The above video produced by TIDE Tours gives an excellent summary of what Toledo has to offer!
The Toledo district is the southern-most district in Belize. It has only one town – Punta Gorda, known throughout Belize simply as “PG”. PG is on the coast, but scattered throughout the district are over 50 small rural villages.
There are few sandy beaches in Toledo, as it is a natural mangrove area. However a short boat trip can take you to stunning unspoilt cayes, for great snorkelling and diving opportunities. Inland areas boast large areas of unspoilt jungle, kept lush by the nightly rains most of the year.
See and hear all the different ethnic groups and languages of Belize. In Punta Gorda the Garifuna people are largest in numbers. However Maya, East Indian and Creole populations are also part of PG’s cultural melting pot. Most of the villages are either Kekchi or Mopan Maya communities. But there is also one Garifuna village (Barranco), one traditional Mennonite village (Pine Hill) and a small number of East Indian and Creole communities.
NOTICE: I have amended this from the original post, as the issue has been resolved honourably with the Facebook page in question. However I think it is good to leave it up in some form, so that people become more aware of copyright laws and intellectual property rights.
I have previously written about some of the challenges of managing a business in Belize…well let’s just say the struggles continue!
There is of course the expected challenges of others thinking that we are making Big Bucks (oh if only…we barely break even!) and therefore also starting to offer Garifuna drumming lessons and related. I’m sure they will quickly realise it’s not a booming business, but we hold no hard feelings…everyone is simply trying to make a living in a small town with few opportunities.
But today, I became very upset after finding out that one of our designs, which is used in our logo on our business cards, website, tshirts and more, had been taken and used on Tshirts by another organisation and Facebook Page.
Now here are our original designs, that were constructed from a full colour photo of Mario McDonald’s (my father-in-law’s) mahogany primero and segunda drums, that I then converted into black and white, edited in various ways to improve the look, posterised, and added the white outline to make it “pop” more. I.e. it is no longer just a photo. This (for a novice like me at least) was not easy, and very time consuming!
Sadly, the Facebook page in question chose the black and white image of the primero and segunda to use on t-shirts they were printing and selling in celebration of November 19th 2015.
They did not ask, and our business name was taken off the image and mentioned nowhere on the t-shirts or in any of the Facebook posts: we would have gained no exposure or marketing from the t-shirts. At first, they refused to take the images down, seemed to find our concerns amusing, and continued to share the photos of the t-shirts despite our requests to take them down.
This is a page, that up until this time, I had considered supporters of Warasa. They had about a year or more ago, asked if they could share some of our photos on their page if they credited us, and we gave permission. They claimed that they did not know the image belonged to us. Now even if that were true, it is no defense. It is common knowledge that you can’t simply use a design without first checking who it belongs to, and asking permission.
For those that are not aware: Copyright is automatic – you do not have to register it.
In the end, the page in question did the honourable thing and did as we requested from the start, which was to:
Issue a public apology for using our design without permission on their FB page
Remove all photos that include our design/products that use our design
Cease production and distribution/sale of all tshirts and other merchandise that include our design
Advise everyone that already received a tshirt that it is not their design, but is in fact that of Warasa Garifuna Drum School
Quite a few professional photographers also messaged me to tell me their photos had also been used by the page, with their name/watermark on the bottom of it removed and replaced by the page’s own logo/watermark. So it seems indeed they didn’t understand the concept of artistic intellectual property. I think this was a harsh and upsetting lesson for both parties.
For the small number of people who are trying to make this somehow about me not being a born Belizean and/or not being Garifuna, then you have clearly never met me. Garifuna drums and music belong to the Garinagu people. But this particular image of Garifuna drums belongs to Warasa, the same way that PG town belongs to all its residents, but a photo of PG town belongs to the photographer.
The fastest way to the Toledo district is by air on small 12-seater planes with Belizean airlines Tropic Air or Maya Island Air.
You can also arrive on the national James Bus Line, which provides regular and express bus services. Bus services connect PG with Independence, Dangriga, Belmopan and Belize City. Finally, you can arrive in Punta Gorda by water taxi direct from Puerto Barrios or Livingston, Guatemala.
Timetables for all the above are provided below, courtesy to The Toledo Howler newspaper produced by Belize Tourism Industry Association. You can of course also drive if you have access to a vehicle.
Once you are in PG town, you can easily walk or cycle to most places in town, or catch a local taxi. To get to the villages, you can go on a pre-arranged tour, hire a car, or negotiate the network of village buses (schedule below).
Courtesy of The Toledo Howler, BTIA Toledo (http://issuu.com/btia_toledo)
Courtesy of The Toledo Howler, BTIA Toledo (http://issuu.com/btia_toledo)
Garifuna People (Garinagu) descend from shipwrecked Africans who mixed with Carib and Arawak Amerindians on the island of Saint Vincent.
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!
Toledo’s villages are scattered across the district, ranging from 100 to over 1500 people. Most of the villages are either Mopan or Kekchi Maya communities, such as San Antonio and San Pedro Columbia.
Many of the villages are on bumpy dirt roads, but since the highway to Jalacte on the Guatemalan border was paved, access to many of the villages has improved.
The villages retain much of their traditional charm – with thatch houses, clear rivers and creeks where many local families still bathe and do laundry. Around the villages are the fields where the families plant their corn, beans and other staple foods. Many of the families still live a mostly subsistence lifestyle.
In many villages local women and children will come out to try and sell their crafts to visitors. You shouldn’t feel like you have to buy anything, but remember to be polite and respectful. What they are selling are authentic Belizean Maya crafts. At many stores in the towns, they are selling cheaper imported crafts from Guatemala and Mexico, so keep that in mind.
If you see people bathing or doing laundry in the river or just going about their daily lives, don’t take photos without asking first. You wouldn’t want somebody photographing you in the shower without permission!
Mopan and Kekchi Maya are the most common languages after English and Creole in Toledo district. Spanish is not very common. Toledo villages offer an authentic experience for all.
Punta Gorda town is a small coastal town with a population of approximately 6000 people. Founded by Garifuna immigrants in the 1800s, it retains a large Garifuna population,. Today the town also has a large Maya population along with East Indians, Creole, Mennonite, Chinese, Mestizo and more.
With beautiful views across the Bay of Honduras to the hills of Guatemala and Honduras on a clear day, PG makes an excellent base for exploring the district. Whether you arrive by water taxi from Puerto Barrios or Livingston, or by bus, private vehicle or plane from another town in Belize, if you take some time to get to know PG town you will find a friendly and local town to explore.
The main town has 5-6 streets that run parallel to the coast line, linked by numerous cross streets. On Front Street you will find the local Tourist Information office, and locals selling their wares on market days. Most streets have at least one convenience store selling cold drinks, snacks and basic grocery supplies. There are two banks on Main Street with ATMS. There is also a post office, two pharmacies, and numerious small local eateries lining the main streets.
In 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.
Below are some Garifuna items and jewellery pieces made by us from sea glass collected in Belize.
Warasa Garifuna Drum School is a cultural and educational site located in the peaceful coastal town of Punta Gorda, Belize. See hand-carved instruments and family cultural artefacts. Experience all of this under our authentic traditional thatch palapa made from 100% natural and sustainable materials. You are welcome to simply look around while we explain the history of our fascinating culture, or experience an authentic, interactive lessons in traditional Garifuna drumming, dancing, drum-making and more at Warasa Garifuna Drum School.
We offer rich educational experiences to both local and international visitors, and can accommodate school groups of up to 25 students at a time. Learn about the rich history and culture of the Garifuna while learning the different traditional drumbeats and dances that influence music throughout Belize and Central America.
Enjoy our spacious traditional thatch drum school in the heart of the Garifuna community. Surround yourself with lush vegetation, see parakeets flocking and toucans hopping around, hear sounds of howler monkeys nearby.
All of this just a 20 minute walk, 10 minute bike ride or quick taxi ride away.
We share the Garifuna culture with locals and visitors which helps to preserve the culture for generations to come. We welcome guests of all ages and backgrounds. Don’t worry if you’ve never done any kind of drumming before or if you think you can’t dance. We welcome those with no rhythm, two left hands, two left feet, and of course professionals.
Read about us in Lonely Planet, Moon Belize and most other reputable guidebooks. Also check our TripAdvisor reviews, Facebook reviews and Google+ reviews.
Warasa and the Saint Vincent Block lands
We are local family-owned and run, located in the indigenous Garifuna-owned Saint Vincent Block lands by Punta Gorda town. To learn more about the Saint Vincent Block and Garifuna lands in Toledo, you can read an interesting dissertation here.
Below are some Garifuna items and jewellery items made by us from sea glass collected in Belize.
Some visitors to Belize may leave with the illusion that many of its residents are, shall we say, under-worked. Stores that close for two-hour lunch breaks, people lounging around in hammocks in the middle of the day, people that extend even the Belizean definition of “right now” to seemingly endless stretches of time. Belize work culture is different, but that doesn’t mean people don’t work hard. People work around the heat – they get up and start work early. Just as you wouldn’t judge the overall productivity of Spain by observing their lunchtime siesta, or assume they never eat dinner just because none of the restaurants have opened by the time you go to bed at 10pm, take a pause for thought before you judge a country without knowing or understanding the culture and economic realities.
Most Belizeans I know get out of bed at 5am (or earlier!) every day and by 7am they have already been to the market, sold their morning supply of crafts/baked goods/snacks, cooked and/or eaten breakfast, and started making lunch, preparing their next round of wares to sell, or gone to their “proper” job.
My mother-in-law has built her whole house and put 7 children through school almost entirely on the proceeds from cooking and selling conch fritters. But if you catch her around the hottest part of the day, you may indeed find her snoozing in a hammock or sitting at her sister’s house having a chat. When you consider that she’s already been up and working for eight hours, you might think it sounds like a rather good idea.
My mother-in-law, Ms Dami, almost finished cooking the morning batch of conch fritters by the time I drag myself out of bed at 6am
Many families live entirely on informal trade, not documented in the employment figures or any other official reports. When I visit the Maya villages, mothers tell me they want to send a daughter to high school, so they start baking bread on the fire-hearth to sell. That same daughter will have to catch a bus at 4am every school day to get to school for a 7am start, and won’t get home until 5pm. Almost everyone I know, even those with a regular salaried job, has a back-up, as political, seasonal, or other unpredictable firings from such jobs are common. The x-ray technician also makes glass windows. The government driver also cuts grass and fixes lawnmowers and weed-eaters. The road worker also welds burglar bars. The nutrition coordinator also promotes a drum school and writes a riveting blog and the security guard also teaches and plays Garifuna drums to locals and tourists.
Our house with windows made by the local X-Ray technician, and burglar bars made by a local road construction worker.
Office jobs, or indeed any job where you get to work inside all or most of the day, are considered a pretty sweet deal. Compared to working in a sugar cane, banana, orange or shrimp farm, or doing construction work or security work for $15USD a day, it certainly is. Living costs in Belize are high. My utility bills here are triple what they were living in London, food is also more expensive, and unlike back in Scotland, there is none of the security of free quality health care, free primary and secondary education or unemployment benefit. Instead, people have their families.
The young woman who found a day job saved up money to finish her high school education at evening classes. Now she has graduated high school, she is using whatever money she can spare to put her younger sister through university. Older brothers quit high school before graduating so that they can work and save money to make sure their younger sisters graduate high school. Mothers put food on the table by getting up at 5am every day to make snacks to sell by walking or cycling around in the hot sun all day. Fathers get up at 5am to go work on the construction site in the blazing sun till 5pm. Children are sent out after school to sell bread and buns to help make ends meet. Mayan farmers work the land around their village to grow enough corn and beans to feed their families.
Life in Belize is tenuous. You never know when you or a family member will get sick or have an accident, and if they do, how you will pay for treatment. Almost every week there is a radio appeal for donations to help the family get treatment for the mother who has been diagnosed with cancer or the family whose uninsured house burnt down, or for the family who want corrective surgery or a wheelchair for a disabled child.
This week’s appeal for help
Like any country, there are those who don’t pull their weight. And since the weather is good, there is a good chance you will see them as they hang about outside, instead of in cooler countries where they might be hidden inside their house, bar or gambling shop. But next time you see the mother relaxing in her chair at 2pm, or the shop owner reopening 15 minutes later than advertised, or the office worker seemingly doing nothing, count how many hours it is since 5am, ask yourself how many children or younger siblings or nieces or nephews they may be supporting, consider how low their income is, wonder how many other jobs they may have, and re-evaluate.
So bear with your drum school instructor and promoter as we juggle our day jobs and our budding business – if we don’t get back to your message right away, be patient, or give us a call.
Things have moved on…I have graduated from daily chicken bus runs to the Belizean “Banana Belt” to monthly muddy walks to Machakilha Mayan village, and our drum school has been promoted from a small, cluttered spare bedroom in a rented house to a beautiful thatch palapa behind our very own house that we designed and built ourselves on the edge of Punta Gorda town.
Yes, there is a lot to catch up on.
But in some ways, my life has not changed THAT much from when I was 7 years old, and my dad would take my brother and I for weekly walks in the Scottish hills. In between grumbling, I would unfailingly manage to fall into a bog (a muddy trench that is usually cunningly camouflaged by heather or other foliage).
(Me, looking surprisingly cheerful after falling over during a walk up a Scottish mountain)
Now, my muddy walks are only once a month, and (due to pride) I don’t grumble, but still regularly manage to almost lose a boot/shoe by misjudging the nature of a particular patch of mud and sinking in knee deep (whereupon all feelings of pride have to be thrown away as my colleagues have to pull me out).
The Rural Health Nurse Elbia and the Caretaker Juan Ishim walking through a flooded creek on our journey to Machakilha
Machakilha is a Kekchi Maya village which you can only reach by driving for 90 minutes down a very bumpy dirt road to Dolores village, and then walking for two hours through the mud and jungle. Once you get there, you are greeted by friendly families and children, and if you are lucky you are invited into a local home for some fresh chicken caldo (spicy soup) with freshly baked corn tortilla.
Arriving in Machakilha (population approx 90)
Then, it’s time for work. The Rural Health Nurse and Caretaker weigh and measure children under 5 years, provide immunizations, de-worming medication and vitamins, and I coordinate a child nutrition project. Which on this particular visit meant cooking fortified corn flour over a fire hearth while the local women and children giggled at me as I struggled with the smoke going in my eyes while trying to explain the importance of good nutrition.
For some reason, despite clearly not being a born-Belizean, I get on well in the villages. Maybe because I’m naturally quiet and unassuming, and am quite happy just sitting in a corner watching and listening, who knows. But instead of being asked the usual rather yawn-worthy questions revolving around where I’m from, the local women often spontaneously divulge things to me. One young mother sat outside the community centre with me while I let my smoky eyes recover and told me, out of nowhere, that she has one baby. “I only want one” she confides in me with a little smile. Considering many Maya women have four or more, quite a daring statement.
Young teenage girls in Machakilha
A new Community Health Worker in another village tells me “that was the first time I slept outside my village” after attending her first training session in Punta Gorda town. In two weeks her horizons will be broadened further as she will spend two nights in Belmopan, the capital city, to meet the new Peace Corp volunteer she will be working with.
I try to prove myself to the male Community Health Workers and Rural Health Nurse with my ability to walk for ten miles in mud. “I’m from Scotland. I know about mud” I joke. And indeed, the mud is no challenge. Muddy walks in Scotland, however, do NOT prepare you for 30 degree heat, with the occasional smouldering bush fire to walk through to add to the temperature scale.
Bush fires on the way back from Machakilha at the end of dry season
So I left my former student-teachers in the Banana Belt, but am happy to say most of them are now fully trained primary school teachers, and one young teacher, Ashley Torres, just played for the Belize national football team in the CONCACAF Cup in the USA.
With 4 of my star students at their graduation dinner in Independence, the Banana Belt
I’ve switched them for Rural Health Nurses, Community Health Workers, Health Educators, and Maya families working against the odds to secure a healthy future for their children.
And I come home to a new home, surrounded by hummingbirds, butterflies, parakeets, a naughty dog, and beautiful thatch with the sounds of drums coming from underneath….but more about that next time.
The next of my muddy walks will be to Graham Creek – another remote village. I’ve done that walk before, but only in dry (i.e. non-muddy) season. I promise to report back on any loss of footwear and/or erosion of pride.