Garifuna Settlement Day in Belize
When Christopher Columbus sailed westward for Spain and discovered the islands and lands of Latin America, he set into motion a chain of events that would drastically change the world. On this day are two Latin American holidays that are celebrated with food, dance, and parades, but which commemorate historical realities both good and bad.
In 1493, on Columbus' second voyage to the New World, he landed on a beautiful island he named “San Juan Bautista “(Saint John the Baptist). Later the Spaniards, with the help of the native Taino Indians, found gold in the rivers of San Juan and dubbed a particular bay “Puerto Rico,” or “Rich Port.” Years later, the two names switched, and we call the entire island Puerto Rico and the city by the bay San Juan. (The original Taino name for the island was Borikén. It is still often called that Puerto Ricans, although they have made the name more Spanish: Borinquen. Names are complex, slippery things, aren't they?)
How did the Spaniards reward the Taino for their help in finding gold? Perhaps you have already guessed that they enslaved the peaceful, friendly natives. That's a pretty bad reality.
Still, modern Puerto Rico celebrates Discovery Day. There are five little towns that claim to be the spot on which Columbus first landed, but since nobody knows for sure, everybody participates in the festivities. Businesses are closed, there are parades with floats, speeches, food and dancing, and even a reenactment in which children dressed as Indians greet a man dressed as Columbus as he steps from a boat modeled after the old-time Spanish boats.
Garifuna Settlement Day:
Many years after Columbus' “discovery,” British and Spaniards had colonized the Carribean and Central America and had brought many African slaves to work on sugar plantations and other locales. Two slave ships were shipwrecked near the island of St. Vincent, and the African slaves who escaped the ship and swam to the island were welcomed by the Carib Indians who lived there. The intermarriage between the two people created the Garifuna people, who spoke the Carib language but had African musical and religious traditions.
In 1795, the Garifuna rebelled against the British and were punished by being taken to a more desolate island, Roatan, off the coast of Honduras. According to legend, the Garifuna hid cassava, an important food source, as they were exiled to Roatan, and they and the cassava plants survived and flourished on the island. In 1832, the Garifuna traveled by boat to Dangriga, in what is now Belize, where they settled. Garifuna Settlement Day has been celebrated since 1941.
The festival is celebrated all over Belize, but especially in Dagriga. There is traditional Garifuna and Belizean food, including fish, chicken, pork, coconuts, corn, and manioc or cassava. There are also games and shopping for original art, palm crafts, handmade dolls, and calabash maracas and drums. There is live punta music and Jonkunu dancing. Finally, like Discovery Day in Puerto Rico, there is also a reenactment of “The Landing”: locals on boats ride the surf onto shore, waving palm fronds and banana leaves.
Try these activities:
- Print an outline map of Central America and the Caribbean islands. Use an atlas or globe to find and label Belize, Puerto Rico, and other nations.
- Write to Belizean pen pals.
- Cook Puerto Rican recipes. (The Coconut Kisses sound yummy!)
- Puerto Rico is a self-governing unincorporated territory of the U.S. Take an electronic field trip to “America's rainforest” (the Caribbean National Forest in Puerto Rico).
- Belize has the second largest barrier reef in the world. Watch a short video on this reef.