Garifunas in La Ceiba Posted July 29, 2014

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Garifuna, or Garinagu, is the result of a racial mix between some shipwrecked Africans being transported as slaves to the New World and some Carib Indians. The shipwreck happened off the shores of Saint Vincent in the Lesser Antilles, and the need for survival and to fight against a common enemy to retain their freedom brought these two very different cultures together, creating not only a new racial mix, but also a new culture, which has been declared by the UNESCO as World Cultural Heritage. Eventually, the Garifunas were rounded up in St. Vincent and marooned in the Island or Roatan, today part of Honduras. From Roatan, they eventually settled all along the north coast of Honduras establishing a variety of communities, amongst which are the communities of Corozal and Sambo Creek, a few miles east of La Ceiba, but still within the municipal limits. Hence the presence of Garifunas in La Ceiba.

The Garifuna community has given lots of color, rhythm, and sense of life to the City of La Ceiba and Honduras. About 95% of the Garifunas in Central America live in Honduras, (There is a large Garifuna population in New York City, which is the result of immigration seeking better opportunities) with only a few communities outside of Honduras: a couple in Belize, one in Guatemala and another couple in Nicaragua. The Garifunas speak their own language, and although officially Catholic, their culture has many religious elements that they brought with themselves from Africa. The World famous Punta Dance, which put Honduras on the map several years ago, is actually a Garifuna ritual, and has its origins in the ancestral African roots of this culture.

While visiting La Ceiba, you can certainly come in contact with this intriguing culture. The most authentic experience would be for you to visit one of their communities, which would take you to either Corozal, located a few kilometers east of La Ceiba or Sambo Creek, which about 8 km. past Corozal, also heading east towards Trujillo. These are the two different communities where you can interact with Garifunas in La Ceiba. If you are looking for a community where the Garifunas live much like they did back in 1797, when they first arrived to the Bay Islands, you should definitely plan on a trip to the magnificent Cayos Cochinos, or Hog Islands, here you will find a small community of about 300 Garifunas that lives in a key known as Cayo Chachahuate. There is no electric power, running water or cement buildings here. Up until very recently, the community was dedicated almost exclusively to fishing, however with the tourism industry growing, many now have an economic activity that is in touch with tourism, such as small eateries, handicrafts and even some very rudimentary guest houses.

One of the unique icons of the Garifuna is an alcoholic beverage known as “Guifitty”, which is actually a cheap rum with a series of herbs and roots that give it an absolutely bitter taste. Although originally used for medicinal purposes, and considered by locals to have an aphrodisiac charm, Guiffity has actually turned into a popular alcoholic drink for tourists, who seek it for the medicinal, aphrodisiac and cultural experience. You can find this beverage at most restaurants and bars in Corozal and Sambo Creek, and you can also find it in La Ceiba at places like Gorcha Collins, a small, very typical “Caseta” located a block away from the Hotel Quinta Real in the Zona Viva. There is no doubt that the Garifunas in La Ceiba have played an important role in creating the charm and character of this Caribbean City!

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