Belize is a happy country and its normal to greet each other with a “Hello”,” Good morning “, a “Hi how are you” or a “What’s happening”. We are the only country in Central America where English is the official language. But depending on where you are in the country and who you are talking to, you will discover quite a diversity of language in the manner of greeting strongly related to the melting pot of cultures that are our people.
“Gud Maanin” or “Weh di go aan?” are two familiar Kriol greetings, sung here in a Belizean favorite by the late and well-respected King of Brukdown, Mr Wilfred Peters.
Whilst English is the official language, Kriol is spoken by most Belizeans, particularly at home or in informal situations. Often thought of as a dialect, it is in fact a language with its own set of rules and grammar.
In areas where the Mestizo culture is strong particularly in northern Belize and the Cayo district, the favored language is Spanish and familiar greetings are “Buenas Dias”,”Hola” and “Que Pasa?” Northern Belize still has several Maya villages, where Yucatec Maya is still spoken, though sadly the language is dying out. “How are you” is “Bix yanikech”, Good morning is “Ma’lob Ja’atskab K’iin”
Two other Maya languages are spoken in Belize, predominately in villages in the Toledo district where the Maya culture is strongest. The village of San Antonio is mostly populated with Mopan Maya and a traditional greeting which means both Hello and Goodbye would be “D’yoos”. San Pedro Columbia is the largest Q’eqchi Maya community and they also have their own language. A typical greeting would be ” Ma sa’aach’ol” (how are you?) When speaking to an older woman the greeting would be “Naxin” and for an older man “Waxin”. The younger generation greet each other with the more informal “Chan xawil”.
Stann Creek is the cultural heart of the Garinagu or Garifuna. “Buiti Binafi” is the greeting here. This language which is part of the Arawak group of languages is rich in stories of the Garifuna culture.
In the Mennonites communities of Belize such as Spanish Lookout, Blue Creek and Barton Creek, the language spoken is low German. Good morning is “Goomorjess” or the informal “Morjess” Like many other Belizeans they also speak Spanish, English and Kriol.
Whilst the languages mentioned above make up the main cultural groups in Belize, today there are many other peoples, who have visited, fallen in love with and settled in the country. It’s not un-usual to hear Lebanese, Chinese and even French. Belize really is just one big melting pot.
The Belize Tourism Board (BTB), in collaboration with tourism industry stakeholders, raised U.S. $59, 934.00 (Bz $119,868.00) as part of the Dollar for the Caribbean Relief Fund campaign. The fund was created to assist victims of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which severely devastated many Caribbean countries in September last year.
This morning Ms. Karen Pike, BTB’s Director of Marketing and Industry Relations, presented the cheque to Mr. Hugh Riley, Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) during a virtual press conference hosted by CTO in Barbados.
In presenting the cheque, Ms. Pike said “when we got the news on the Caribbean Relief Fund Campaign, we embraced it immediately because it was not only the right thing to do, but also because it brought all of us in the Caribbean once again even closer together in a unified effort to assist those in need.” She added: “As part of this the BTB reached out to the entire country of Belize through the media, press releases, the BTB’s Dollar for the Caribbean Relief Fund Campaign, website and its news distribution network.”
In his response, the Secretary General said, “we thank you Belize on behalf of the entire Caribbean family.” During the press conference, an overview on the state of the tourism industry in the Caribbean was also presented.
As part of its Dollar for the Caribbean Relief Fund Campaign, each participating tourism stakeholder donated a $1 for every guest; the BTB then contributed by donating $1 for every tourist arrival for the month of October therefore, creating a multiplier effect. The BTB initiative was supported by the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA), the Belize Hotel Association (BHA), Tropic Air, the Belize Airport Concession Company (BACC), Tour Operators, water taxis, and hoteliers amongst many others.
During the first week of September, category 5 Hurricane Irma pummeled a number of Caribbean countries in the northern Leeward Islands and the northern Caribbean leaving a long trail of devastation. Many residents of these countries were left homeless, without food, power, water and basic essentials. Two weeks later, Hurricane Maria followed the same path further exacerbating the level of destruction throwing many of these countries in a severe state of despair. The Caribbean depends on tourism as their chief means of survival and the devastation by both hurricanes has stalled the economies of countries affected, which may take several months or perhaps years to recover.
The BTB and the Belize tourism stakeholders are extremely pleased that they were able to make a contribution towards the Caribbean Relief Fund and take this opportunity to offer their heartfelt thanks to all Belizean stakeholders and organizations that donated generously in order to ease the road to recovery for our Caribbean sister countries.
According to the CTO, approximately U.S. $135,000.00 was raised by the Caribbean Hurricane Relief Fund Campaign.
It is a new year and you are looking at your bucket list wondering what it is lacking. It is time for adventure! It is time exploration and conquering new horizons! New destinations, new experiences, awesome memories and loads of fun… it is time for Belize.
Here are 10 awesome things to do and reasons why you should have Belize as your next destination. We should also mention that none of them involve dealing with snow or sub zero temps ;).
The world famous Great Blue Hole is a giant submarine sinkhole off the coast of Belize. It lies near the center of Lighthouse Reef, an atoll 43 miles (70km) from Belize City. The hole is circular in shape, over 984 feet (300 m) across and 354 feet (108 m) deep. The Great Blue Hole is a part of the larger Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a World Heritage Site. This site was made famous by Jacques Cousteau, who declared it one of the top ten scuba diving sites in the world.
See it the way it was meant to be seen … from the air. Fly to Lighthouse Reef Atoll, and make several fly-bys of this natural wonder of the world. On the way, see the Belize Barrier Reef, and Turneffe Atoll. Be sure to keep watch on the water below for Manatees, Rays, Sharks, Dolphins, and other wildlife. So, before you dive it, see it. There are scheduled tours and charters available from Tropic Air. Visit our tour page for more information.
This cave adventure is one of the most popular attractions in Belize. Featured in National Geographic, A.T.M. cave is several kilometers long and is an ancient burial site containing four skeletons, ceramics, and stoneware left by the Maya. The most famous skeleton is that of a young girl, the bones of which have been completely covered by the natural processes of the cave, leaving them with a sparkling appearance. Once inside the cave you will spend several hours swimming, climbing, and exploring the Maya underworld. The culmination of the tour is the Crystal Maiden, a young virgin sacrifice, and “The Cathedral”, with its stalactite and stalagmite formations.
Take the guided tour. If you are staying on the mainland, ask your resort for your tour options. If you are in the cayes, there are daily tours available from Tropic Air. Visit our tour page for more information.
At the southern tip of Ambergris Caye is Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Hol Chan is the Maya name for ‘little channel.” This sanctuary on the Barrier Reef was officially established in 1987, and since then the return of all species of fish has been quite dramatic. It is perfect area for snorkelers and scuba divers, and for those learning to do both. It is the single most popular day trip from San Pedro.
Take a tour boat from San Pedro or Caye Caulker. Trips usually run once in the morning and again in the afternoon. You can also do it from the mainland using Tropic Air flights to either island.
The ancient Maya site of Lamanai sits on the edge of the spectacular New River Lagoon in the Orange Walk District, and is known for being the longest continually-occupied site in Mesoamerica. Wildlife is abundant, and you can see and hear howler monkeys. Jaguars also roam nearby. This is reflected in the stories of the locals as well as the architecture.
The temples themselves rise from the jungle floor to a spectacular view above the jungle canopy. They have many carvings into them of the jaguars and crocodiles, and you have the chance to climb to the top of the main pyramid. There is a rope and very narrow, tall, steep steps leading to the view high over the lagoon.
Take a river tour boat from the Tower Hill Bridge (near Orange Walk town). Trips usually run about 7 hours in length. It can also be done from some of the islands (like San Pedro or Caye Caulker). There are scheduled tours from Tropic Air. Visit our tour page for more information.
Caye Caulker is the epitome of the laid-back island lifestyle. With the Barrier Reef just off its eastern shore, fresh seafood, quaint bars and restaurants, sandy streets and tropical music, Caye Caulker is the perfect place to spend one day, a few days or even a few weeks.
Take a water taxi from a neighboring island or fly with Tropic Air from Belize City, San Ignacio, Orange Walk or San Pedro.
Xunantunich or “Maiden of the Rock” is situated on the Western Highway across the river from the village of San Jose Succotz in the Cayo District. This major Maya ceremonial center can be reached by ferry daily across the Mopan River. This Classic Period site provides an impressive view of the entire river valley. It occupies only 300 square meters but the periphery covers several square kilometers. The main temple of El Castillo rises 120ft (40m) above plaza level, making it one of the tallest buildings in Belize.
It is a very accessible and easy site to enjoy, so take a guided tour from one of the nearby resorts. You can also do it on your own. Tropic Air flies several times a day to San Ignacio’s exclusive Maya Flats Airstrip which is very close to the site.
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is Belize’s premier destination for birders, and contains a mosaic of wetland and land habitats. With 16,400 acres of lagoons, creeks, logwood swamps, broadleaf forest and pine savanna, you will be sure to see a wide array of wildlife. The Sanctuary protects globally endangered species including the Central American River Turtle, Mexican Black Howler Monkey, and Yellow-headed Parrot. The village in the lagoon is also home to the very unique Cashew festival every year.
Take a guided tour from one of the nearby resorts or from your tour operator.
Placencia is a peninsula in southern Belize with almost 16 miles (25km) of sandy beaches. The Caribbean is on the eastern side, while the lagoon that looks towards the Maya Mountains on the mainland, is to its west. From March to June, dive with Whale Sharks at Gladden Spit (a cut in the reef east of Placencia village). It is also easy to get to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Reserve, home of a large Jaguar population.
Fly to Placencia on Tropic Air. Flights are available from several destinations throughout the country. Since it is not an island, you can also drive there.
Over the years, cave tubing at Nohoch Che’en Caves (sometimes known as Jaguar Paw) has become extremely popular, especially on hot days. Float down the Cave’s Branch River on inner tubes through underground caves once used by the Maya. You can also zip-line and ride ATVs though the rainforest in this area, located about 40 miles (64km) from Belize City.
Fly to Belize City or Belmopan and take a tour from there. There are scheduled tours and available from Tropic Air. Visit our tour page for more information.
No matter where you stay on the Belizean coast, there is great fishing. The flats offer one of the best chances in the world to complete a grand slam (Tarpon, Permit and Bonefish in one day). The rivers teem with Snook, Snapper and Tarpon while offshore, Sailfish and other species abound. It is also a great place for kids to learn to fish, as hotel piers and reef proximity provide great opportunities for them to practice catching snapper, grunt and barracuda.
How to arrange it
Ask your resort to arrange a half-day or full day fishing trip.
Horse racing’s history dates back thousands of years to the domestication of the horse by the people of Central Asia. The sport consisting of horses with rider racing round a track, was adopted throughout the world and was christened the sport of Kings when King James 1st of England made it his pastime of choice.
Horse racing was introduced to Belize in the 1920s. At that time there were 2 major horse races. The Dewars Cup, named because of its sponsor, took place on Boxing Day, December 26th. The other race took place on 1st January. Some horses were imported from Jamaica, others were the Belizean bred family pony. People gathered for a bit of fun, to race their horse and of course to drink, bet and hopefully make a bit of cash.
Today there are several stables in Belize that breed horses but horse racing hasn’t changed much. Unlike the rest of the world it is relatively small scale and Horse breeders and owners come from all walks of life. There are now 3 race courses, Castleton Race Track in Burrell Boom, The Benny Padron Race track in San Felipe Village, Orange Walk and the Peoples Stadium in Orange Walk, which also acts as a football pitch and sports stadium. The terrain is grass, the type of race for those who know their horse racing terms, flat. Race meetings take place most months throughout the year at one of these three tracks. The Belize Triple Crown Challenge which takes place in April/May consists of 3 races, The Castleton Derby at Castleton race track, the San Felipe Stakes at the Benny Padron Race track and the Old Masters Stakes at the Peoples Stadium race track. This race series is open to three year old thoroughbreds from Belize. This year the horse Padrino made history by winning all three races.
If you are here for the Christmas vacations and are interested in seeing horse racing Belizean style, Castleton Races still take place on 26th December. Its no longer called the Dewars Cup but it is still the Sport of Kings.
As we discovered in a previous blog, everything is not always as it seems. Cashew nut is in fact a fruit and chocolate comes from a seed. This month we talk a little about one of Belize’s favorite foods, Conch; where it lives, how its caught, how its cooked and how… it’s a snail!
If you are eating conch in Belize, you are most likely eating Queen Conch. Horse Conch or mai mula as it is locally known is also eaten especially in ceviche but sadly it is now rare and considered a delicacy. Queen Conch is a large sea snail that can be found close to the reef in shallow water in the sand or seagrass. Conch don’t like to stay in one place and tend to travel miles looking for food. They move about in groups or schools using their “foot” to drag them across the sandy sea bottom.
Local fishermen are skilled at knowing where to find them and only those with a commercial fishing license are allowed to catch them. They are relatively easy to catch but extracting what’s inside requires skill and precision. The fisherman makes a small hole in the spiral part of the shell preferably using another conch shell (a knife is liable to break). This hole breaks the vacuum inside the shell making the meat easy to extract. Once extracted it needs to be cleaned of all the brown skin, best done with a fillet knife. The “nail” and eyes are normally discarded or kept as bait or to chum. Experienced Conch fisherman never throw the empty shells back into the same place they have caught the conch as other conch will not return to this place. Instead they wait until their catch is complete at the end of the day and throw the shells back in, where there aren’t any conch. That is why you often see piles of shells in one place.
Freshly extracted conch meat can be eaten immediately as its sweet and tender. The tough muscle or foot can be tenderized with a mallet so that it too can be consumed. Every local fisherman and chef have their own special recipe for conch ceviche but staple ingredients include conch meat of course, lime (lots of it) cilantro, onion, tomato and habanero pepper(if desired). Conch fritters, conch soup (which is known to be good for the back) and conch steak are the most popular dishes you will come across in Belize. However, if you want to ensure that you get to try one or all of these tasty dishes you need to visit between 1st October and 30th June which is open conch season. At all other times of the year, the fishing and serving of conch is forbidden in order to maintain the conch population. Luckily that time is now.
May and June see the start most Belizeans favorite season, mango season. After eight months of deprivation, these sweet beauties suddenly grace every market stall and roadside vendor in Belize. The countryside and city yards overflow with mangoes of every shape and size, with colors ranging from green to red, to yellow and even blue.
In Belize, there are well over 20 varieties of mango with names just as colorful as their skin. There are Hairy mangoes, Blue mangoes, Garlic, Daddyfoot, Common, Number 11, Slippers, Julie and even Turpentine.
There are four different stages of the mango, each with a very different taste. When it is green, the mango is hard and tart, delicious with salt and local habanero pepper, and is often used to make chutney. When its full or ‘turn’, the mango is just about ripe with a firm, slightly less sweet flesh, which is easy to eat and great in salads. Ripe mangoes are juicy and ready to eat with a delectable slightly perfumey aroma and taste. Overripe fruit is extremely messy and is best used to make mango juice. Add some lime, ice and a little bit of mint to it and you have a refreshingly delicious drink. The mango is paid homage to at an annual Mango Festival, in Hopkins in the Stann Creek District, usually at the beginning of June.
Belizeans love to celebrate the bounty of nature and the cashew is another fruit feted with its own festival. The Cashew Festival is held annually in Crooked Tree Village in late April or early May. Wait! It’s a fruit? Yes, the cashew is actually a very fragrant fruit with the more familiar nut hanging below. It grows wild in North Central Belize and flourishes despite the poor sandy soil in that region. It doesn’t need much water or fertilizer so it is indeed seen as miraculous. Harvest is generally between March and June where the trees are resplendent with red, orange and yellow that is the cashew fruit. Birds love the fruit as well, much to the chegrin of the farmers. It also makes a great wine.
Here is a great video that tells you all about this fruit and nut!
Cashew SeasonStraight outa Crooked Tree and in time for cashew fest 2017.
Did you know that chocolate was a fruit as well? Strictly speaking cacao (where chocolate comes from) is the actual fruit of the Theobrama tree. These colorful pods grow straight from the trunk or branch of the tree. Inside these pods are about 20 to 30 seeds covered in a thick sweet pulp that tastes nothing like chocolate, but is delicious all the same. It’s the beans themselves that are taken from the pod, fermented in a box covered with banana leaves, dried and roasted. Once roasted they are ground in a machine to release the oil (cocoa butter) which is put back into the cocoa mass to produce a liquor which will become chocolate as we know it. The Cacao Festival a celebration of chocolate occurs annually in May in the Toledo District of Belize.
In recent weeks, there has been a lot of hype surrounding the trailer for the upcoming remake of Stephen King’s classic film “It”. The scary clown has horror fans champing at the bit for its release in September of this year.
People are fascinated by scary characters, and here in Belize, we are no different. Long before television, cinema and YouTube, a cast of terrifying characters every bit as frightening as that clown, dominated Belizean legends and folklore. Their stories have been passed down from generation to generation and the different cultures have merged to produce a motley crew of characters. Here are just some of them.
Perhaps the most famous of these creepy creatures (because they certainly do not resemble anything human) is Tata Duende. Claimed to have been seen by many, this character lives in the Belizean forests. He is tiny, wears a big wide brimmed hat and his feet are on backwards! Oh and yes he doesn’t have any thumbs, so hide yours or he will steal them. Legend has it that he is a brilliant horseman, a good guitar player, a whistling guardian of the forest. He has a good side and a bad side. So we advise, you err on the side of former and treat him well.
Every folkloric tradition also has a temptress. Belize has several with Xtabai being the most well known. She is said to ensnare men with her long white dress and beautiful long straight hair. Parents would warn their children to be home before dark lest she capture them and take them into the jungle. She particularly likes drunk men, so take care not to drink too much Belizean rum. She is also a bit of a chameleon, often transforming into a snake, and a snarling monster with turkey and goat legs.
We also have our version of Bigfoot, the Sisimoto, who is a big hairy gorilla type figure that haunts the forest and caves and likes the flesh of humans.
Then there is Ole Heg. She leaves behind her skin after sucking the blood of children. There’s nothing good about this one! However, there is good news, you can protect your children by getting them to wear blue and sprinkling your doorstep with sesame seeds. So next time you see some at your local market stall, make sure to stock up.
As with all legends, a healthy dose of imagination and storytelling ability is also required.
Belize’s abundant cultural interaction makes for an incredible diversity of foods. As tourism has increased, so has the availability of international cuisine countrywide and whilst the mainstay of Belizean fare is undoubtedly stewed chicken,rice and beans served with plantain, potato salad or coleslaw, every region has at least one or two specialties based on its cultural heritage.
Corozal maintains a strong Mexican influence. Corn is a staple here and used in the making of tamale, a corn based dough called masa surrounding chicken, wrapped in a banana or plantain leaf served with a juicy tomato based sauce. Traditionally the tamale was prepared by the ancient Maya for feasts. Today they are eaten by everyone. Dukunu another delicacy is made from the ground and roasted corn kernels steamed in corn husks.
Most street corners in Belize towns, have their own taco stands and local favorites but Orange Walk arguably has the best. Tacos, a rolled corn tortilla with meat filling can be spicy or not, and make for a delicious breakfast. Orange Walk tacos are shipped countrywide by Tropic Air via our cargo department, so wherever it is likely that will be able to enjoy them or you can get them flown in specially.
The cuisine of Ambergris Caye one of the main tourist destinations of the country has absorbed influences from around the country and here you will find every kind of Belizean delicacy, as well as international cuisine, with an emphasis on seafood. With dishes ranging from Japanese sushi, to Italian pizza, to Salvadoran pupusas, your taste buds won’t be disappointed. Lobster and Conch are seasonal and the local specialty of ceviche, is usually made with either of these raw and then “cooked” with lime juice, cucumber and habanero pepper.
In the South, in Placencia and the Cayo district, similar international cuisine is abundant whilst in Hopkins, and Dangriga (Stann Creek district), the traditional flavors reflect the strong Garifuna culture. Coconut milk, banana and plantain, fish and cassava root are all popular ingredients used to make the specialities of this region, which include Sere, a coconut based fish soup, and Hudut, consisting of mashed plantain.
As well as the staple, chicken with rice and beans,in Belize City, a diversity of fried chicken restaurants, offer a variation on a theme, creole and spicy, others oriental and crispy, all served with orange Fanta infused ketchup. With nicknames such as “kick down fence”, “Nice and Nasty”, “Freetown Kentucky” and “Greasy Bag”, who can resist this artery clogging indulgence!
Healthier fare is on offer in the Toledo district, where the indigenous Maya have a mainstay diet of corn and beans and whatever else is grown on their farm. The Midday meal is often caldo a clear soup eaten with tortillas and accompanied by the Maya cacao drink Kukuh which is a mixture of ground cocoa beans, pepper, corn and water. Along with the Maya there is a strong East Indian influence here and the local spices are added to make delicious curry.
Throughout Belize you will find three countrywide staples. The “Johnny Cake” a heavy bread eaten plain or with ham/cheese or chicken, traditionally cooked over an open flame, “Fry Jacks” deep fried flour tortillas, or “Pepper”. No Belizean meal would be complete without a bottle of hot sauce made with habanero chile peppers. This stuff is addictive and once you’ve tried it you will have it on everything, just like the locals do and be sure to take a bottle home for your friends.
Throughout the world, Blue Holes have always been surrounded in mystery and superstition. Tales of bottomless pits, sea monsters and ship wrecks abound. The Great Blue Hole of Belize is no exception. In fact, a recent movie Posiedon Rex even has dinosaurs erupting from its depths.
Located in the lighthouse reef atoll approximately 62 miles from Belize City, Belize’s Blue Hole is legendary around the world and is on many a scuba divers bucket list. An almost perfect circular chasm of deep blue in an azure sea, 1000 feet in diameter and more than 400 feet deep, it is the only Blue Hole on earth that is visible from space. It is also spectacular from the air.
It was originally made famous in the 1970s when the French explorer and diver, Jacques Cousteau and his team of divers, undertook its exploration in his famous boat The Calypso. In his documentary, he embarks on the treacherous 7mile trip from Lighthouse, through uncharted territory of shallow waters resplendent with dangerous coral heads, and eventually arrives unscathed at the Blue Hole. From here he and his team undertake its exploration. See the video below:
Cousteau and his team realized the importance of the Blue Hole in providing knowledge of Earth’s history. Discovery of stalactites deep within the sinkhole provided the evidence that it was in fact a land based cavern as stalactites only form on land. One such stalactite was removed for further scientific investigation. Over many thousands of years as sea levels rose this cave was flooded at a least four stages as demonstrated by the formation of ledges. There is also evidence of earths shift as some of the stalactites are at a slight angle. Cousteau declared this one of the top diving sites in the world and he is attributed with making it popular as a tourist destination following his discoveries.
In 1990, The Blue Hole was given the name The Great Blue Hole by British diver Ned Middleton. It forms a part of the Belize barrier Reef reserve system and is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Some 35 years after her grandfather’s exploration of the Blue Hole, Alexandra Cousteau , who works closely with Oceana as a senior advisor, visited Belize for the first time and was thrilled to observe that in those years, this national living monument seemed to have changed very little from what she had seen in “The Sunken Caves” documentary. Alexandra’s love affair with Belize was sparked and has continued to blossom over the years. She taught her husband to dive in our waters and her daughter got her first taste of the ocean here at age 2 months. Last year she visited Belize again as a speaker for Oceana for The Energy of Nature vs. the Nature of Energy conference and it was then that she saw The Blue Hole from the air for the very first time.
You too can experience The Blue Hole from the air with Tropic Air’s stunning Blue Hole aerial tour. Don’t forget to bring your cameras as this is a photo opportunity you don’t want to miss.
For Andy Palacio, one of Belize’s most loved and famous musicians, music was “the soundtrack of life”.
Perhaps the most beautiful demonstration of this statement can be found in the music of his people, the Garinagu, one of the many cultures that make up the melting pot that is Belize. Product of the indigenous Arawaks of South America and shipwreck prisoners destined for slavery, the Garinagu claim St. Vincent as their homeland. Forceful exodus from the Caribbean lead to Central American settlements in Honduras, Guatemala and Belize.. Throughout migratory pathways, the Garinagu have continued to use music in daily life and work to retell their story from elder to younger generation, to diminish the boredom of everyday chores, to accompany sacred rituals that maintain intergenerational bonds and to recreate a sense of shared identity despite borders.
The main instrument used in Garifuna music that requires musical accompaniment is the drum. Traditionally these drums were made from a hollowed out trunk of hardwood, covered with animal skin usually a deer, peccary or sheep which was stretched over the trunk and tightened with rope and wooden pegs and they were always played solely with the hands. Today the design is very much the same, although the hollowing out is normally done with a machine rather than by hand. In the majority of everyday secular music, two drums are involved. The main and largest drum provides the bass and is known as the Segundo. Its namesake drummer provides the regular beat. The Primero drum is usually smaller and its player uses a more complicated pattern of beats and is considered the more skilled musician. In Garifuna rituals a third larger drum is used with the central instrument, the Lanigi Garawoun (the heart drum) providing the lead for the other two drummers.
For social occasions, one of the most popular music genres and dances of the Garifuna is the Punta. This was traditionally a dance performed by men and women representing a dialogue between the two sexes performed at social gatherings and wakes. The drums and rattles accompanied the narrative text written mostly by women provides comment on the many challenges of life. Traditionally families socialized together and young people would be under strict supervision. The Punta was a way through which couples communicated interest in each other without alarming the audience or creating suspicion. Today couples doing the Punta try to outdo each other with complicated movements of the feet that sway the rest of the body, producing an impression of moving hips and bottoms. Other dances such as the Chumba, Gunjei, Wanaragua, Paranda and Hüngü Hüngü are often played in social settings.
This traditional Punta music has evolved into one of the most popular and ubiquitous style of music in Belize: Punta Rock. The artist Pen Cayetano is largely regarded as the originator of this genre of music during the 1980s. It is a faster version of traditional Punta with the addition of electric instruments such as drum, bass guitar and synthesizer and the dance accompanying it is every bit as provocative as the original. Today one of the most popular Punta artists is Supa G.
Paranda is another example of how the music has evolved over the years as the Garifuna have assimilated other musical influences from their surroundings. A gentler genre of music and dance traditionally performed by the Garifuna men, Paranda songs were used as serenades in which a group of guitar-toting performers would to from house to house in their communities performing their compositions. The singing providing the narrative accompaniment is very much the call and response, leader and chorus arrangement that is typical of some music of the Garifuna and talks about what is happening in the singers’ lives. Though the musical form is known to have been around since the early 1900s, it wasn’t until 2007 when Andy Palacio elevated Paranda to international fame with his acclaimed CD, “Watina”. After his unexpected death, the Garifuna collective, the group with which Andy had toured to promote Watina, continued to build on his legacy, creating a reputation for this more soulful exploration of Garifuna music.
The Wanaragua provides yet another “soundtrack to life”. Otherwise known as the Jonkonnu or John Canoe, the traditional dance is thought to have been created or adopted on the island of St. Vincent. Similar dances created by the slaves were performed on special occasions around Christmas; however, oral history refers to Wanaragua dancers using a guise lo lure European colonizers into Garifuna communities during the wars they fought on the island of St. Vincent in the 17th century. Today the dance is usually performed between Christmas Day and Día Rey, January 6th or the feast of the epiphany. Accompanied by drumming, performers dress up in pink masks as a mocking representative of Europeans and dance from house to house for a small monetary token.
Whilst the majority of Garinagu are located in the Stann Creek district around Dangriga and Hopkins and in Barranco in the Toledo district, any visitor to Belize is sure to encounter one of the above genres of music and dance particularly around November as they celebrate the uniqueness of their culture and soundtrack of their life.
Want to experience the sounds and sights of the Garifuna culture? Then book your flight with Tropic Air and take a trip this November 19th to beautiful Dangriga.