind them, and the Caribbean sea visible in the distance in the other direction.  I am given a few seconds extra to enjoy and replay the view as the bus reverses for 30 metres in order to pick up a passenger the conductor just noticed running out of a small thatch house as we thundered past.

The view to the Mayan villages from the southern highway to PG

Indeed, they may not be comfortable, or timely, but for customer service, Belizean buses, or at least good old James bus line of southern Belize, excel.  They drop you outside your front door, carry your bags inside, wait for you if you forgot something in your house, and ensure all needy people get a seat: “come now man I know yu tired afta yu di pick banana all week, but yu cyahn expect her to stand with a lee baby deh”.  And they are cheap, especially for a country where petrol is $6USD a gallon, they are for most people, the only affordable way to travel.

Belize bus

My James Bus home to PG

And so, my four hours of daily chicken bus commuting will continue, until someone invents and donates a 60mpg supercar.   All donations welcome.

I will leave you with a link to a rather lovely poem all about James busline of Belize (below the timetable!), and of course the Warasa Garifuna Drum School

www.hickatee.com/belize_bus_times.html

www.warasadrumschool.com

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Belize time – I’ll do it right now….

Since moving to Belize, if I need something done urgently, and someone tells me they’ll do it “right now”, I get an uncanny sinking feeling in my stomach.  In Belize time, “right now” can be roughly translated as meaning “at some indefinite, potentially distant time in the future”.  It certainly doesn’t mean “now”.

The time in Belize is -6 hours GMT.  But “Belize time” is a far more subjective and fuzzy concept.  Work begins on time (unless it is raining, in which case if you don’t have a car, then it is perfectly acceptable at many workplaces to not show up until the rain stops).  Meetings begin 15-30 minutes late.  Parades, weddings and other big events start one or two hours after the “official” start time.

My own wedding had an “official” written start time of 3pm.  So, at 2.55pm, my dad arrived at our house to drive me to the wedding venue.  I was wrapped in a towel, with wet hair, in the middle of sticking on my false nails.  I’d forgotten to tell my dad about Belize time.

While the official start time ticked on by, Ray’s extended family whisked around frantically finalising the wedding arrangements.  Dresses were being sewed, hair braided and beaded, lamb stewed, chicken barbequed, tortillas baked and drum skins tightened.

Belize time

Platting of palm leaf arch…1 hour before “official” start time.

But by 4.30pm, spot on for Belize time, everything was ready, and down the aisle we walked to the beat of drums, shake of shakas, and the sound of Ray’s dad singing.

Walking down the aisle

Organising things here is as different as imaginable from the micro-managed, minute-by-minute “story-boarded” events that I used to be involved in when I worked in London.  But the amazing thing is, it always works out in the end, albeit to Belize time.

I have been a very busy bee recently, and for that reason, my next blog entry will be along right now….

www.warasadrumschool.com

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Better step back cos I might pee on you!

So concludes the sign in front of one of the tapirs at Belize Zoo…

 

Scotty the Tapir

I recommend everyone that comes to Belize visits the Zoo, because it’s great fun, the animals are all in their natural habitat, there is no cement or perspex (so your paws are your own responsibility!), and it’s the only guaranteed way to see a jaguar, toucan, and all the other animals of Belize.

My first physical encounter with animals in Belize was even less pleasant than being peed on by a tapir.  Six days after arrival, two pit bull dogs took objection to me walking down the street, broke off their chains and feasted on my ankles.  I could hardly walk for two weeks, and the scars will never disappear, but while I am now far more wary of unknown dogs, my friendship with the animal kingdom was soon repaired.

Not too long after the dog incident, a fellow volunteer, Jess, came across some children about to throw a kitten down a slide, while a hungry dog waited at the bottom.  Jess yelled at them to stop, scooped up the kitten and brought it home.  Orchid, as we named her, was less than a month old, had a stripe of blue spray paint down her back, and looked generally dishevelled.

Orchid shortly after being saved

But after a few weeks she was a healthy, affectionate fur-ball who liked to sleep on top of my mosquito net.  Most Belizeans do not like cats, and don’t know what a pet cat is like.  One day, a Belizean friend came to the house, and Orchid promptly jumped on his lap and made herself comfortable.  She was tolerated at first, that is, until she started to purr.  Never having heard a cat purr before, the poor guy freaked out, said the cat was going to explode, and threw Orchid off his knee in a mad panic to everyone else’s laughter.

In Punta Gorda, howler monkeys and toucans live just minutes away from our rented house in town.  Once at 4pm, I was leaving work, and I heard howler monkeys nearby.  I took a 30 second walk across the cemetery, and found three howler monkeys at the top of a tree looking down suspiciously at the white girl being eaten by mosquitoes.

The land where we are building our new house has a fig tree in the garden where a group of over 20 parrots like to gossip over an all-you-can-eat fig buffet.  A toucan perches on a nearby tree every day; iguanas chill out on various tree limbs and lizards dance around the grass.  All only a 15 minute walk from the middle of town.  As my father-in-law says, “you got your own zoo back deh for free”.  I just need to work on some Kriol rhymes for it now.

www.warasadrumschool.com

 

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