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Holger is a management consultant turned volunteer. He loves to take pictures, run around in the sun, dive and he has never met a beer in his life he didn't like.
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November 19th in Belize. Garifuna Settlement Day. We were very determined not to miss it.
And we didn’t. Though it was close.
The Garinagu (plural for Garifuna which is Singular and the adjective) make up about 6-8% of the people of Belize (depending on the source). They are a mix of Africans, Caribs and Arawak. (“More precisely, the average Garifuna is 76% Sub Saharan African, 20% Arawak/Carib and 4% European.” – Wikipedia. Just thought this was a funny quote.) In 1675 a slave ship from what is today Nigeria wrecked in the Lesser Antilles. The slaves were brought to St. Vincent where they revolted agains their Carib masters. They fled into the mountains and teamed up with other runaways there. They were eventually driven away from St. Vincent and settled along the coast of Central America where you can find settlements today in Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
Garifuna Settlement Day
Garifuna Settlement Day is the only ethnic holiday in Belize. It celebrates the landing of the Garinagu in Belize through a re-enactment of the day the Garinagu arrived in their dories (dug out canoes).
November 18, 2011
Our journey to the Garifuna Settlement Day almost ended before it started as it was close to impossible to get clear informatino on the how, what and when with regard to the celebrations. We were told that it was only in Dangriga, everywhere, only in Garifuna towns (turns out this was the case). We were told it was the night of the 18th (kind of true), some time on the 19th, the evening of the 19th and on the morning of the 19th (true).
When we had finally figured out when it was, we were too late to get into Dangriga, the capital of the Garifuna culture in Belize. We chose to go to Hopkins, a small village south of Dangriga. This didn’t bother us as the thought of spending this in a smaller settlement as opposed to the flagship seemed rather charming. (Also we expected to see about 20 other bloggers in Dangriga.)
We signed our buddy John Pascoe up for the trip and met at the bus terminal at 1 pm to make the 4h trip down to Hopkins.
If you follow John’s Blog, which you should, because it’s good, you will know that John has this childish fear of Belizean public transportation. Whenever he travels by bus it seems that it involves fisticuffs to get on the bus followed by near-death experiences once the bus starts moving. We’ve never had any experiences close to this. Until this day.
You see, everyone wants to get down to “the South” for the Garifuna Settlement Day. Maybe in a country that is as anal retentive about processes and planning ahead as Germany, that would warrant the scheduling of more buses than usual. Not in Belize.
To make a long story short: Bus arrives, we fail to get in through the front, a helpful bus terminal employee helps us get in the back, we squeeze in, push in, shove in and are in turn squeezed, pushed, shoved. Shortly before the bus leaves, another helpful bus terminal employee kicks us out of the bus again because we didn’t have a seat and that is not safe.
We made it on the next bus and even got seats – which is always a good thing for a 3 hour bus ride. The following three hours were spent sleeping, reading, listening to music and day dreaming.
Once we came to the end of the Hummingbird Highway, we faced the next challenge: The bus only stops at Dangriga, but we needed to go to Hopkins – about 12 km from Dangriga on a dirt road that has no bus service. Luckily Kerstin is well networked within the Red Cross community by now and one of the local volunteers picked us up and gave us a ride to Hopkins.
We checked into our room at the All Seasons Belize and had Dinner at Love on the Rocks before meeting up with John and two of his friends at their backpacker’s place. The backpacker’s place was crawling with stereotypical backpackers (what I think of those, I shall disclose another time) so we left as soon as we could and headed for King Cassava – the local dive. We enjoyed some good beers and laughs, some local drumming and some of the aforementioned backpackers trying to set themselves and each other on fire, a commendable venture that was unfortunately cut short by a pouring thunderstorm with rain.
Because, you see, it always rains for Garifuna Settlement Day.
When the rain kinda of faded into a steady drizzle, we walked all the way to the end of Hopkins (the other end, as seen from our guest house) to have a couple of drinks at Driftwood. Around 11 we took a taxi back to the guest house – after all, we had to get up at 5:30 to see the reenactment of the Garifuna Settlement!
November 19, 2011
When our alarm went off at 5:30, we immediately realized that if you divided the alcohol we had that night before by the amount of hours that were between now and the night before when we had had all that alcohol and you factored in the alcohol processing capabilities of our body that you would more likely fall down on your knees on the way out of the bed rather than arriving at a result that would be anywhere between nothing and 0.
I got off my knees, mumbled something about a blogger ethos and taking a job serious and stormed out of the door. I immediately came back to get my camera. About 45 minutes later I would come back again (after having walked back about 20 minutes) to also pick up my batteries and sd cards.
We made it to the place where we expected the re-enactment to be by around 6:30 – just in time for the sunrise.
I snapped a picture with the iPhone and uploaded it to facebook where it received a lot of attention thanks to built-in HDR.
We hung around the beach and waited and played with some dogs.
After a while we realized that there were two groups of people on the beach: Drunk Garinagu and sleepy white tourists. Just in time with this realization, a very helpful local came up to us and rounded up the tourists: “Listen, it seems like you’re all here for the ceremony. Since we only have one priest in this district, the ceremony will have to wait until the one in Dangriga is done.”
Turns out, the Garinagu that were there weren’t there for the ceremony but were still there from last nights party.
We hit town for breakfast at thongs – a nice café´on the main street (haha – Hopkins only has one). We had a great breakfast that was only disturbed by the realization that we were the only party in this cafe that did NOT have beer for breakfast.
It’s one of those mornings where you ask yourself: What has become of me?
After breakfast, we went back to the guest house, packed our stuff, checked out, and still got back in time to what felt hours early for anything to happen. Finally, a kid sprang up and waved for the horizon where the boats were slowly appearing.
Historically, these boats should be dories, singular: dory, meaning dug-out canoes (meaning that a whole tree is hollowed out in the middle and put in the water). Today, these boats are decorated speedboats for reasons of convenience and for reasons of most people involved still being drunk. I’ve heard people complain about this fact (the boats, not the drinking) – but i don’t mind. They were still nicely decorated and didn’t affect the atmosphere of the whole event.
We left at 11 am – and there was still no priest in sight for the ceremony. But we had to catch a bus back to the city so we walked back to the guesthouse, hitched a ride to the junction with the main road and sat around for more than 2 hours there.
But you get used to that.
I was very impressed by the re-enactment – despite all timing issues and the amount of spectators. Standing in the middle of a mass of people who celebrate the end of their search for a piece of land where to live in piece. That was very impressive and still makes the hair on my arm stand up.