History of the Garifuna in Belize

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History of the Garifuna in Belize

It's impossible to imagine Belize today without the Garifuna. When these Afro-Caribbean people arrived on November 19th, 1802, they had already seen significant struggle and had a significant impact on the history of the colonial Caribbean. The descendants of the Garifuna were West Africans who found themselves liberated from bondage when the Spanish ship they were held captive in crashed in the West Antilles. They intermarried with the local indigenous Carib population, but Garifuna resistance to British and French slave labor practices led to their exile and a multi-generational exodus that carried them across the Caribbean Sea and finally to the shores of Belize. At this point, the territory that would become Belize was ostensibly ruled by the Spanish, but it was primarily occupied by opportunistic English buccaneers who had developed a lucrative lumber trade predicated on African slave labor.

The contentious land rights over the region combined with the vast stretches of Belize that were then unsettled allowed the Garifuna to establish a community along the coast largely in peace. Stann Creek sat strategically at the mouth of North Stann Creek and right along the Caribbean coast. As the lumber and later mahogany industries served as lucrative pipelines for residents in the region, Stann Creek would eventually become an important port of trade. But for a while, the Garifuna managed to establish lives and communities for themselves, not immune from the racism of the English settlers but at least largely free from the laws of slavery. Garifuna men would often earn their trade with British lumber and mahogany companies, sometimes earning positions of relative influence within them. Others worked as fishermen or worked as specialized artisans. Farming also served an important role in the society along the coast, a role in which women played an especially prominent part.

Garifuna in Belize
Hearing of the peaceful isolation that Stann Creek offered, many members of the Garifuna diaspora began to flock to the Belizean coast. Honduran Garifuna in particular fled en masse to the coast when the war of independence in the country left them as marginalized outcasts. Over time, the Garifuna would begin to spread throughout the country, until Belize became the effective root of culture and seat of power for the Garifuna people. Stann Creek would eventually change its name to Dangriga — a Garifuna word that means "Standing Waters", and they would leave an indelible impact on the culture of the country with the rise of the uniquely Garifuna music genre known as punta rock.

Today, southern Belize is sprinkled with a number of Garifuna communities — and their population is spread all throughout the country. We spend November 19th celebrating Garifuna Settlement Day. It's a reminder of the important impact that the Garifuna have had and a recognition of the complicated struggles that they've endured. The staff and management of Cahal Pech Village Resort wish all Belizeans a happy Garifuna Settlement Day this year and every year to come. As long as there is a Belize, the Garifuna will be a precious part of its heritage.

the Garifuna in Belize

Questions about visiting Belize in November? Contact us at info@cahalpech.com. We’d love to help you plan your Belize vacation.

Posted in AdventuresTagged belize celebrates garifuna settlement day, belize culture, Belize History, Cultural Tours, Garifuna, Garifuna in Belize, Garifuna Settlement day, History of the Garifuna in Belize, Learn about Belize Culture, The Garifuna in Belize

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