Guatemala, known for having the second highest proportion of indigenous people in the Americas, is often overlooked when it comes to black communities from a Western perspective. However, on the Caribbean coast, the culturally rich and resilient Garifuna community lives. This community can also be found in Belize, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and their continued existence is a testament to the perseverance of past generations and the current ones.
We had the privilege of living in and volunteering with this community for a month, and we were struck by the stark contrast between Garifuna culture and the rest of Guatemala. Despite Spanish being the lingua franca, the community has its own language, cuisine, religious practices, music, and traditions that make it feel like a completely different country. The mystique of the Garifuna is enhanced by their origin story. They originated from the island of Saint Vincent and were the result of the mixing of black Africans and brown Caribe indigenous people.
Saint Vincent was the last free island to be colonised, and the Garifuna were banished by British imperialists in the 18th century. The Garifuna settled first in Honduras and then along the coast, creating a unique and resilient culture that has survived to this day. We witnessed the community’s history of resistance through a tradition where men dress in old-fashioned women’s clothing and dance to the sound of Garifuna drumming. This is a tribute to the Garifuna who tricked invading colonisers by disguising themselves as women before attacking them.
While many tourists come to the area for its stunning natural scenery and the Garifuna community, we found that immersing ourselves in the community was the most enriching experience. Life moves at a slow pace, and people are friendly and willing to chat. After traveling in Central America for four months, Livingston became our favourite place.
Access to Livingston, the main Garifuna community, is only by boat as there are no roads leading there. This gives the community a Caribbean island feel despite being on the mainland. The culture and community welcomed us with open arms, making our experience an unforgettable one.