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Garifuna [archive]

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: The Garifuna are descendents of escaped African slaves, Arawak Indians, and Caribs. Their culture is a unique blend of these influences; they are neither Latino or Indian. There are approximately 500,000 Garifuna living in Belize, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Caribbean Islands. Honduras has the highest population of Garifuna, an estimated 100,000. In Belize, approximately 7% are Garifuna and live in villages along the southern coast. They have become an essential part of the culture and economy of Belize. There are less that 4,000 Garifuna living in Livingston, Guatemala. Nicaragua has a mixed heritage of Carib, African and Indian descent. Mestizo is mainly Garifuna (Garifuna World, 1997). Because of a rising cost of living in Honduras, Garifuna people are emigrating in search of work. There are an estimated 90-100,000 Garifuna in the United States (Stanford 2000).


: Garifuna, or Garinagu, is derived from Arawak and Carib languages. Speaking a common language has helped to maintain an ethnic unity among the Garifuna. Most Garifuna also speak Spanish and English, as they are the official languages of the countries they live in. The Garifuna language is becoming endangered as more young people speak national languages.


: Garifuna is derived from the Carib word karifuna, meaning "of the Cassava Clan." The Garifuna are well-known for their cassava bread, ereba, which women prepare with a flour made from the yucca root. Women also process cassava into wine and starch (Stanford 2000). Other popular foods include rice, fish, bananas, plantains, beans, coconut milk, and falmoa, a dish made with boiled vegetables, tubers, fish and coconut milk. Coffee, bush tea with sugar, cakes, puddings and tableta, a dessert made of coconut, ginger, and brown sugar, complete their meal (Gall, 1998).


: Traditional Garifuna houses are constructed of wood and wattle-and-daub with thatched roofs of palm, but today more homes are built of wood and concrete (Stanford 2000).


: In the Garifuna language, kinship terminology is generational. However, the lineal system is becoming more popular. Affluent people are more inclined to value the nuclear family and monogamy. (Gonzalez and Levinson 1998). They are a matriarchal and matrifocal society. Mothers and grandmothers are the head of the family and they are in charge of educating the children (Stanford 2000). The young male is raised permissively until manhood, when he is expected to leave his mother's house, work and support his own family. Girls are expected to work at an early age and to learn from their mother, grandmother, and aunts.


: Garifuna people in Central America find employment in fishing, subsistence farming, on fruit plantations, or for the U.S. merchant Marines. Some people make their living by selling crafted items such as baskets, drums, hats, wood furniture and canoes. Garifuna in Belize are well-educated; thus they are employed on every level of the education system as well as in public service, the medical field, and the arts. They also produce handicrafts and perform for the ecotourism industry in Belize (Hennessy 2003).

Many Garifuna in Honduras are employed on banana plantations. These plantations are known for heavy application of pesticides, which are applied through aerial fumigation or by workers with backpack sprayers. There is international concern about potential health effects of such heavy exposure to pesticides because there are few health and safety protocols in place to protect plantation workers (Stanford 2000).

Garifuna men often have to migrate to find work. Many women supplement their income by working at factories or banana plantations, performing odd jobs, selling food at the market, starting a business, or taking up a profession (Stanford 2000). Many of the women have come to the United States have worked as textile workers and housemaids. After working abroad, many retirees live in Honduras. (Garifuna World, 1997). The influences of money and ideas from abroad have begun to affect the villages. More people have electricity and appliances. In Honduras and Belize, the Garinagu have "become a visible and politically aware minority and have achieved high governmental positions, and many are teachers" (Garifuna -World, 1997).


: The Garifuna practice their traditional religion, a combination of Catholicism and African and Indian beliefs (Maya Paradise 2001). Traditional rituals, dances, drumming, and trances are still commonly used today. Ritual has reinforced the cultural unity and spiritual beliefs of the Garinagu because they bring the entire village together. (Garinagu Life in Central America, Garifuna World). The Garifuna have been falsely labeled as devil-worshipers by other ethnic groups in their region due to tensions rooted in colonial history (Berger and Leland 2000).


: The people of Belize celebrate the anniversary of the Garifuna settlers' arrival on November 19,1823 with the Dangriga, a ritual re-enactment. People come in canoes loaded with drums, utensils, cassava and banana saplings, as their ancestors did 167 years ago. Dances are a common form of expression in the Garifuna culture. The Paranda is a slow dance by women who shuffle in a circle accompanied with hand movements. Abaimahari is performed at the Dubu where women form a long line and link their little fingers and sing. Punta is a dance competition done by couples, which includes flirtatious movements. A new genre of "punta rock" is popular in Belize and along with the cungo a dance influenced by the West Indian reggae (Garifuna History, Language and Culture, 1998). In the United States the Walagante Dance group in Los Angeles perform many traditional dances of the Garifuna.


: Women seldom wear their traditional clothes with shell trim, but instead wear brightly colored skirts with matching kerchiefs over their hair. The young people wear jeans, T-shirts, baseball caps and tight skirts (Garinagu Life, 1997). However, the Garifunian people are proud to keep their traditions and to be ecologically sound in their practices.


Berger, Andrea E. and Kathy L. Leland
2000 The Garifuna Journey: Perspectives on a Cultural Survival Special Project. Cultural Survival Quarterly, 24.3.

Gall, Timothy L.(Ed.)
1998, Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life, Americas (Vol. 2, pp. 187-190). Eastwood Publications: Cleveland, Ohio.

Garifuna World
1997 Garinagu Recent History. Electronic document, Former Link, (2009) accessed January 31, 2001.

Garinagu Life in Central America. Electronic document, Former Link, (2009) accessed January 31, 2001.

Additional Reading

 Garifuna Language
 Garifuna Words
 Belize Indians

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