Garífuna Cultural History    
Garífuna culture is a rich hybrid of African, Amerindian, and European traditions. Traces of their African heritage can be seen in their punta and Wanaragua dances, sacred drumming, Anancy folk tales, ancestral worship, Elder's Council, animal sacrifices, banana foods, and other cultural practices. Many Garífuna peoples proudly uphold their African roots and prefer to be called "Garinagu," the Africanized name for Garífuna. And the Garífuna Nation's tri-color flag includes black as a symbol for Africa.

Garífuna way of life is also patterned after their Amerindian ancestors, the Arawak and Carib. This legacy is evidenced in their cassava farming and breadmaking, their passion for fishing and the sea, their division of labor, their ninth-night wake ceremonies, their use of maracas in festive dances, and their belief in a shaman as healer and counselor. In addition, the Garífuna language belongs to the Arawak family although loan words have been borrowed from among others, West African Bantu, Spanish, Miskito, English, and French.

After more than three hundred years of contact with French, Spanish, and British colonizers, the Garinagu also appropriated elements of European culture. These include European household fittings, food practices, dress, folklore, and most importantly, Catholicism.

Many scholars argue that Garífuna culture is a product of their turbulent history and their fierce struggle for self-preservation. They say that for survival, the Garinagu formed alliances with European powers or interbreed with local populations such as the Island Carib. They incorporated characteristics of Afro-American and European cultures into a distinctly Garífuna way of life.

In Garinagu Future, the author reflects that "Perhaps Garinagu have been able to retain their ethnic identity precisely because they have been able to change their cultural patterns as needed. They have changed willingly, quickly and yet insisting all along that the new is really Garífuna after all. In other words, their adopted customs became their very own, and thus valuable to them." This raises the question what is culture? What makes it unique? Must it stay constant? When is culture 'lost' and when does it 'evolve'?

More than any other time in history, many Garinagu are struggling with these questions today. They find themselves scattered across the globe from London to New York. Many Garífuna children now speak English instead of their native tongue. Others have popularized punta music, introducing "punta rock" to Los Angeles night clubs and U.S. fans.

But if the living forsake their social responsibilities and neglect their ancestors, Garífuna spirits may visit them in their dreams and demand food, drink or a ritual bath. Sometimes a family member will fall sick and the relatives must perform a sacred dugü ceremony to atone for their misconduct and appease angry gubida spirits. Garinagu from across the globe must journey back to their Central American communities for this rite, which costs thousands of dollars to host (see the movie, "The Spirit of My Mother: A Garífuna Woman's Journey to Honduras"). If the entire community is not present, gubida spirits may frown upon the the disunity and the sick person may not be healed. Thus, Garífuna ancestors may be the glue that binds together a migratory people and strengthens their cultural cohesion.

Form your own opinion! Explore the above links and listen to Garífuna people talk about changes in cultural practices
and values. Learn of their efforts to sustain their traditions.

Learn about Máxima's work to build a museum to promote Garifuna culture.
See how the tradition of building newlyweds a house is disappearing.
Discover Neta's group effort to preserve the sacred dugü ritual.

Hear Popo fear the loss of Garífuna cultural values.
Discover Andony and Adebisi's views on how the punta dance tradition has changed.
Listen to don Andrés' wish to impact the values held by Garífuna youth today.
  Related Links:

Garífuna World:
Garinagu future.
Garinagu life in Central America.
Garinagu life overseas.
La dominación cultural y el subdesarrollo.
Nosotros los Garinagu.

Seattle Times:
In Honduras, the Garífuna culture fights for survival.

Credit: K.Stevens, Stanford Center for Latin American Studies, 4/14/00.


Cayetano, Sebastian R. Garífuna History, Language & Culture of Belize, Central America & The Caribbean, pp.22. S & F Cayetano: Belize, 1997.

Garinagu Early History, Garífuna World, pp.1-3. 1997.

Garinagu Future. Garífuna World, 1997.

González, Nancie. Sojourners of the Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garífuna, pp. 26, 82. University of Illinois Press: Urbana and Chicago, 1988.

Griffin, Wendy, "Garífunas prepare for 200 year anniversary bash in La Ceiba," pp. 1-2. Honduras This Week: 3/19/97.

Idiáquez, José. El culto a los ancestros en la cosmovisión de los Garífunas de Honduras. Instituto Histórico Centroamericano, Managua, Nicaragua, 1994.

Melendez, Armando Crisanto and Auyujuru Savaranga. Adeija Sisira Gererum Aguburigu Gariganu: 'El enojo de las sonajas; palabras del ancestro, " pp. 51-53. Graficentro Editores: Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 1997.

Suazo, Pablo Inés Flores. Interview with Alejandro Tosatti, InCorpore Cultural Association.