Words by Natalie Weiner—
Although Nick Cannon may have convinced some people that competitive drumming is a uniquely American institution, we’d like to show that you’ve been seriously misinformed. Take for example tomorrow’s Battle of the Drums, an international competition of Garifuna drum groups in Punta Gorda, Belize. The competition features eight groups from around the Garifuna diaspora, playing five different varieties of Garifuna music. Held annually since 2006, the event is a part of the celebrations happening around Belize in honor of Garifuna Settlement Day next Tuesday, Nov. 19.
The Garifuna people are descended from Caribs, Arawaks, and West Africans. This unique blend of cultures begins on the island of Saint Vincent. There, the story goes, two ships full of Ibibio people (from modern-day Nigeria) who had been sold into slavery were shipwrecked in 1675. They soon assimilated into the local Carib and Arawak communities, but as the English and French each fought to colonize the island, the Garifuna were exiled to Roatán, off the coast of Honduras. From there, they eventually immigrated to mainland Central America, settling in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and of course, Belize. For more details, check out our article on the interesting history of the Garifuna people.
This tumultuous history has inspired a lot of really amazing music. The culture was even formally dubbed a (clear your throat for this one) “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO back in 2001. There’s paranda, chumba, and probably the most popular, punta – just to name a few.
The Battle of the Drums competition aims to preserve each of these unique styles, as well as the dances that go with them. With groups from Honduras and Guatemala as well as Belize, the event brings together Garifuna people from around Central America to showcase their musical talents. And the dancing… well, you just have to see it to believe it. Check out a video below:
Although the Garifuna are a relatively small group in terms of population, they have a rich culture—one that you can also find around the United States. New York has the largest population of Garinagu outside of Central America, mostly in the Bronx and Brooklyn, while Chicago is home to a thriving community that includes the renowned restaurant, Garifuna Flavor.
If you’re looking to celebrate Settlement Day this weekend but can’t make it to Belize, Garifuna blogger Teofilo Colon has a solid listing of events around the country on his Facebook page (I spy one in BK that looks like it’s going to be poppin). You can even celebrate Garifuna culture without leaving your house, courtesy of our friend DJ Rampage (he also just happens to be Lauryn Hill‘s DJ), who made us an all-Garifuna music mixtape a few months ago. Listen, relax, and if you’re anywhere near Belize, definitely check out what is sure to be a wild night.