The Garifuna culture in Central America is one that a limited number of people are familiar with. Visiting a Garifuna community on the island of Roatán, Honduras in 2007 sparked my interest in their culture and especially their most popular dance, the punta. In this essay I will introduce a brief history of the culture and song/dance style the punta, as well as talk about the creation of the highly popular style of world music, punta rock. This one category of music, punta, will be used to help explain the history, traditional practices and future expansions of the culture. History of the Garifuna People
The Garinagu people are an ethnic group that was formed by the fusion of the Black Carib Indians and Nigerians. They are now referred to more commonly as the Garifuna people. Their history began in 1635 when the Spaniards had gone to West Africa and taken ships full of men and women to be used as slaves in the Americas. Fortunately for the Nigerians, the boats shipwrecked off the coast of the island of St. Vincent and they were able to swim ashore and seek refuge within the settlements of the Black Caribs. The Garifuna people take pride in fact that they were never enslaved. For the next century the Caribs and Nigerians intermixed and intermarried to form a single culture, the Garifuna (Kirtsoglou & Theodossopoulos, 2004).
Other inhibitors of the island were the French, allies of the Garifuna, and the British, enemies of the Garifuna. In 1795, the British took control of St. Vincent to start sugar cane plantations. Two years later they relocated the Garifuna prisoners to the island of Roatán in Honduras. Almost 2,500 Garifuna were deported. The island was too small and the land too unproductive to support their population forcing the Garifuna to petition the Spanish authorities to allow them to settle on the mainland of the area we now call Central America. Garifunas arrived in Trujillo, Honduras on May 17th, 1797. The Spanish employed them as soldiers, and they were able to form communities along the Caribbean coast of what is now known as Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize, and Guatemala (Rust, 2001). According to local legend, the Garifuna hid cassava, a plant that makes up a fundamental part of their diet, inside their clothes, where it was able to survive the passage to Roatán. Watered by the sweat of the tightly packed captives, they then planted the cassava on Roatán, where it grew abundantly. November 17, 1802 is recognized as the arrival of Garifuna in Belize. Each year, when locals reenact the arrival in that land, they head out to the sea in boats and then ride the waves onto shore, all the while waving palms and banana leaves to symbolize the cassava that nourished their ancestors (Rust, 2001). This ritual, completed by the music and dance, helps to reinforce the Garifuna culture. The Garifuna Punta
The Garifuna culture exhibits many influences of its African heritage. This is especially true when comparing traditional music of the Garifuna to the music of the African communities from which their ancestors came from. Much like the music of Nigeria, much of the Garifuna music relies a great deal on the call and response model. The patterns heard in the Central American Garifuna communities vary slightly from the traditional ones found in Africa, but none the less Garifuna music such as the punta is very consistent with traditional African styles (Palacio, 2008). Punta music is a very popular dance style performed by the Garifuna in Belize and throughout Central America. “According to one Garifuna author [S. Cayetano] this style is, the most popular dance performed at wakes, holidays, parties, and other social events” (Palacio, 2008). The punta is a traditional dance that symbolizes the reenactment of the cock-and-hen mating dance. This couples dances features quick movements of the buttocks and hips and a motionless upper torso (Greene, 2002). In the article, Ethnicity,...
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Kirtsoglou, E., & Theodossopoulos, D. (2004). They are Taking our Culture Away. Critique of Anthropology, 24(2), 135-157.
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