Garifuna Settlement Day, A Very Special National Holiday, In San Pedro, Belize

November 19th is a National Holiday in Belize – one that celebrates a beautiful culture that is unique in so many ways.  Garifuna Settlement Day.  The celebrated day when the Garifuna people traveled to the shores of Belize and Honduras (celebrated April 12) and Guatemala (November 26th) with provisional plants like cassava and plantain.  And made this area their home.

The Garifuna people have not only the best music in Belize but their own language, food and culture.  Watch this amazing video for a really great description of their history and their language.

The video says this – The Garifuna language is believed to be “45% Arawak, 25% Carib, 15% French, 10% English, 5% Spanish and spoken with an African dialect”.  Tell me that isn’t the most interesting thing you’ve heard all day.

The Garifuna now make up about 7% of the population of Belize.  And reside predominantly in the South of Belize in Garifuna villages like Seine Bight, Hopkins, Barranco and larger towns like Punta Gorda and Dangriga.

Look at this lovely woman who, with her family (see her grandson mashing green plantain behind her), made me lunch in Dangriga.  She was the first person that I’ve ever heard speaking Garifuna.


Last year I experience the holiday in Punta Gorda and it was magical.  Seriously.  I mean…look at this recreation of the landing at dawn.


This year, I am in San Pedro and the weather is MUCH worse.  A Ccccccc-cold front is here and it is chilly and raining.  But I headed down to Central Park, with a quick stop for some HOT coffee, to see what was happening.  The Garifuna population here is small…but there was still an all night party in the park that was scheduled to end with the landing re-enactment and the procession to the Catholic Church for a blessing.

I arrived just before dawn and there was a bit of dancing going on…

IMG_4569And the flag was flying.


I walked out to the municipal pier and a huge barge of styrofoam was parked out there.  That’s not very traditional!


Overcast so a bit hard to tell, I think the sun was coming up.  This guy had partied a bit too hard.  He pulled up a coconut husk to take a quick nap…



Finally it was time to bring up the boat for the re-enactment.  Since it had rained HARD last night, all the props had been moved to the Lions’ Den and we were…behind schedule.


Of course the music was PUMPING.


If you have never heard the late, great Andy Palacio’s “Watina”, please listen IMMEDIATELY.  It gives me chills each time I hear it.

Back to San Pedro – the boat the “Garifuna Destiny” was being set up.

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And then, just as we were about to start?  The rain came down.  Hard.


And the boat was abandoned and a service held under the palapa.  In both Garifuna and English.IMG_4600

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A bit of dancing and then to the Church for the welcome and blessing…


Proud Garifuna woman in her beautiful costume.


The ceremony was small (but then so, relatively, is the Garifuna population of San Pedro).   I’m glad I went.  The music alone has me in love with the Garifuna culture.

And I’m so glad even this small group came out to celebrate this important holiday.  Happy Garifuna Settlement Day everyone!

If you are interested, you can check out my visit to some of the oldest Garifuna villages along the Honduran coast a few years ago – Tela, Omoa down to La Ceiba.


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