Garifuna Traditions

Perhaps the best way to experience Garifuna traditions is by visiting their communities during their local fairs. These traditions are very interesting and unique. There are two Garifuna traditions that seem to be present within all the Garifuna festivities. These are the Barbaric Indian and the Yancunu or Mascaros dance.

The Barbaric Indian was originally celebrated around Christmas time. Today, you will find it present during the festivities at the local fairs. Such is the case for the Fair in Corozal taking place this week. This individual is someone from the community that uses a costume. The costume always includes a mask, but in addition, he covers himself with burnt oil and will stain anything and anyone that he touches. Thus, he threatens the people in community that happen to be around him as he walks through town. There are only two ways of avoiding this dirty bastard: either you run faster the he does, or you give him money. This of course is what he is looking for!

Although the barbaric Indian may seem nasty and harmful, he represents no danger, other than dirty clothes. For the equivalent of one USA dollar he will even agree to a selfie with you! Make sure you have some cash handy just in case you run into this fellow when visiting a Garifuna community!

Garifuna Traditions

Yancunu or Mascaro Dance. Photo courtesy of Esau Ocampo

The most famous Garifuna tradition is the Yancunu or Mascaros dance. Its origins go back to the island of Yarumei, where the Garifuna Culture came to be. Today, this island is known as Saint Vincent. This is where the Garifuna Culture and ethnic group was born. Yancunu is a warrior dance. Men don masks and wear a dress to seem weak and have an element of surprise to beat the enemy. This dance has an important spiritual element to it. The Garifuna always dance it to say goodbye to the dead during the local wake. Drums are always omnipresent during Garifuna music and dances, and Yancunu is no exception.

However, it is interesting to note that in this case, the dancer does not dance to the rhythm of the drum. It is the drummer that beats his drum to the rhythm of the dancer! A Yancunu dancer has the right to ask for a different drummer if he is not satisfied with the current one! This makes the Mascaro dance unique and different. I invite you to visit a Garifuna community when they are celebrating their local fairs to experience the unique Garifuna Traditions. Do make sure to bring some change in your pockets. You never know if you will run into a Barbaric Indian!