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Synopsis. The River Returns a garifuna tale This book captures the epic struggle that love encounters when it crosses the cultural divide Brian Castillo Emeri.
Table of contents



The people go to the Catholic church for a special service. Afterward, the crowd enjoys dancing and feasting on traditional foods. Major life changes such as birth, becoming an adult, and death are marked by religious ceremonies. They combine Catholic traditions with rites from the ancestral religion. Physical violence is rare among the Garifuna. An angry person almost always uses such practices as name-calling, cursing, gossip, and mocking songs.

The River Returns : A Garifuna Tale by Dorothy Carr (2009, Paperback)

Sometimes a person who has been wronged will even use witchcraft obeah to gain revenge. Houses are either wooden or made of wattle and daub woven sticks and twigs plastered with clay. They have thatched roofs. Wooden houses are raised several feet off the ground on posts. Many villages still have no electricity, and even in the towns with electricity there are frequent power outages. Garbage is often thrown into the sea or into open ditches and streams.

In some cases, it is tossed out of the back door. Most houses have no toilet facilities. With the increase of "junk food" in developing areas, the Garifuna diet has become less nutritious. Obesity has increased, especially among women. Pre-school children do not get enough protein. The Garifuna use both modern medicine and traditional remedies. But they hold to their belief that the most important thing determining people's health is the power of the spirits of their ancestors. Among the Garifuna, many women bear children without having a permanent or legal relationship with the children's father.

Legal marriage occurs in a minority of households. The Garifuna are generally seen as a matrifocal society where women are central to family life.

Wátina (Andy Palacio)

Family lines are determined by the mother, rather than the father. In the past, households often had three generations of women. Increasingly, however, only the oldest and youngest generations remain. Working-age people often go away seeking better jobs.

Wátina (Andy Palacio) | The Garifuna Collective

The grandparents stay to raise the children. Since the s, many women have gone to major cities in Central America or the United States. There they find jobs in the textile industry or as maids. Garifuna mothers are not as directly and physically involved with their children as mothers in many similar cultures. Some observers connect this fact with a tendency toward independence and individualism among the Garifuna. Mothers wean children early and in some cases do not breast-feed at all. They also feel comfortable in leaving them with caregivers for short or long periods of time.

In keeping with the nonviolent nature of the Garifuna, children are raised with little or no corporal punishment—they are not punished by being hit or spanked. Fights among children themselves are frowned upon and broken up. Violence among family members is also extremely rare.

Most Garifuna wear modern Western-style clothing. Even among the older women, very few still wear the traditional costumes trimmed with shells. But they do wear brightly colored full skirts and kerchiefs, making them look very different from younger women, who wear jeans, tee-shirts, and tight skirts, much like young women everywhere.

The men also wear jeans, and the traditional straw hats have been replaced by baseball caps. Young people's clothing has been influenced by the places where their parents have settled. In the towns one can see some young people in the latest fashions from New York, paid for with money sent by relatives living abroad. Dietary staples include rice, fish, green bananas, plantains which resemble bananas , and coconut milk. Coconut milk is used to prepare many dishes, such as hudut, in which it is mixed with crushed, boiled plantains. The green bananas are boiled and served as a starchy vegetable.

Manioc, or cassava, plays an important role in the diet of the Garifuna in Honduras, who eat it boiled as a vegetable. But it is important throughout the culture as the basic ingredient of areba, the flatbread. This food, and the customs for preparing it, have helped to unify Garifuna. Their name is based on the term karifuna, which means "of the cassava clan. Cassava roots were traditionally grated by hand on stone-studded wooden boards, a tedious job. Today, people often use electric graters. Then the pulp is strained by hand in bags made from woven leaves.

The bags are hung from a tree and weighted at the bottom. This squeezes out the starch and juices which are poisonous. The white meal that is left dries overnight, is sifted and made into flatbread. The most popular beverages are coffee and various "bush teas," sweetened by generous amounts of sugar. Desserts include cakes and puddings made from sweet potatoes, rice, and bread scraps. A very popular dessert is the candy called tableta, made with grated coconut, ginger root, and brown sugar. The mixture is boiled, poured into a greased pan to cool, and cut into squares. Children sell this confection, a favorite among tourists, at bus stops and in other public places.

School attendance is generally low after the primary grades.

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But the basic ability to read and write is valued, and most Garifuna do get enough schooling to learn that much. Many Garifuna in Belize are well educated and have become respected schoolteachers. The Garifuna have a rich heritage with roots in both African and local cultures. Their traditional music includes work songs, hymns, lullabies, ballads, and healing songs. It shows an African influence in call-and-response song patterns and complex drum rhythms. Some songs are sung during daily tasks, such as the baking of cassava bread areba. The most typical Garifuna dance is the punta, which has its roots in African courtship dances.

It is performed by couples, who compete for attention from spectators and from other dancers by making fancy flirtatious moves. The paranda is a slow dance performed by women, who move in a circle performing traditional hand movements, and sing as they dance. A sacred dance, the abaimahani, is performed at the dugu, a feast held for the spirit of a deceased ancestor. The dancers—all women—form a long line, link little fingers, and sing special music. The Wanaragua, or John Canoe dance, performed at Christmastime, includes sad songs about the absence of loved ones.


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While holding on to the older cultural traditions, the Garifuna are also developing some new ones. Modern musicians have transformed the ancient music of the punta, creating the popular "punta rock. The paintings of internationally acclaimed artist Benjamin Nicholas depict aspects of Garifuna history and culture in bold, modern styles.

The Garifuna have traditionally lived by fishing and by basic small-scale farming. In the twentieth century, the banana industry became a major employer. This created jobs both in agriculture and in the major ports that sprang up along the coast. However, the largest of the work force consists of underemployed wage laborers. The Garifuna who live in towns but still farm often travel 5 to 10 miles 8 to 16 kilometers to their plots, leaving early in the morning by bus and returning late in the afternoon.


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The civil service, especially the teaching profession, has been a major employer of Garifuna in Belize. Many children of Garifuna in the United States enter fields of medicine, engineering, and education.

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Some return home and others remain abroad permanently. Soccer is a popular sport among the Garifuna. Young people organize games on flat open areas in their towns or villages, even on the beach. Punta parties, named for the traditional dance that is performed at them, are a favorite form of entertainment. Pop musicians have developed "punta rock," which combines the beat of traditional punta music with the electric guitar sounds of rock music and modern Garifuna lyrics. This music, which originated in Belize, is becoming popular throughout the Caribbean. In a reverse development, the Garifuna have adapted the West Indian reggae music to a form of their own called cungo.

Today, many Garifuna households in the larger towns have television sets. Few of the Garifuna still practice their traditional crafts. These include hat-making, drum-making, basket-weaving, and the carving of dugout canoes. To prevent the loss of this heritage, the National Garifuna Council of Belize held a workshop in In it, young people were taught the crafts of their ancestors. The lack of opportunities at home has led many Garifuna to go to other parts of Central America and to the United States.

It has been estimated that as many as 50 percent of the men are absent from the average Garifuna community at any given time. With growing numbers of women also traveling, communities are losing a whole generation of working-age adults. The elderly and very young are left to survive together. They often live on money sent by absent family members, until the young people are old enough to leave as well. There is increased concern about alcoholism among the Garifuna.

Beside River A Tale

Alcohol consumption itself has increased, a fact that some people relate to the social problems caused by unemployment and the absence of adults. Marijuana use, mainly by young men, has become common among Garifuna living in the towns. Women and the Ancestors: Black Carib Kinship and Ritual. University of Illinois Press, The Indians of Central and South America: Belize Tourism Industry Association. His childhood village has become a touchstone for Aurelio, a dedicated Garifuna cultural advocate and musical innovator. I consider this album to be the sound of my Garifuna people.

On the previous album [Laru Beya] we experimented and collaborated with other artists to reconnect what was lost between Africa and America. This album is purely Garifuna, and the entire spirit of the music reflects the Garifuna experience. Though it incorporates elements from a wide variety of sources, Garifuna music's heart beats with very personal, deceptively simple tales.

Aurelio credits his mother Maria, who dreamed of being a professional singer, with introducing him to the basics of Garifuna songcraft. Like many Garifuna, she composed her own songs based on community events and her personal experience. She would teach the verse and chorus of the songs to her son, who would then go on to build on the tale by adding another verse, in traditional Garifuna style.

My mother is the sole inspiration for this album, says Aurelio. My mother sees herself reflected in me, to a large degree, the only one of the family who could fulfill her dream of singing professionally. She reminds me of songs, and will give me advice on music and the songs. She's the best example I have in my life of what a human being should be, my main consultant and confidante. Irawini "Midnight" reflects this affectionate, collaborative bond between mother and son. Composed by Maria, it tells of listening to Aurelio play guitar in the distance, as she waits anxiously for his return home one night.

Garifuna songs, be they new or very old, are often filled with teasing humor and straightforward meditations on relationships. They chronicle major events in the life of a community; Milaguru is a plea for the captain of a ferryboat that capsized, killing all aboard, to be careful and steer his passengers home. Other songs tell of personal sorrows: What's really important is how the listener interprets a song via his or her own experience, explains album producer Ivan Duran.

When a Garifuna song becomes popular in the community, it's usually not because it has a catchy melody or it's a fun song.