Garifuna people


Total population
Regions with significant populations
Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, United States[1]
Garifuna, Spanish, Belizean Kriol, English
Ancestral spirituality: Dügü, generally Roman Catholic with syncretic Garifuna practices (Rastafari, Islam and others Christian denominations)
Related ethnic groups
Island Caribs, Afro-Caribbeans, Afro-Latino

The Garifuna (/ɡəˈrɪfᵿnə/ gə-RIF-uu-nə; pl. Garinagu in Garifuna) are mixed-race descendants of West African, Central African, Island Carib, and Arawak people. The British colonial administration used the term Black Carib and Garifuna to distinguish them from Yellow and Red Carib, the Amerindian population who did not intermarry with Africans. Caribs who had not intermarried with Africans are still living in the islands of the Lesser Antilles. The Island Caribs lived throughout the southern Lesser Antilles, such as present Dominica, St Vincent and Trinidad. Their ancestors are believed to have conquered these areas from their previous inhabitants, the Igneri.

Since April 12, 1731, the Garifuna people have been living in Central America, where they speak the Garifuna language. The Garifuna people mostly live along the Caribbean Coast of Honduras, but there are also smaller populations in Belize, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. There are also many Garinagu in the United States, particularly in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, Houston, Seattle, and other major cities.


The Carib people migrated from the mainland to the islands circa 1200, according to carbon dating of artifacts. They largely displaced, exterminated and assimilated the Taino who were resident on the island at the time.[3]

The French missionary Raymond Breton arrived in the Lesser Antilles in 1635, and lived on Guadeloupe and Dominica until 1653. He took ethnographic and linguistic notes on the native peoples of these islands, including St Vincent, which he visited briefly. According to oral history noted by the English governor William Young in 1795, Carib-speaking people of the Orinoco River area on the mainland came to St. Vincent long before the arrival of Europeans to the New World. They subdued the local inhabitants called Galibeis, and unions took place between the peoples.

According to Young's record, the first Africans arrived in 1675 following the wreck of a slave ship from the Bight of Biafra. The survivors, members of the Mokko people of today's Nigeria (now known as Ibibio), reached the small island of Bequia. The Carib took them to Saint Vincent and intermarried with them, supplying the African men with wives, as it was taboo in their society for men to go unwed.

In 1635 the Carib were overwhelmed by French forces led by the adventurer Pierre Belain d'Esnambuc and his nephew Jacques Dyel du Parquet. They imposed French colonial rule on the indigenous Carib peoples. Cardinal Richelieu of France gave the island to the Saint Christophe Company, in which he was a shareholder. Later the company was reorganized as the Company of the American Islands. The French colonists imposed French Law on the inhabitants, and Jesuit missionaries arrived to convert them to the Roman Catholic Church.[4]

Because the Carib people resisted working as laborers to build and maintain the sugar and cocoa plantations which the French began to develop in the Caribbean, in 1636 King Louis XIII proclaimed La Traité des Noirs. This authorized the capture and purchase of slaves from sub-Saharan Africa and their transportation as labor to Martinique and other parts of the French West Indies.[3]

In 1650, the Company liquidated, selling Martinique to Jacques Dyel du Parquet, who became governor. He held this position until his death in 1658. His widow Mme. du Parquet took over control of the island from France. As more French colonists arrived, they were attracted to the fertile area known as Cabesterre (leeward side). The French had pushed the remaining Carib people to this northeastern coast and the Caravalle Peninsula, but the colonists wanted the additional land. The Jesuits and the Dominicans agreed that whichever order arrived there first, would get all future parishes in that part of the island. The Jesuits came by sea and the Dominicans by land, with the Dominicans' ultimately prevailing.

When the Carib revolted against French rule in 1660, the Governor Charles Houel sieur de Petit Pré retaliated with war against them. Many were killed; those who survived were taken captive and expelled from the island. On Martinique, the French colonists signed a peace treaty with the few remaining Carib. Some Carib had fled to Dominica and St. Vincent, where the French agreed to leave them at peace.

Depiction of the 1773 treaty negotiations between the British and the Black Caribs

Britain and France both made conflicting claims on Saint Vincent from the late seventeenth century onward. French pioneers began informally cultivating plots on the island around 1710. In 1719 the governor of Martinique sent a force to occupy it, but was repulsed by the Carib inhabitants. A British attempt in 1723 was also repelled.[5] In 1748, Britain and France agreed to put aside their claims and declared Saint Vincent to be a neutral island, under no European sovereign.[6] Throughout this period, however, unofficial, mostly French settlement took place on the island, especially on the Leeward side. African refugees continued to reach Saint Vincent, and a mixed-race population developed through unions with the Carib.[3]

In 1763 by the Treaty of Paris, Britain gained rule over Saint Vincent following its defeat of France in the Seven Years' War, fought in both Europe and North America. It also took over all French territory in North America east of the Mississippi River. Through the rest of the century, the Carib-African natives mounted a series of Carib Wars, which were encouraged and supported by the French. By the end of the 18th century, the indigenous population was primarily mixed race. Following the death of their leader Satuye (Joseph Chatoyer), the Carib on St. Vincent finally surrendered to the British in 1796 after the Second Carib War, having resisted for much longer than natives on other islands. "St. Vincent was the last of the Windward Islands to be totally subjugated."[3]

This was also in the period of the violent slave revolts in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, which ultimately led to the slaves gaining the independent republic of Haiti in 1804. The French lost thousands of troops in an attempt to take back the island in 1803, many to yellow fever epidemics. Thousands of whites and free people of color were killed in the revolution. Europeans throughout the Caribbean and in the American South feared future slave revolts.

The British deported the Garifuna to Roatán, an island off the coast of Honduras. Based in part on their experience with slavery in other parts of the Caribbean and North America, the British separated the more African-looking Caribs from the more Amerindian-looking ones. They decided that the former had to be exiled, while the latter were "misled" and allowed to remain. Five thousand Garinagu were exiled but, weakened by captivity, about half or 2,500 survived the voyage to Roatán. Because the island was too small and infertile to support their population, the Garifuna petitioned Spanish authorities to be allowed to settle on the mainland in the Spanish colonies. The Spanish employed them, and they spread along the Caribbean coast of the Central American colonies.

Large-scale sugar production and chattel slavery were not established on Saint Vincent until the British took it over. As Great Britain abolished slavery in 1832, it operated it for roughly a generation on the island, creating a legacy different than on other Caribbean islands.[3] Elsewhere slavery had been institutionalized for much longer.

In the 21st century, the Garifuna population is estimated to be around 600,000 in total, taking together its people in Central America, Yurumein (St. Vincent and The Grenadines), and the United States. As a result of extensive emigration from Central America, the United States has the second-largest population of Garifuna outside Central America. New York has the largest population, dominated by Garifuna from Honduras, Guatemala and Belize. Los Angeles ranks second with Honduran Garifuna being the most populous, followed by those from Belize and Guatemala. There is no information regarding Garifuna from Nicaragua having migrated to either coast of the United States. The Nicaraguan Garifuna population is quite small. Community leaders are attempting to resurrect the Garifuna language and cultural traditions.

By 2014 more Garifuna were leaving Honduras and illegally immigrating to the United States.[7]

Three Diasporas: African, Garifuna, and Central American

The distinction between diaspora and transnational migration is that diaspora implies the dispersal of a people from a homeland, whether voluntarily or through exile, to multiple nation-states. Transnational migration is generally associated with two locations. In addition, in contrast to the more intense contact which contemporary transmigrants have with their country of origin, diasporic populations often have a more tenuous relationship to the "homeland" or society of origin. Historically there was little hope of return; the relationship is more remote, or even imagined.[8] Thus the African diaspora was that of people being taken captive and sold into slavery, and delivered to various parts of the New World. In those early centuries, return was impossible. Slaves from West African peoples formed relationships with the Carib and a new people developed.

The Garifuna people developed through a process of ethnogenesis on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, and were exiled in the colonial period to the Caribbean coasts of Central America. Since the late 20th century, many have emigrated from what are now Honduras, Belize and Guatemala to the United States. For the Garífuna, the politics of diaspora are complex because they have several different homelands and different relationships to them: from the mainly symbolic relationship to Africa and St. Vincent, to the closer relationship to various national homelands of Central America. The specific form of identification by individuals with each homeland has different political implications. Garifuna identity in diaspora is complex, involving local, national, and transnational processes, as well as global ethnic politics.


Main article: Garifuna language

The Garifuna language is an offshoot of the Island Carib language, and it is spoken in Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, and Nicaragua by the Garifuna people. It is an Arawakan language with French, English, and Spanish influences, reflecting their long interaction with various colonial peoples. Garifuna has a vocabulary featuring some terms used by women and others used primarily by men. This may derive from historical Carib practices: in the colonial era, the Carib of both sexes spoke Island Carib. Men additionally used a distinct pidgin based on the unrelated mainland Carib language.

Almost all Garifuna are bilingual or multilingual. They generally speak the official languages of the countries they inhabit, such as Spanish and English, most commonly as a first language. Many also speak Garifuna.

Garifuna is thought to be a creole language of Caliponian and African languages.[9]


Today, the majority of Garifuna are officially Catholic but some that are following other religions. They practice a syncretic Catholicism, incorporating traditional beliefs. A shaman known as a buyei is the head of all Garifuna traditional practices. The religion has some qualities similar to the voodoo rituals performed by other tribes of African descent. Mystical practices and participation in the Dugu orders are also widespread among Garifuna. Some individuals from Sein Bight and Dangriga, Belize have claimed to have seen feats of levitation.

There is also a Rastafarian minority, primarily living in Dangriga, Belize City, Belize, and in Livingston, Guatemala.

There are also Garifuna who practice the religion of Islam.


Garifuna parade on San Isidro Day, in Livingston (Guatemala).

In 2001 UNESCO proclaimed the language, dance, and music of the Garifuna as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Belize. In 2005 the First Garifuna Summit was held in Corn Islands, Nicaragua, with the participation of the government of other Central American countries.[10]


There is a wide variety of Garifuna dishes, including the more commonly known ereba (cassava bread) made from grated cassava root, yucca. The process of making "ereba" is arguably the most important tradition practiced by the Garifuna people. Cassava is so closely tied to the Garifuna culture that the very name Garifuna draws its origin from the Caribs who were originally called "Karifuna" of the cassava clan. They later adopted the name "Garifuna", which literally means cassava-eating people. Making "ereba" is a long and arduous process that involves a large group of Garifuna (mostly women and children) hiking into the jungle to dig up a large quantity of the cassava root (usually several dozen pounds) and taking it back to the village. The root is then washed peeled and grated over small sharp stones affixed to wooden boards. The grating is difficult and time consuming, and the women sing sad and slow songs to break the monotony of the work. The grated cassava is then placed into a large cylindrical woven bag called a "ruguma". The "ruguma" is hung from a tree and weighted at the bottom with heavy rocks in order to squeeze out and remove the poisonous liquid and starch from the grated pulp. The counterweight is sometimes provided by piercing the bottom of the "ruguma" with a tree branch and having one or two Garifuna women sit on the branch. Whatever the manner in which the weight is provided, the result is the same. The cassava is then ready to be made into flour. The remaining pulp is dried overnight and later sieved through flat rounded baskets (hibise) to form flour that is baked into pancakes on a large iron griddle (Comal). Ereba is eaten with fish, hudutu (pounded green and ripe plantains) or alone with gravy (lasusu) often made with a fish soup called "machuca". Other accompanying dishes may include: bundiga (a green banana lasusu), mazapan, and bimecacule (sticky sweet rice), as well as a coconut rice made with red beans.


Main article: Garifuna music
Traditional Garifuna dancers in Dangriga, Belize

Garifuna music is quite different from that of the rest of Central America. The most famous form is punta. In its associated dance style, dancers move their hips in a circular motion. An evolved form of traditional music, still usually played using traditional instruments, punta has seen some modernization and electrification in the 1970s; this is called punta rock. Traditional punta dancing is consciously competitive. Artists like Pen Cayetano helped innovate modern punta rock by adding guitars to the traditional music, and paved the way for later artists like Andy Palacio, Children of the Most High, and Black Coral. Punta was popular across the region, especially in Belize, by the mid-1980s, culminating in the release of Punta Rockers in 1987, a compilation featuring many of the genre's biggest stars. Punta musicians in Central America, the US, and elsewhere made further advances with the introduction of the piano, woodwind, brass and string instruments. Punta-rock has grown since the early 1980s to include other electronic instruments such as the synthesizer and electric bass guitar as well as other percussive instruments.

Punta along with Reggaeton music are predominantly popular and influential among the entire population in Honduras. Often mixed with Spanish, Punta has a widespread audience due to the immigration of Hondurans and Guatemalan to the United States, other parts of Latin America and Europe, notably Spain. Punta bands in Honduras such as Kazzabe, Shabakan, Silver Star, Los Rolands, Banda Blanca, Los Gatos Bravos and Grupo Zambat have appeal for Latin American migrant communities. Honduran Punta has caused Belizean and Guatemalan Punta to use more Spanish due to the commercial success achieved by bands that use it.

When Banda Blanca of Honduras sold over 3 million copies of "Sopa De Caracol" ("Conch Soup"), originally written by Belizean Chico Ramos, the Garifunas of Belize felt cheated but celebrated the success. The genre is continuing to develop a strong following in the United States and South America and the Caribbean.[14]

Belizean punta is distinctive from traditional punta in that songs are usually in Kriol or Garifuna and rarely in Spanish or English. calypso and soca have had some effect on it. Like calypso and soca, Belizean punta provides social commentary and risqué humor, though the initial wave of punta acts eschewed the former. Calypso Rose, Lord Rhaburn and the Cross Culture Band assisted the acceptance of punta by Belizean Kriol people by singing calypso songs about punta - songs such as "Gumagrugu Watah" and "Punta Rock Eena Babylon".[14]

Prominent broadcasters of Punta music include WAVE Radio and Krem Radio.

Other forms of Garifuna music and dance include: hungu-hungu, combination, wanaragua, abaimahani, matamuerte, laremuna wadaguman, gunjai, sambai, charikanari, eremuna egi, paranda, berusu, teremuna ligilisi, arumahani, and Mali-amalihani. However, punta is the most popular dance in Garifuna culture. It is performed around holidays and at parties and other social events. Punta lyrics are usually composed by the women. Chumba and hunguhungu involve circular dancing to a three-beat rhythm, which is often combined with punta. There are other types of songs typical of each gender: women having eremwu eu and abaimajani, rhythmic a cappella songs, and laremuna wadaguman; and men having work songs, chumba, and hunguhungu.

Drums play a very important role in Garifuna music. Primarily two types of drums are used: the primero (tenor drum) and the segunda (bass drum). These drums are typically made of hollowed-out hardwood, such as mahogany or mayflower, with the skins coming from the peccary (wild bush pig), deer, or sheep.

Also used in combination with the drums are the sisera, which are shakers made from the dried fruit of the gourd tree, filled with seeds, and then fitted with hardwood handles.

Paranda music developed soon after the Garifunas' arrival in Central America. The music is instrumental and percussion-based. The music was barely recorded until the 1990s, when Ivan Duran of Stonetree Records began the Paranda Project.

In contemporary Belize there has been a resurgence of Garifuna music, popularized by musicians such as Andy Palacio, Mohobub Flores, and Aurelio Martinez. These musicians have taken many aspects from traditional Garifuna music forms and fused them with more modern sounds. Described as a mixture of punta rock and paranda, this music is exemplified in Andy Palacio's album Watina, and in Umalali: The Garifuna Women's Project, both of which were released on the Belizean record label, Stonetree Records. Canadian musician Danny Michel has also recorded an album, Black Birds Are Dancing Over Me, with a collective of Garifuna musicians.[11]

In the Garifuna culture there is another dance called "dugu", which is included as part of a ritual done following a death in the family so as to pay respect to the departed loved one.

Through traditional dance and music, musicians have come together to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS.[12]

Gender relations

Gender roles within the Garifuna communities are significantly defined by the job opportunities available to everyone. The Garifuna people have relied on farming for a steady income in the past, but much of this land was taken by fruit companies in the 20th century.[13] These companies were welcomed at first because the production helped bring an income to the local communities, but as business declined these large companies sold the land and it has become inhabited by mestizo farmers.[14] Since this time the Garifuna people have been forced to travel and find jobs with foreign companies. The Garifuna people mainly rely on export businesses for steady jobs; however, women are highly discriminated against and are usually unable to get these jobs.[15] Men generally work for foreign-owned companies collecting timber and chicle to be exported, or work as fishermen.[16]

Garifuna people live in a matrilocal society, but the women are forced to rely on men for a steady income in order to support their families, because the few jobs that are available, housework and selling homemade goods, do not create enough of an income to survive on.[17] Although women have power within their homes, they rely heavily on the income of their husbands.

Although men can be away at work for large amounts of time they still believe that there is a strong connection between men and their newborn sons. Garifunas believe that a baby boy and his father have a special bond, and they are attached spiritually.[17] It is important for a son's father to take care of him, which means that he must give up some of his duties in order to spend time with his child.[17] During this time women gain more responsibility and authority within the household.


According to one genetic study the ancestry of the Garinagu people on average, is 76% African, 20% Arawak/Carib and 4% European.[18]


The Garifuna culture is greatly affected by the economic atmosphere surrounding the community. This makes the communities extremely susceptible to outside influence. Many worry that the area will become extremely commercialized since there are few economic opportunities within the area.[19]

Notable Garifuna

  • Theodore Aranda
  • Albert Arzu
  • Aurelio Martinez
  • Nixon R. Arauz Melendez
  • Rosita Baltazar
  • Elijio Beni
  • Roy Cayetano
  • Silas Cayetano
  • William Cacho
  • Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer
  • Teofilo Colon, Jr.
  • Sam Daniels
  • Austin Flores
  • Paul Guerrero
  • Luther Castillo Harry
  • Pablo Lambey
  • Daniel Lino Aka Dline
  • Russel Machiste Garcia
  • Lucia Guity

See also



  1. Post Rust, Susie. "Fishing villages along Central America's coast pulse with the joyous rhythms of this Afro-Caribbean people.". National Geographic. Retrieved 2007-09-21.
  2. "2005 American Community Survey: Race and Hispanic or Latino". U.S. Census Bureau. 2000. Retrieved 2007-10-11.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Sweeney, James L. (2007). "Caribs, Maroons, Jacobins, Brigands, and Sugar Barons: The Last Stand of the Black Caribs on St. Vincent", African Diaspora Archaeology Network, March 2007, retrieved 26 April 2007
  4. "Institutional History of Martinique", Martinique Official site, French Government (translation by Maryanne Dassonville). Retrieved 26 April 2007
  5. Young, Black Charaibs, pp. 12–13.
  6. Young, Black Charaibs, p. 4.
  7. Garsd, Jasmine. "Garifuna: The Young Black Latino Exodus You’ve Never Heard About" (Archive). Fusion. June 4, 2014. Retrieved on September 7, 2015.
  8. Anderson, Mark. "Black Indigenism: The Making of Ethnic Politics and State Multiculturalism", Black and Indigenous: Garifuna Activism and Consumer Culture in Honduras. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009: 136.
  9. Abdul-Perez, Ali. "Race, heritage and identity questions". Caribbean Life. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  10. Sletto, Jacqueline W. "ANCESTRAL TIES THAT BIND." America 43.1 (1991): 20–28. Print.
  11. "World Cafe Next: Danny Michel And The Garifuna Collective". NPR, 15 July 2013.
  12. "The Forgotten: HIV and the Garifuna of Honduras". Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  13. Women and Religion in the African Diaspora: Knowledge, Power, and Performance, page 51, 2006.
  14. Neither Enemies Nor Friends: Latinos, Blacks, Afro-Latinos, page 105, 2005.
  15. Sex Roles and Social Change in Native Lower Central American Societies, page 24, 1982.
  16. Sex Roles and Social Change in Native Lower Central American Societies, page 25, 1982.
  17. 1 2 3 Chernela, Janet M. Symbolic Inaction in Rituals of Gender and Procreation among the Garifuna (Black Caribs) of Honduras Ethos 19.1 (1991): 52–67.
  18. Crawford, M.H. 1997 Biocultural adaptation to disease in the Caribbean: Case study of a migrant population. Journal of Caribbean Studies. Health and Disease in the Caribbean. 12(1): 141–155.
  19. Anderson, Mark. When Afro Becomes (like) Indigenous: Garifuna and Afro-Indigenous Politics in Honduras. Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 12.2 (2007): 384–413.


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