Garifuna Settlement Day, an annual event eagerly awaited by many people in Belize and the Caribbean, is gaining popularity with travellers the world over who are looking for unique, enthusiastic cultural experiences, and a new tour package offered by The Lodge at Chaa Creek is making early bookings for the November 19 event essential, the Belizean eco-resort reports.
“Garifuna Settlement Day is one of those unique celebrations that many people find fascinating and seasoned travellers in particular go out of their way to experience,” Chaa Creek’s general manager Bryony Fleming Bradley explained.
“The Garifuna are such a dynamic, rich culture with a such a fascinating history, language, music and cuisine that we invariably hear our guests say, ‘Why haven’t I heard of them before?’
“Now, with our Cultural Grand Tour, visitors not only get to experience the people, culture, cuisine and vibrant music first-hand; they can participate in Garifuna Settlement Day celebrations in a traditional seacoast village while enjoying a luxurious vacation,” Ms Bradley said, adding, “It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences people talk about forever.”
Ms Bradley said that by taking Chaa Creek’s Cultural Grand Tour, visitors get a rare insight into Garifuna culture, as well as the other ethnic groups that make up Belize’s harmonious multicultural society.
The Garifuna are descendants of the survivors of African slaves who swam ashore to the Caribbean Island of St Vincent’s after the slave ship carrying them was wrecked in a storm in the 1600s. Originally welcomed by the indigenous Arawak inhabitants, the Africans intermarried to produce a distinct culture with its own language, customs, music and arts.
First the French, and then English colonial governments tried to subdue the Garifuna, or Garinagu, as they also refer to themselves, and after a series of battles the British finally managed to exile the people to the island of Roatán off the coast of Honduras.
According to Garifuna legend, the people, now numbering less than 5,000, were able to survive largely due to cassava rootstock the women concealed in their clothing, and eventually made it to the Central American coast, along which they spread, establishing villages from Nicaragua to Honduras, Guatemala and, in 1832, to Belize. At first keeping largely to themselves and surviving with subsistence agriculture and fishing, the Garifuna eventually become important, prominent members of Belizean society, distinguishing themselves in positions such as teachers, police officers, public servants and, especially important to Belizeans, as musicians, developing distinctive forms such as Punta, Paranda and Punta Rock that has become a force regionally and on the World Music scene.
In 2001 UNESCO decreed Garifuna language, dance and music in Belize to be a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” in 2001.
Today some 600,000 Garifuna live in Central and North America, primarily in Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize with large diaspora populations in New York and Los Angeles. Garifuna Settlement Day, November 19, is a national bank holiday in Belize, with re-enactments of the first landing celebrated in Dangriga, Punta Gorda and Hopkins.
Ms Bradley said that by taking Chaa Creek’s Cultural Grand Tour, travellers receive and in-depth introduction to the Garifuna as well as Belize’s other cultures including Maya, Mestizo, Creole, European, Mennonite, and others. One aspect of the tour is to show how these groups retained their cultural integrity while at the same time assimilating into a society characterised by harmony and tolerance.
“It’s often said that Belize is a model of how multiculturalism really works,” she said.
The tour, which begins at Chaa Creek with visits to Mestizo and Maya communities before travelling on to a German-speaking Mennonite community, finishes up in Hopkins village on Belize’s Caribbean coast at the Villa Verano Luxury Resort, where guests spend three days in Garifuna cultural immersion.
Ms Bradley also pointed out that visitors need not embark upon the complete tour to enjoy Garifuna Settlement Day, which, as a celebration, actually runs for a few consecutive days.
“The days before and after are filled with excitement, music and feasting, so visitors can plan on setting aside a few days to really get into the swing of things. The drumming alone, which creates this hypnotic effect throughout the nights, makes it worthwhile,” Ms Bradley said.
She said that Chaa Creek can organise stand-alone tours which allow guests a “surf and turf” option to learn about the culture in the Cayo District before travelling on to the coast for the celebrations, which centre around re-enactments of the landing of the first Garifuna settlers.
“It’s combination Belize vacation and cultural experience with sumptuous food, music and eco-luxe lodgings combined. Guest will have the opportunity to see Garifuna drummers in action, purchase handmade drums and learn how Garifuna cuisine, which incorporates cassava bread, coconut milk and seafood dishes and plantain is made.
“This is a rare opportunity to experience one of the world’s most fascinating cultures in comfort and luxury, and I guarantee people will come away richer for the experience,” Ms Bradley said.
The Lodge at Chaa Creek is a multi award winning eco resort set within a 400-acre private nature reserve along the banks of the Macal River in Belize.