Academic journal article Black Music Research Journal

The Dugu Ritual of the Garinagu of Belize: Reinforcing Values of Society through Music and Spirit Possession

Academic journal article Black Music Research Journal

The Dugu Ritual of the Garinagu of Belize: Reinforcing Values of Society through Music and Spirit Possession

Article excerpt

This article examines the relationship between music and the spirit realm of the Garinagu (people of African and Amerindian descent) of Belize as displayed in adugurahani ("Feasting the Dead"), a three- or four-day ritual to appease neglected ancestor spirits (Cayetano and Cayetano 1990, 78). This ritual is commonly known as dugu. This examination of dugu is based on the hypothesis that music is a mediating agent that connects people and their ancestors for the purpose of maintaining family solidarity and reinforcing traditional norms and values of society. The objective here is to show how spirit possession and music are used to reinforce social values during an ancestor placation ritual.

Language,(1) music, and spirituality in ritual expression are essential components of culture and society. The maintenance and retention of these components affect processes of enculturation and preservation of social values. Ritual participants believe that without singing, drumming, and rattling, dugu--the most salient ancestor propitiation rite of the Garinagu--could not be performed. Furthermore, they believe that without the ritual, the culture--as it is known today--would cease to exist. To better understand and interpret how music and ancestor spirit possession in this rite reinforce social values, concepts concerning the reorientation of time, cultural relativism, and consanguineous descent are discussed. Western philosophies such as hermeneutics (the science of interpretation) and phenomenology (the descriptive philosophy of experience) are particularly applicable to this study. Steven Friedson (1996, 2) stated that "doing phenomenology ... requires a reflexive engagement with the things themselves [the music and its practitioners]" and suggested that dialectics--interactions and transactions between the researcher and researched--is of significance in doing ethnology. Reflexivity and dialectics were important to the collection and interpretation of data concerning dugu. Data for the study are based in part on fieldwork conducted during the summer of 1996 in Dangriga, Belize. Because of the personal nature of the subject matter (ancestor spirit possession in the context of family gatherings), pseudonyms are used to protect the anonymity of most informants.(2)

Garifuna History and Ancestor Ritual Practices

The Garinagu (commonly known as the Garifuna) are people of Amerindian and West African descent who live along the coasts of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua and share a common origin, language, music, and system of ancestor placation. They are the product of genetic mixture and cultural syncretization between Amerindians (the Carib, Arawak, and Taino peoples) on the island of St. Vincent in the Lesser Antilles and West Africans (believed to be of Yoruba, Ibo, and Ashanti descent) who were brought to the New World to be enslaved in 1635 (Cayetano 1990b, 32).(3) Scholars also suggest that the Garinagu on St. Vincent were frequently augmented by runaway slaves from nearby islands from ethnic groups that include the Efik and Yoruba (Coelho 1955, 6-8) and the Ashanti-Fanti, the Fon, and the Congo (Bastide 1971, 77). In 1796, the Garinagu were defeated in battle by the British and the following year deported to Roatan Island near the coast of Honduras. Beginning in 1802, Garinagu in Honduras made numerous landings on the coast of Belize (Cayetano 1990b, 43). On November 19, 1832, following massacres and civil unrest in Honduras, a large number of Garinagu landed in what is now Dangriga, Belize. Today, November 19 is recognized annually as Garifuna Settlement Day and is celebrated as a national holiday.

Adugurahani, commonly known as dugu, is a ritual for the extended family that consists of both the living and the spirits of their deceased relatives. It is based in part on the Island Carib belief "that departed relations [ancestors] were secret spectators of their [the Island Carib's] conduct; that they still sympathized in their sufferings, and participated in their welfare" (Bryan Edwards quoted in Kerns 1983, 31). …

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