Garífuna Housing
A mix of traditional and modern, of thatched and concrete Garifuna homes. Triunfo de la Cruz, Honduras. Photo credit: Drew Irwin.
Building Traditional Houses
Traditionally, Garífuna homes were built from all natural materials. The men would paddle to the marshes in their canoes and cut tique palms as supports for the walls. Others would head out to the mountains and collect palm thatching for the roof. Wild cane was cut to weave between the tique poles. The wild cane and tique trunks were then tied together by a vine, known as mimbre in Spanish and mibi in Garífuna. Not one nail was needed to construct the house!

In the past, the Garífuna community would help newlyweds build their new home. The men would thatch the roof or assemble the wild cane and tique walls. The children would fetch buckets of water to mix with red clay and coat the walls. And the women would prepare the meals for the hungry workers. When the house was finished, the buyei or shaman would purify the house with a cane liquor known as guaro in Spanish.

Music and dancing were the glue that held the work together. First, Garífuna drummers went from house to house and summoned the townspeople to help with the construction. When assembling the house, the men would take turns playing punta tunes on the drums to make the time pass. This is why the Garífuna have so many work songs. The women would hear the music and rush over to join in the singing and punta dancing. The festivities would go until the late hours of the night.

A Change of Ways
Traditional ways are changing in many Garífuna communities. Today, Garífuna newlyweds no longer receive free houses. Many say that the cost of living is so high that they cannot afford to work a day without pay. With the land, labor, and materials being so expensive, many Garífuna men cannot afford to build a house. They say that it is hard to find a Garífuna woman who will marry them. Therefore, many leave their communities, immigrating or enlisting as sailors, to earn enough money to build a home. Meanwhile, these nice houses are fatherless most of the year, except for a few weeks when vacations are taken.

Also, traditional houses made out of manaca or palm leaves are largely being replaced with wooden and concrete houses. Many argue that natural resources are becoming scarce, require high labor costs, and are less durable than artificial products. They are also less resilient in hurricanes such as Mitch. So, today, manaca houses are typically built just for the sacred Garífuna ceremony, the dugü. But traditional ways of thatching are being lost in many Garífuna communities. Therefore, outsiders still knowledgeable in these ways, such as the Maya, are sometimes brought in to perform this job.
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Credit: Wendy Griffin. Honduras This Week.© Compilation of articles, Marriage used to mean a free house among Garifunas (7/26/99); and Along the road to Santa Fe: Ancestor houses and spirits important in Garifuna culture (2/1/99). Compiled by K.Stevens; Stanford Center for Latin American Studies; 4/14/00. Other reference: Garífuna Journey (32). Andrea Leland and Kathy Berger.