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Belize Independence Day: Exploring the History and Culture of the Garifuna Tribe, the Descendants of Shipwrecked Ibibio and Carib-Awarak People

Sep 20, 2021 10:00AM ● By Oga Africa
Garifuna dancers in colorful attire and drummers in background

(Garifuna dancers performing. Image by Maisa_nyc via Flickr )

Happy Independence Day, Belize! The South American country, which gained independence on September 21st, 1973, is home to a variety of ethnicities and cultures and is seen as the Caribbean because of its creolized culture. We are celebrating the country by exploring the history and culture of the Garifuna, Garinago, or Black Carib tribe.

This country gained independence from the British and was known as “British Honduras” during colonization. Belize currently has the highest concentration of Garifuna people.

The Garifuna are descendants of captured Africans from the Mokko tribe of Nigeria, which is now known as the Ibibio tribe. Some were from other parts of West and Central Africa. In 1675, the captives became shipwrecked at sea, and some were able to swim to an island known as Bequia, in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. This population was led to St. Vincent, where they mixed with the Carib-Awarak people and intermarried with them. These mixed people became known as the Garifunas or Garinago.

When the British took control of St. Vincent and the Grenadines as a result of the Treaty of Paris in 1672, the Carib-Awaraks and Garifunas fought bravely against colonization. Chief Joseph Chatoyer or Satuyer, a Garifuna chief, was the known leader of the First and Second Carib War, which was fought against British colonization, and lasted from 1769 to 1797.

(A depiction of Chief Joseph Chatoyer and his five wives. Image by Bnmanioc via Wikimedia Commons)

The Garifunas surrendered in 1797, and the British exiled 5,000 Garifunas to an uninhabited island near Honduras, Roatan. Half of them survived the relocation. Some relocated to Honduras. Others stayed in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, or were exiled or moved to other parts of South America, like Belize, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.

Garifunas faced persecution in Honduras, and in 1937, under the regime of dictator Tiburcio Carias, 22 Garifunas were forced to dig their own graves and then executed. In response, the Garifunas in Honduras fled to Belize. In 2019, the Britannica Encyclopedia reported that 5.8% of the Belizean population identified as Garifuna. Dangriga, Belize, is deemed the capital of the Garifunas because of the high population of Garifunas in the town.

 (Woman plays drums in a Garifuna orchestra. Image by US Embassy of Guatemala via Flickr)

Garifunas traditionally have cuisines that are based on fish, cassava, plantains, bananas, and chicken. One of the Garifuna dishes includes Hudut, a fufu-like dish made of mashed green plantain and coconut soup with fish.

Garifunas have their own language, which is of the same name as the tribe and is a mixture of Arawak, French, English, and Spanish. They have maintained many cultural Africanisms, which can be evidenced through their music styles, which include drumming, griot-style storytelling, and dance.

Have you ever had a Garifuna or Belizean dish? Comment below!

Works Cited