Every November 19, the entire nation of Belize celebrates Garifuna Settlement Day. This holiday commemorates the arrival of the Garifuna – an Afro-Caribbean people – to the shores of Belize more than 200 years ago. A blend of African and indigenous Caribbean cultures, the Garifuna were honored by the United Nations in 2001 for their unique contributions to the intangible heritage of humanity.
As dawn breaks on Garifuna Settlement Day, towns and villages along the coast re-enact the dramatic arrival of the Garifuna in handmade dugout canoes. This is followed by enthusiastic and joyful drumming, dancing, and street parades. The signature black, white, and yellow Garifuna flags are hoisted, and everywhere, the people of Belize feast on traditional Garifuna foods such as cassava bread, serre (fish boiled in coconut milk), and conch soup.
The town of Dangriga in the southeast of Belize is the epicenter of the festivities on Garifuna Settlement Day. As the largest town in Belize with a predominately Garifuna population, Dangriga is also the birthplace to the country’s indigenous punta and punta rock musical genres. Other significant places in Belize with large populations of Garifuna include the villages of Seine Bight on the Placencia Peninsula and Hopkins Village just down the coast from Dangriga.
Dangriga is also home to the Gulisu Garifuna Museum which celebrates their culture and history. There is also a large statue of traditional Garifuna drums in the center of town. In Garifuna culture, drums are much more than just musical instruments. They are considered the voices of the ancestors, each drum “speaking” and telling traditional stories of love, family, and traditional beliefs. Dangriga is also home to the Pen Cayetano Museum, named for the country’s greatest living artist, a master of both Garifuna music as well as the visual arts.
Although the Garifuna constitute just 4% of Belize’s population, Garifuna Settlement Day is a popular holiday nationwide. Falling during the beginning of the dry season and a return to clear blue skies and delightfully warm days, Garifuna Settlement Day is the perfect time to get outdoors, enjoy fabulous music and food, and enjoy the fabulous weather.
Garifuna Settlement Day is officially commemorated on November 19, but the entire week is used to celebrate Garifuna culture, dance, and music, making it a great time to visit Belize.
If you’d like to experience all the fun of Garifuna Settlement Day and other activities in November, Caves Branch Lodge is currently offering amazing travel deals on Belize all-inclusive vacation packages.