Garífuna Musical Instruments

By: Purificación "Popo" Arriola López
Barauda Dance Troup Director, Honduras

Here we have the basic musical instruments that accompany various dances in Garífuna culture. In front of us, we have the tortoise shells that are played with two drumsticks. Here we have maracas (photo at right). They are two gourds or hollowed-out shells, which carry natural seeds that are called, "tears of Saint Peter." And here we have harpsichords, which are two pieces of wood. One has a cavity where you slip in your hand. This is to make it sound.

Here we have the conch shell (left). This instrument plays various roles in Garífuna culture. It is used to call the community to the beach to buy fresh fish from the newly arrived fisherman. It also informs the community when to thatch a roof. It serves as a means of communication when a family member has strayed or lost his way in the countryside. Needless to say, the conch shell has various utilities.

The most basic instrument of all is the drum, however. These small, monotone drums are the secondary drums (far right). These drums maintain Garífuna culture with their rhythm. These two that I have here are the primary or revolutionary drums (far left). They are the drums that have maintained the history of the Garífuna people since 1636. Let's call our musician friends now so they can give us a demonstration of the many Garífuna instruments.

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Credit: Interview and transcription by InCorpore Cultural Association© with Purificación "Popo" Arriola López; Triunfo de la Cruz, Honduras; July 1998. All rights reserved. Edited and translated by K.Stevens, Stanford Center for Latin American Studies, 2/1/00