Few years ago, I got introduced to the tumultuous history and the vibrant culture of the Garifuna people during my visit to Livingston, Guatemala. Ever since then, I wanted to get back and spend more time with the Garifuna people. Every year on November 19th, Belize celebrates the Garifuna settlement day with fierce pride. Dangriga, a small coastal town in Belize, is the heart and soul of the celebrations, bringing together local communities over shared history and traditions as well as music and dance.
I landed in Belize city on 17th November and headed straight to Dangriga. The small coastal town gets extremely busy during that week – mostly with local communities coming to the town, and a handful of tourists. The few guest houses that were there were all sold out during the celebrations. Fortunately, after a bit of asking around, and a little help from the locals, I managed to find a room in one of the long term rental apartments. I got a little lucky as it was right next to where most of the celebrations take place. If you are planning to visit, make sure you book your accommodation in advance!
The weekend leading up to the celebrations has a festive feel to it. The locals are out partying and dancing, playing music, taking part in traditional drumming sessions. Unfortunately, the weekend I was there saw a lot of heavy rain, so a lot of the weekend celebrations were low key.
On the 19th, the main draw is the re-enactment of the arrival of the Garifuna people in the Carribean. If you are staying close to the center of Dangriga, the general hustle and bustle during early morning is sure to wake you up. Right after sunrise, few of the locals arrived from the sea to the town in small dinghies – dressed up in colorful traditional costumes, the pulsating beats of folk music reverberating in the stillness of the morning. Rest of the town waited patiently by the riverside, as if they were on the edge of their seats waiting for their favorite prime time show. The dinghies circled around for a good hour or so before everyone disembarked. Music never stopped.
The crowd joined the main actors and formed a huge procession, which then proceeded to the church. The drizzle didn’t dampen the spirits. A huge crowd had already gathered at the church to welcome the procession, and to partake in this special mass. There was local media, special guests, musicians and a proud community. If you are fascinated by the Garifuna culture and wanting to learn more, there is no better day than this to get close with the people and be a parto of their celebration.