On November 19th Belize will celebrate one of the more interesting and colourful people who make up the harmonious Belizean culture, the Garifuna or Carib Africans. The Garifuna people came to Belize in 1635 when a boat carrying slaves to the West Indies shipwrecked near St. Vincent Island. The slaves escaped and were sheltered by the Carib Indians residing on St. Vincent. The intermarriage of the two groups created the Garifuna people. Today, the Garifuna or Garinagu as they are properly called, represent about 8% of the population in Belize.
Garifuna Settlement Day is a national holiday for Belizeans, founded in 1941 by Thomas Vincent Ramos, a human rights activist, and was eventually established as a public and bank holiday in 1943.
Garifuna Settlement Day illustrates the devotion of the Garifuna people to keep their culture alive with its many vibrant traditions, language, foods and music. On Settlement Day, reenactments of the landing of the first boats of the Garifuna in Belize are performed in town celebrations throughout Belize, but most prominently in Dangriga, a hub of Garifuna life.
Traditional food such as Hudut, Cassava Bread and Dacasa are sold. Drummers and performers dance to traditional Garifuna dances such as Punta Rock, which is a modern musical interpretation of a Garifuna cultural dance. The Punta dance is Belize’s most popular dance, where the Garifuna women often wear long dresses sewn from checkered material along with colored headpieces.
The Garifuna people proudly fly their flag everywhere during Garifuna Settlement Day with the colours of the flag representing the sun-yellow, peace-white, and the colour of the Garifuna people-black.
The colourful flags are sure to be showcased during the celebration span from September to November. A church service will open the events in late September. Highlights during this month long celebration include Culture Fest, nightly house to house dancing, and Countrywide Garifuna Awareness Day, all leading up to the November 19th holiday.
Although Garifuna Settlement Day is a deep seeded, religious and cultural tradition for the Garifuna people, their celebrations welcome participation from all the wonderfully diverse ethnic groups that comprise the unique culture of Belize.
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