Los Garifunas – A Hidden Treasure

By Diana Pastor

The Maya are perhaps the biggest attraction for tourists to our country. However, there are two other major ethnic groups in Guatemala, less known than the Mayas but no less interesting. These are the the Xincas and the Garifunas. In this article, I will tell you a little about the latter.

The Garifuna of Guatemala can be found in the department of Izabal. The origin of this word is not well known. How the Garifuna culture came about is a story that goes back many years, to the sixteenth century. It is assumed that the first Garifuna were African slaves that the Spanish brought with them to serve them in their colonies of America. But some of the cargo ships on which they travelled were wrecked and ended up on the coast of what is known today as St. Vincent, an island of the Lesser Antilles. Here lived the Caribbean Indians, who received the Garifunas into their communities. Both groups mixed over time, resulting in a melting pot of lifestyles, physical features and language. Consequently, the Garifuna language is a mixture of Arawak (the language of the Caribbean Indians on the island) and some words from African languages.

But the Garifuna only lived on San Vicente in peace for a while, as the English wanted to take over the territory and enslave its people. And so the Garifuna, who have always been well known for their fighting spirit and desire for freedom, decided to confront them. However, they lost the war and the British expelled them. So the Garifuna left the island on boat looking for new places to settle, arriving first to Roatan in Honduras. Then they spread to Nicaragua, Belize and Guatemala.

Despite their long history of struggle, the Garifuna maintain a cheerful philosophy and are full of life. They are dedicated to cultivating cassava, fishing, and making canoes. Most of their meals are an excellent example of their rich culture. Personally, I recommend coconut bread and cassave (a tortilla made from cassava flour). Music and dance are also an essential part of their lifestyle. Their musical style is fast and lively. Among the dances that stand out is the Punta (which is originally a supposed to be a mournful dance but is still very lively) and yancunu (which is only danced by men).

In closing, I would like to tell you about one of the most prominent Garifunas is Wingston Gonzalez. He is a young poet of Livingston. His book “Los Magos del Crepusculo (y blues otra vez)” (“The Wizards of Twilight (and blues again)”) is a pure fusion of culture and poetry that makes Wingston an excellent  representative of the new generation of Guatemalan writers


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