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History of The Garifuna of Belize

By Slickrock Adventures on November 19, 2018
Picture Belize staff at Long Caye

Slickrock staff – many of us are Garifuna

Today is Garifuna Settlement Day. This date is celebrated as the anniversary that the Garifuna people landed in Dangriga, Belize for the first time.

The Garifuna people of Belize have an interesting history, having arrived and settled in Belize as free people and not former slaves. Garifuna peoples can be found in many coastal towns in southern Belize. Their primary settlements are in the towns of Dangriga and Hopkins, but also in Monkey River, Punta Gorda and others.

The Garifuna people have retained their own language and culture they brought with them to this region, which has its roots in Africa from where they originally were brought to the Caribbean. The Garifuna’s ancestors were slaves brought to the Antilles islands in the eastern Caribbean in the 1500’s and 1600’s. Several groups of these people escaped, and other groups were freed during shipwrecks, and they gathered on the island of St. Vincent which was unoccupied by Europeans at that time. They inter-married with the local inhabitants, the Carib Indians from whose name the Caribbean Sea originated. After more than a century of living on this isolated island the population grew to a considerable size, and their culture was thus preserved for these many years without interruption. The language that developed from the melding of these 2 cultures is unique, it cannot be understood in Africa, or in other parts of the Caribbean today.

In the mid 1700s the British won one of their interminable wars against the Dutch, who had laid claim to the island of St. Vincent by establishing a small colony there that was successfully co-existing with the Garifuna people on the other side of the island. As part of the peace treaty, the Dutch agreed to hand over control of the island to the British, who began a much more aggressive colonization of the island in order expand their booming sugar industry. In short order they ended up in a conflict with the local Garifuna people and a war resulted. The Garifuna held out for four years and were quite difficult to defeat, but in the end the British prevailed and won the conflict.

The British decided not to enslave the Garifuna, but instead exiled them to the far reaches of the Caribbean to the new colony of British Honduras, which they had recently wrested from Spanish control. Basically, they forced them onto ships and dropped them off on Roatan Island off the coast of Honduras, where they were left to survive by their own means, but were left by the British authorities. As they thrived and the population grew, they then spread out along the sea coasts and established new settlements, one of which was in Belize (Dangriga), which was part of British Honduras at that time.

Today the Garifuna constitute an intact society sharing a unique language, culture, customs, and history. Many of our staff have been of Garifuna heritage, as are several currently. All Garifuna also speak English or Spanish or both, as Garifuna is not spoken or understood outside of their tight-knit communities.