Cayman Belizeans celebrate Garifuna Settlement Day

The melting pot of rich cultures that exist within Belize was brought to life in Prospect last Saturday, 23 Nov.

Belizeans who have adopted the Cayman Islands as their home came together in prayer as well as enjoyed lively festivities to celebrate their native holiday, Garifuna Settlement Day.

An annual celebration is held in Belize on 19 Nov., and is a public and bank holiday. This day signals the arrival of the Garifuna (also known as Garinagu) to the southern shores of Belize almost four centuries ago.

Celebrating the day at the Cayman home of Belizean Fabian Sambula, that country’s natives and their friends enjoyed a night of delicious ethnic foods, Punta music, artifact displays, historic presentations and re-enactments of the long-ago arrival of the Garifuna.

They chanted, danced and played the maracas and the drums while dancing to Garifuna music.

“The drums are the heart of the Garinagu and what brings them together,” said Ina Augustine, a retired schoolteacher.

Migrating to Cayman in the 1960s, Augustine said the Garinagu people have been a vibrant and popular part of Caymanian culture and traditions for many years.

Augustine grew up in Belize but moved to Cayman 44 years ago with her late husband, Melvin Augustine, a popular musician here who eventually went on to form the band ‘Settlers’. He blended Garifuna rhythms with the Cayman quadrille to produce his own songs, which became hits in Cayman dance halls.

“I love celebrating my culture and ancestry,” she said. Dressed in traditional Belizean wear, Augustine demonstrated the beating and turning of ‘hudut’ (green and ripe plantain), a traditional Garifuna ‘Ital’ food. Most of the Garifuna meals are based around chicken, fish, and ground foods including cassava and cassava bread, she said.

Hudut is boiled, then beaten with a stick in a mortar and the smoothed mashed plantains served with a fish and coconut stew seasoned with onions and peppers. This traditional dish is important to the Garifuna because it represents their love for the sea and living on the coast.

“We are very musical and love to dance and sing … anything for a celebration,” Augustine said. “Garifuna people are very festive and joyful, they are not boring at all. We are trying to keep the culture and pass it on to our children,” she added.

Laura Young, one of the organisers who shares Belizean and Caymanian heritage, said she embraced this new cultural experience without hesitation, recognising the Garifuna way of life, food, drums music, dancing and beliefs. “It was an evolving and memorable experience for me,” Young said.

While Garifuna are known as skilled crafters and talented painters, their biggest contribution to Belize has been their music, featuring the infectious sounds of traditional drums which get people moving to the beat, especially during the popular ‘Punta’ dance. This is a mimetic cock-and-hen mating dance featuring rapid movement of the buttocks, hips, and feet, while the upper torso remains motionless.

Garifuna people are also well-known for their storytelling.

The melodies bring together African and Amerindian elements and the texts tell the history and traditional knowledge of the Garifuna, such as cassava-growing, fishing, canoe-building and the construction of baked mud houses.