Monday music: Garifuna

Last week I had a housewarming party, & this post is a big thank you to a friend who couldn’t make it due to the flu, but sent me a CD.

The album is Umalali, a collection of songs from the Garifuna Women’s Project. Here’s another, because I’m unable to be decisive and just choose one. 

I had never heard of the Garifuna before, but they are apparently descendents of the Carib and Arawak people of the Caribbean and Central America, and Africans who had either been enslaved, and then shipwrecked near the Island of St. Vincent, or had sailed from the Mali Empire on a voyage of discovery and got lost in the Caribbean long before the slave trade. Depends who you want to believe, I suppose. The Malian explorer option is attractive but perhaps wishful thinking — or a politically strategic reclaiming of African history. The slave shipwreck theory is more widely accepted (although as we know from current Australian politics, if you repeat anything often enough, it becomes fact).

I find it interesting that — even though the Mali empire was geographically quite different to modern Mali (for a start, it had a coastline) — the vocals of some of the Umalali women remind me strongly of the Wassoulou sound. But then, coincidences do happen.

On the other hand, the African languages which one source suggests have contributed to the Garifuna language are Swahili, Yoruba and Bantu. None of these are languages of Mali, so far as I know, although it’s quite likely they were spoken by people who’d been stolen from several different West or Central African countries. In any case, the Garifuna vocabulary is considered to be mostly Arawak, with only a few words from Africa.

The first song in this next, most informative video, is also from the Umalali CD.

Well, it’s interesting to speculate about the language clues, but I am far from being an expert. No matter how their ancestors got to the Caribbean, there is no denying you can hear the African roots in Garifuna music, and you can definitely see it in their dance.

The Garifuna story reminds me how mixed race people often find their ethnicities and identities are questioned, so it feels appropriate to be posting on this bicultural blog about a people born of the fusion of different ethnic groups. It certainly shows that intermixing is nothing new, and it’s been interesting to find out how different aspects of native Caribbean and African cultures have survived and evolved. Against the odds really. As you’ll discover if you click on some of the links above, while the Garifuna became established on St Vincent’s, they were exiled when Britain took over the island in the late 18th century. The descendents of these refugees have maintained Garifuna culture (with some new, regional variations) for the past 200-plus years in Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and Honduras and more recently, North America. Their language, dance and music are on the United Nations List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Culture, of course, includes food, so to finish up, because I know several of my friends who follow Monday Music are also foodies, some Garifuna cuisine.

Except I feel a bit worried — what happened to the first fish that she never went back to check on? Fried to a crisp?

More recipes here.

I lied. That wasn’t the last video. This is, because I want you to see more of the dancing.


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