One of the largest cultural celebrations in Belize is Garifuna Settlement Day, held annually on 19th November. According to historical accounts, the Garinagu began migrating to Belize, formerly British Honduras, from as early as 1802. The largest group is said to have arrived in 1823 under the leadership of Alejo Beni. Garifuna Settlement Day commemorates the arrival of this largest group of Garinagu to Belize, as well as the overall history and culture of the people.
Thomas Vincent Ramos, a Garifuna icon and Belizean patriot, first lobbied for the celebration. In 1941, he along with Mateo Avaloy and C.S. Benguche wrote an official letter to the District Commissioner of Stann Creek requesting that a Public and Bank Holiday be held there. Initially known as Carib Disembarkment Day, it was envisioned as a means of recognizing the Garinagu. In 1943, the holiday was awarded to Stann Creek Town, now Dangriga Town, and later extended to Punta Gorda Town. In the 1970’s Garifuna leaders lobbied for Carib Settlement Day to become a national holiday. In 1977, the holiday was granted nationwide and the name was officially changed to Garifuna Settlement Day, a national public and bank holiday.
19th Celebrations, as it is widely referred to in Belize, starts with a re-enactment of the historic Garinagu journey or “Yurumein” from St. Vincent to Roatán, Honduras and then to Belizean shores. Yurumein means St. Vincent in the Garifuna language; it commences early in the morning with participants paddling dories as they re-enact the voyage. On disembarking, one of Chatoyer’s captains seeks the authorities’ permission for all to settle, but they are refused twice. At the third attempt, they are allowed to land.
Yurumein is a cultural and symbolic portrayal of the various historical Garifuna figures such as Joseph Chatoyer and Alejo Beni, and the songs reflect the the harsh conditions faced during their journey. The procession is led by the Black, White and Yellow Flag of the Garifuna Nation which is a symbol of their African and Amerindian heritage, and their search for peace. In addition to historical figures, the Garifuna nation is represented by voyagers, including an Old Man and an Old Woman, a pregnant woman, other adults and children. From the dories they take crops such as cassava, plantain, and sugar cane that were brought by the ancestors. Singing and dancing to the rhythm of the primero, segunda and sisira, the participants are led in procession to the church for a Mass of Thanksgiving.
Transmission and Safeguarding Practices
The National Garifuna Council is the primary organization that coordinates activities related to Garifuna Settlement Day and Yurumein across Belize. Its various district and community level chapters provide mechanisms for transmitting the relevant knowledge for continued practice of the celebration through regular meetings; systematic education and awareness raising campaigns for Garinagu and the wider Belizean public; and coordinating workshops on the various components of their cultural practices that are manifested during Garifuna Settlement Day and Yurumein. These include music and dance workshops; talks and presentations that speak to the Garifuna way of life and belief systems; formal language interventions through intercultural-bilingual education and other informal programs, among others.
In addition to the National Garifuna Council, various cultural organizations have been established that focus on some cultural aspect. The Battle of the Drums Secretariat, for example, coordinates the annual Battle of the Drums Competition designed to revive and promote Garifuna culture particularly, the Garifuna drumming, singing, and dance in Punta Gorda Town. The Secretariat has been intricately involved with the Yurumein activities for several years.
The Habinahan Wanaragua Steering Committee is another organization that primarily focuses on safeguarding the Wanaragua tradition through engaging young people in an annual competition. The Steering Committee coordinates workshops throughout the year across the country to prepare potential participants for the annual competition that is held in December. The competition is systematically coordinated with support from the National Institute of Culture and History and organizations UNICEF Belize under their Community Based Partnerships for Violence Prevention initiative.
In addition to these major activities, several community based cultural groups, dance groups, and youth groups focus on ensuring the overall transmission and safeguarding of Garifuna language, music and dance, which directly contributes to ensuring the knowledge and skills, traditions and beliefs, and cultural expressions associated with Garifuna Settlement Day and Yurumein are safeguarded for future generations.
Continuity of Garifuna Settlement Day & Yurumein
Today the Garifuna Settlement day celebrations have evolved into a month long series of activities highlighting the Garifuna culture and history. The Yurumein remains at the heart of the celebrations and continues to be commemorated by other communities across the country. Although Yurumein is a Garifuna celebration, other cultures have come to appreciate it as a part of the nation’s history and national identity.
Many Garifuna musicians use the 19th Celebrations and Garifuna Settlement Day as inspiration to create new music and songs; some even reinterpret and create modern renditions of traditional songs. Much of the wider Belizean population view November and Garifuna Settlement Day as a seasonal period akin to the Christmas season. In fact, many wait until these celebrations are over in order to officially transition to the Christmas season, a marker of the respect, consideration and how deeply ingrained in Belizean culture and national identity these celebrations are.
Yurumein is now widely celebrated and supported across communities where Garinagu reside in Belize. These communities include Libertad Village, Corozal; Orange Walk Town; Belize City; San Ignacio Town; Dangriga Town; Hopkins Village; and Punta Gorda Town.
Associated Cultural Forms, Traditions and Knowledge
(What other cultural forms and traditions, skills and knowledge are necessary for carrying out this practice?)
Garifuna Language; Drumming; Drum Making; Belief Systems; Punta Music and Dance
Spaces for Enactment
(What places, spaces and locations are integral to its practice?)
- Streets of Dangriga Town
- Streets of Punta Gorda Town
- Streets of Libertad Village, Corozal
- Streets of Belize City
- Streets of San Ignacio Town
- Streets of Hopkins Village
- Libertad Village Community Center
- St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church, Belize City
- St. Peter Claver Catholic Church
- Wider Belizean communities
Communities and Groups Involved
- National Garifuna Council and Local Chapters
- Battle of the Drums Secretariat
- Habinahan Wanaragua Steering Committee
- Dangriga Town, Stann Creek
- Punta Gorda Town, Toledo
- Hopkins Village, Stann Creek
- Belize City, Belize
- Libertad Village, Corozal
Other Sources of Information
Contributors to this Article (including Belize ICH Network Members, National Institute of Culture and History Staff, and community informants who participated in the Inventorying Process): Darius Avila, Michael Bradley, Felicita Cantun, Florencia Castillo, Rodney Castillo, Shannon Castillo, Dr. E. Roy Cayetano, Benedicto Choc, Rolando Cocom, Nigel Encalada, Melissa Guerra, Manuel Lizarraga, Maria Angelita Magana, Myrna Manzanares, Matthew Martinez, Virgin Martinez, Felix Miranda, Barbara Noralez, Phylicia Pelayo, Dennis Peyrefitte, Giovanni Pinelo, Gabriel Roches, Linette Sabido, Julio Saqui, Selene Solis, Jahmai Trapp, Alexandria Villanueva, Kyle Zuniga