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Cultural Traces Around the World

The Melodic Hearts and Spirit of the Garifuna People

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Today we are delighted to share the rich and vibrant culture of the Garifuna. The community has traditionally been a matrilineal society, where women make decisions and safeguard the members. These lively people are of West African and Amerindian descent, with many living along the Caribbean coast of Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. To quote the late Andy Palacio, also known as the “Bard of the Garifuna”: “For the Garifuna, music and dance are inextricably linked with survival. Music accompanies us every day, whether we’re at work or play. It is the breath that keeps us alive collectively. At its highest level, it’s an expression of our spirituality.” Traditional Garifuna music is known for strong use of percussive instruments and distinctive drumming, which combines the beats of the primero (tenor) and segunda (bass) drums.

Dance is another integral component of Garifuna culture. The most popular genre of dance is punta. Punta is also a type of song which is usually composed by women. The dance is a symbolic reenactment of courtship between a rooster and hen. It involves the constant shaking of the hips and movement of the legs and feet. This dance is performed at social gatherings and during points of the beluria, a gathering with many rituals that takes place nine days after someone has passed on. In Belize, the punta is danced annually every November 19 during the Garifuna Settlement Day, a public holiday that celebrates the Garifuna’s arrival to the nation in 1802.

Music and dance also play a role in Garifuna religion, called Gobedah. Wanayran Alvarez Angerer, director of the nonprofit Moving Cultures, has described the religion as being multilayered. Garifuna spirituality involves praying and being connected to one’s ancestors. Certain rituals are performed that help join the community with the greater energy. The second layer includes Amerindian traditions. The third component comprises of religious teachings such as those of the Catholic Church.

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