Leaving, Chow Mein, and Drums

Why do we leave? Why do we make the decision to get up out of bed and embark on five hour drives to unknown places? Why do we endure rain and food poisoning and sleeping in swaying hostels whose foundations have broken down years ago?


This weekend, Nicole, MG (Mary Grace), and I decided to go to Punta Gorda to attend the Battle of the Drums performance. I had no idea what was going to go down here. I thought that maybe it would be like the movie Drumline.

Our journey began with missing the bus. We did not want to wait another hour and a half to catch the next one, so we haggled a taxi driver to get us to Dangriga so we could catch the bus from there to Punta Gorda, an easy 3.5 hour bus ride. He wanted 100 US. He got 50. We flew through the mountains to Dangriga, where we hopped on the bus just in time. The best part about the bus rides are easily the folks who jump on to sell things. I could have bought everything from popcorn, to pizza, peanuts, meat pies (wth sweeny todd??), to small children. Just kidding. I’ve yet to come upon that soliciting, but I promise if I do I’ll turn ’em in.

After seeing the rural part of Belize (which is, like, 80 percent of it) we finally arrived in Punta Gorda. I would say this place is maybe the size of Oxford, so we got around just fine. We stayed at a place called Nature’s Way, hidden under towering trees and plants. It was seaside and pretty adorable as long as you don’t like sleeping in enclosed buildings.

We met up with John, Laura, and Emily and decided to find somewhere to eat. I picked Jammy’s because there were Christmas lights on the building and trees, and picking places to eat because of arbitrary reasons is not the way to go. The chow mein gave me food poisoning.

While trying to find the venue for the Battle, of course the coldest rain I’ve felt in Belize begins to fall on my tshirt and shorts-covered body. We were convinced that the Battle didn’t exist because so many locals either didn’t understand us or thought it a great joke to point us in one direction and watch us wander. But we found it. We met up with Ray, our supervisor from Miami, and his wife. We finally got inside to sit in the auditorium, and we sat for a good hour and a half before any festivities began. That’s Belizean time for you.

The Battle was well worth the wait, though. The drumming is part of the Garifuna culture—of the people who settled in Belize who are of Afro-Carib descent as well as a little French and English mixed in. They are prevalent throughout Belize and make up so much of its heritage and tradition. The drumming is an integral part of their livelihood. Many organizations have been started to preserve this Garifuna tradition, and the Battle is one way this has been kept alive. Eight groups from Belize as well as Honduras and Guatemala come to compete for the name of top drumming group. They come dressed in traditional Garifuna wear, bright and colorful.

Only the men drum, and the women sing and dance. I don’t know if this is a rule, but this is what I observed. When the groups did their processional through the aisle, I couldn’t help but smile at them. They were joyously singing! Even if I couldn’t understand the lyrics, it was still infectious.

After the introductions of the groups, they began to face off. The types of music as are follows (this is taken straight out of the program handed out to the audience):

The Punta: the most popular type of Garifuna music. The tempo is upbeat and fast-paced. This type of music is normally played at parties and other social events. It is danced by making swift twists of the waist.

Hunguhungu: Has a three-beat rhythm and is a circular dance that is danced by shuffling the feet and swaying from side to side.

Paranda: Comparable to Blues music because the lyrics give stories of death, life struggles, personal experiences, etc.

Chumba: When dancing to this music, the dancer makes movements that depict the performance of a chore, task, or some aspect of the Garifuna life.

Wanaragua: also known as the “John Canoe” the drummers drum to the dance of the dancer.

We ended up leaving halfway through because it was so late, we were tired, and I was feeling the effects of the chow mein. We got to see the punta style of drumming and dancing. I tried to do it in my chair and looked a fool.

We woke up and while Nicole went kayaking with our other group, MG and I decided to find some breakfast. Nature’s Way had a good deal of eggs, toast, fruit, and beans for 8 BZ. It was pretty good and we chatted with some of the other travelers while we breakfasted next to the sea. Then we walked along the coast (some nice men pointed out that we were ‘white girls.’ no crap, dude.) to find Ray’s hotel so we could ride home with him. No busses this time. Our travel time was almost cut in half as compared to the bus, which was good news. Although I wasn’t the most comfortable for the weekend, I’m so glad to have gone down to little Punta Gorda!


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