Armela Escalona
Armela Escalona

May 11. 2 mins

The Garifuna People of Honduras

The Garifuna people have always been a mystery to most people outside of Central America. Historically marginalized, today the Garifuna people are fighting for their homes and ancestral beaches under threat of tourism developments. In this article, we’re going to learn more about this interesting tribe’s origin, culture, and way of life.

Photo Credit: Lana Byko

Who are the Garifuna?

Garifuna people are an indigenous mixed-race community found mainly in Honduras with smaller groups living in neighbouring Central American countries such as Belize, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.

Historically, Garifuna people were descendants of West African natives who were captured and turned into slaves in the early 17th century. Back then the trading, selling, and owning of slaves was permitted in Europe. Slave runners would go to inhabited islands to capture natives and take all the resources they could from their land. For two months their ship would travel to Europe while the slaves were packed inside with little food and water. Many would die of starvation and diseases, and those who survived were brought to the cities for auction and sold to the highest bidder.

The early ancestors of the Garifuna people came to the Caribbean from Africa after they were shipwrecked on their way to Europe. They escaped to the far side of the island and met the local caribbean indians in the area. Fighting the same enemy, the group formed an alliance, interbred, and created a new tribe. They lived for years in peace but it wasn’t forever. Eventually, the British found the tribe while they were colonizing Honduras in the late 18th century. The tribe was then relocated to the island of Roatan in 1797, making Punta Gorda one of the oldest Garifuna settlements in Honduras.

Photo Credit: Roijoy

Language, Culture, and Way of Life

Arawakan is the indigenous language of the Garifuna people. The present Garifuna language is so diverse, it consists of words derived from French, Spanish, and African. For example, the days of the week such as Leindi (Monday), Wándaradi (Friday) and Samudi (Saturday), are similar to the French equivalents such as Lundi, Vendredi, and Samedi.

Garifuna people has always kept their culture alive amidst threats of slavery, colonization, war, and deportation. They are naturally friendly and hospitable people with deep affinity for music and dancing. Garifuna people are known for their soulful music and energetic dances that depict their history and way of life. One of the most recognized form of Garifuna music is the “Punta” music, which are special songs written exclusively by Garifuna women.

Traditional Garifuna music are played with drums and wood-made percussion instruments. The drums are usually made from concave hardwoods of mayflower or mahogany trees. Although it isn’t rare to see modern equipment now being used by the tribe. In fact, modern Garifuna music is highly influenced by modern rock and uses instruments such as heavy bass and electric guitar.

Photo Credit: Roijoy

Where are the Garifuna People Now?

Today, the Garifuna community are continuously growing with the current population amounting to around 300,000. Most of them are now living in coastal towns in Central America countries of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Belize. Travelers who want to get the purest form of Garifuna experience should consider traveling to Garifuna communities in La Ceiba, Bataya, Tela or Trujillo.

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