Some of the most fascinating and rhythmic music in Central America is found in the Garifuna communities spread along the Caribbean coast of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. The Garifuna musicians that preserve and create their own distinct music share both a common Awarak-based language and many dances such as: Bunda (Punta) Hugu-Hugu, Chumba, and Paranda, just to name a few.
Drumming in Garifuna culture is very vital, in fact if there is no drums there is no life to the music. The drums represent the heart and soul in the Garifuna music, it adds life and meaning to the songs that express their struggles and the reality the face in day to day activities, in some instance the rhythm of the drums may sometime dictates the music and dances. There are two drums, the Primero and the Segundo. The only difference between the two is their size. The Primero drums have a smaller diameter which produces a high pitch sound, while the Segundo drums have a bigger diameter which produces that heavy bass sound. The bass drummer maintains a consistent rhythm throughout a song and so provides the beat of the song, while the Primero drummer is responsible for the faster rhythms. Each Garifuna rhythm has its own style of dancing and singing that goes with the beat. Garifuna drums are made by hollowing out solid trunks of hardwoods such as Mahogany, Mayflower or Cedar. Traditionally, this was done by burning out the center of the trunk with dry cohune. Today, a chainsaw does the trick. Traditionally, one log would only produce one drum, but with the chainsaw, accuracy of cutting allows for drum makers to garner several drums (each smaller than the other) from one piece of log. After hollowing, the log is then chiseled into a cylindrical shape and sanded smooth. For some people, drum making is a source of how they provide food on their table. The prices may range from approximately $300-$500 depending on the quality of the drums, according to the residents at Hopkins Village.
The Garifuna language belongs to the Arawak group of languages. It is rich in tales, which served as an activity during wakes and large gatherings. Nowadays, because the language is being eroded the story-telling art is being lost at the same time. There is a strong link between the Garifuna language and the songs and dances which are associated with them. The melodies bring together African and Amerindian elements and the texts tell the history and traditional knowledge of the Garifuna, such as cassava-growing, fishing, canoe-building and the construction of baked mud houses.
One distinction of the Garifuna language is that male words are different from female words. In a conversation between a male and female they use different words to refer to the same thing.Another unique thing about the Garifuna language is that it is spoken across borders of countries some of which do not have the same first language (e.g. Belize (English) and Honduras (Spanish).
The traditional Garifuna colors are yellow, black, and white. Women often wear long dresses sewn from checkered material along with colored head pieces. Bright colors, distorted perspective and historical themes dominate the work of the many talented Garinagu painters. The men wear a traditional shirt of special design shirt that would normally complement the female’s which is referred to as ‘Dashiki’.