Garifuna Cooking Lesson in Hopkins, Belize

As the desire for more immersive cultural travel experiences increases, travelers often ask what some of the best cultural events are in Belize.

One of the most interesting holidays in Belize is Garifuna Settlement Day (November 19). You’ll typically find a series of events taking place in the days leading up to the 19th, with the bulk of the activity taking place the morning of the 19th itself.

Unfamiliar with the Garifuna culture? The Garifuna, or Garinagu in Garifuna, are mixed African, Carib Indian and Arawak Indian people deemed enemies of the British during a series of Carib Wars in the 1700’s. They were exiled to Roatan from St. Vincent. After deeming the area uninhabitable at the time, they made their way to the mainland, eventually settling along the Central American coastline.

Belize is home a number of Garifuna villages and communities, including Hopkins, Dangriga, and Punta Gorda.

The Garifuna culture is even recognized by UNESCO. In 2001, UNESCO proclaimed the language, dance, and the music of the Garifuna as a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Belize.

Here’s a look at the several of the events that take place in Belize in conjunction with Garifuna Settlement Day.

Battle of the Drums

The Saturday before Garifuna Settlement Day, head to Punta Gorda for the annual Battle of the DrumsVillages from all over Belize, along with several international teams, come together to show off their skill in various types of Garifuna drumming. People come to watch from all over Belize, and you’re likely to find the few hotels in the area are booked, so plan ahead!

Punta Concerts and Parties

On the eve of Garifuna Settlement Day, some villages and towns will throw parties or host a concert by a Garifuna musician. Look for the parties to go all night in some cases, and party-goers to head out to the reenactment ceremony from there.

Garifuna Reenactment Ceremonies

Early on the morning of the 19th, you’ll find Dangriga is the place to be. As the center of Garifuna culture, Dangriga hosts an elaborate celebration and reenactment ceremony, paying homage to the arrival of the original Garifuna settlers.

As the reenactment can start as the sun is just coming up, it’s worth either getting up extra early or partying all night. After the “arrival,” there is a lot of singing and drumming — even if you aren’t familiar with the music, it’s easy to get swept up in the drumming and melody.

Other villages and towns also host reenactment ceremonies, like Hopkins and Punta Gorda. San Pedro often has events and activities scheduled for Garifuna Settlement Day as well.

One of the reasons I recommend travelers to experience Garifuna Settlement Day at least once is its cultural significance and importance. This is not a holiday for show or a tourist-themed reenactment. It’s a sacred part of the local Garifuna culture, making it one of the most “authentic” cultural experiences you’ll find in Belize.

About The Author

Ottmar is a Spanish and English writer who grew up in both Belize and Mexico.

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