Who are the Garifuna People?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Garifuna people are a group of mixed racial ancestry living in Central America, especially in Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Around half a million people are considered members of this cultural group, with some Central American governments offering special protections to the Garifuna people in a desire to protect their culture and heritage. Like many minority ethnic groups, the Garifuna struggle with social and racial prejudice.

The Garifuna who live on the Caribbean coasts of Belize, Honduras, and other Central American countries are the descendants of African slaves who intermarried with the Carib and Arawak Indians.
The Garifuna who live on the Caribbean coasts of Belize, Honduras, and other Central American countries are the descendants of African slaves who intermarried with the Carib and Arawak Indians.

This group originated in the Caribbean, particularly on the island of Saint Vincent. The Garifuna people are descended from African slaves who intermarried with native Carib and Arawak Indians, leading some people to refer to them as “Black Caribs” historically. Much of the African heritage in the Garifuna comes from escaped slaves, who used intermarriage with native people to protect themselves from being recaptured and sold. The Garifuna also claim some French and Spanish ancestry, illustrating the complex racial miscegenation which was common in the region during the colonial era.

In the late 1700s, the Garifuna were forcibly removed from Saint Vincent, because they were viewed as a political threat. They were essentially set adrift and pointed roughly in the direction of the mainland, settling as they landed and establishing small communities. Some of these communities endure today, while others have since broken up. A diaspora from Central America has led many of the Garifuna to settle in American cities like Los Angeles.

These people are culturally distinct from the other racial and ethnic groups in Central America. While their mixed heritage is not terribly unusual, their cultural traditions reflect a unique blend of African, Indian, and Catholic beliefs that have been preserved over the centuries since their expulsion. The Garifuna also have a rich tradition of dance, music, and storytelling which has been heavily influenced by African traditions, and they are generally a very peaceful group.

Because of their mixed heritage, the Garifuna people have dealt with discrimination from a number of other groups. In Central America, many Garifuna settlements are on land of poor quality, reflecting their relatively impoverished state, and many of the Garifuna lack access to education and other tools which could be used to improve their living conditions. Some organizations and governments have attempted to remedy this by promoting anti-discrimination legislation and providing rural healthcare, education, and other programs which are supposed to help improve the lot of the Garifuna. Some Garifuna have chosen to relocate to other areas of the world, rather than deal with conditions in Central America.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@everetra - Yes, there is some discrimination, but they also honor the Garifuna people too. I’ve heard that there is a Garifuna day which is celebrated as a national holiday.

When I think of the story of these people, I am immediately reminded of the American Indians. Of course there was not widespread intermarriage with the Indians, but like the Garifuna, the Indians had to resist invasion.

However, in their case they did not regain control of the land. Nonetheless we honor them with special rights and privileges and even special lands like reservations.

They are a nation within a nation, and that’s exactly how I see the Garifuna people.


I have never visited Belize, although I have heard about it from a lady at work who is of Spanish heritage.

After reading this article I would love to go there to meet the Garifuna people, in addition to visiting the land. Sometimes when you think of exotic lands you think mainly of the places, but it is the rich cultural heritage of the people that gives a place its unique character.

I especially like the mixed heritage of the Garifuna. To me, this is a plus, not a minus. It’s too bad that they have to endure discrimination just because they don’t all fit a certain profile.

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