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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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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Below are some Garifuna items and jewellery pieces made by us from sea glass collected in Belize.