Garifuna History, Culture, and Language in Belize

The Garifuna form just four percent of Belize’s population, but their contributions of food, history, language, music, and dance have greatly enriched the entire country.

The Garifuna’s story begins in 1635 when a ship carrying enslaved Africans sank off the coast of the island of St. Vincent in the Caribbean. The survivors were welcomed by the local indigenous population and soon intermarried to form the culture now known as the Garifuna. For over 100 years, the Garifuna lived free and proud, the only forced migrants from Africa to the New World that never suffered the yoke of slavery.

But by 1773, their presence threatened European colonial powers. After a series of clashes with British and French forces, the Garifuna fled westward to the island of Roatan in what is now Honduras and later to the shores of Belize. Their dramatic arrival by dugout canoes on the beaches of Belize in 1802 is now celebrated every year with the national holiday of Garifuna Settlement Day on November 19. All across the country, black and yellow Garifuna flags are flown and festivals are held with lots of lively Garifuna music and drumming.

In 2001, the United Nations recognized the Garifuna for their unique contributions to the intangible heritage of humanity. The Garifuna are known for their traditional foods such as cassava bread and hudut (a fish stew made with coconuts and plantains) as well as their iconic drumming in which three different drums are played that serve as the “voice of the ancestors” to tell tales of love, loss, joy, and triumphs.

And every year in Punta Gorda in southern Belize, the Battle of the Drums festival pits some of the finest Garifuna drum troupes against one another for the top prize. With drum sessions lasting throughout the night, the Battle of the Drums festival is one of the best places to hear this traditional Afro-Caribbean musical tradition at its finest.

Today, the Garifuna can be found living in communities across southern Belize including the village of Hopkins and the towns of Dangriga and Punta Gorda. The Garifuna keep their traditions alive with workshops and exhibitions.

If you’d like to learn more about Garifuna history, music, and food, be sure to book a Garifuna cultural tour with Barefoot Rentals and Services.

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