Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Garífuna community pays a visit to Philadelphia in August 2009

One of my favorite activities in Philadelphia in August is the annual Caribbean Festival which takes place in Penn's Landing, the recreation space which faces the Delaware River and is in the area where William Penn originally landed when he came to the colony later named Pennsylvania. This year I was pleasantly surprised that a group of Garífunas from the New York City area came to perform and sell items representative of their culture. One of the festival organizers told me that the audience really enjoyed their performances.

To summarize, the Garífuna are descendants of a mixture of Africans and Carib peoples, the majority of whom settled on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent until they were forced out by the British at the end of the 18th century. Those set adrift on a ship by the British from St. Vincent, on the eastern side of the Caribbean Sea, landed providentially on the island of Roatán on the western side. Today Roatán belongs to the Central American nation of Honduras. The Garífuna eventually migrated to the mainland and settled on the Caribbean shores of Honduras, Guatemala and Belize. Many descendants of those migrants later moved to New York, specifically Brooklyn, where they form a thriving community.

Garífuna music and dance, with its combination of African and Native American traits, does not sound exactly like other African forms of music in the Caribbean region. In particular the singing style and the drum patterns make it unmistakable. Some people may be familiar with the punta rhythm, which can be played traditionally or in the modern "punta rock" style. There are also Garífuna rhythms such as the "paranda" that use the guitar, which suggest influence from Spanish music. Garífuna culture is familiar enough for you to find explanations on the Internet or examples on YouTube.
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