The culture of the Garifuna is a system of traditional and typical West
African cultural expression fused with Amerindian customs and subsistence
bases. This infrastructure of dance, drum and ancestor worship through
ritual is no clearer defined than through the elaborate funeral rites associated
with Garifuna culture. Our presentation was a visual synopsis of the Dugu.
Here we will outline in detail the rites of death, the most important and
sacred cultural expression of the Garifuna.
Funeral Ceremonies of the Garifuna begin after the gathering of family
and friends at nightfall. Women, children and men participate in
their respective roles throughout the night until early morning.
The men create a sacred space by making tent like roofs out of their canoe
sails and afterwards, they play card games, tell traditional tales such
as Ananse and enjoy song and dance. Along with the traditional dances,
like the Punta and circle dances, the younger children play many games.
Throughout, food is served to family and close friends as well as beverages
made of rum and local roots. Outside of the immediate area the older
women gather around the coffin and begin their nightlong vigil of prayer.
Everyone stays till dawn because it is said that, "Anyone leaving before
that time may excite the wrath of the dead and be exposed to his revenge"(Coelho
pg. 174). In accordance with the Garifuna's incredible ability to adapt
to the surroundings, they have incorporated Catholicism into the rite.
On the morning after the wake, the body is carried to a church where customary
masses and rites are preformed. The body is then buried according to Catholic
The Garifuna observe a Nine-Night Wake in which the wake procedures are
repeated for nine days following the death. It begins on a day so
that the ninth night falls on a Saturday. This is considered the
family's final farewell to the spiritual double or ahari of the dead who
is believed to remain in the house after the burial. It is only now
that her/his trip to the other world begins. Candles are lit, prayers
are repeated and, especially regarding the Black Caribs, the wishes of
the ahari are carefully attended. The favorite things of the spirit
and fresh water are placed allover the altar to further satisfy the wishes.About
six months later a further process of helping the ahari to its ascendancy
is preformed. The immediate family does Amuiedahani or the bathing
of the soul, usually the spouse and children, because the spirit has become
weary and is in need of refreshment and strength to continue. The
males dig a pit in the deceased's bedroom and water for the bath is prepared
from herbs and leaves into which small half-baked cassava bread is dissolved.
It is a short ceremony that begins with religious songs. The eldest
member fills a gourd with the water and throws it into the pit saying,
"Here this is for your bath"(Coelho pg. 177). Everyone then follows
according to age.
A full year after the death Dugu or Feasting the Dead is held in attempt
to please the departed spirits who are believed to not be in peace.
It usually consists of a feast given to the deified ancestors by the extended
family. However, this is usually not preformed until the family members
experience nightmares or domestic accidents or when the family's means
of subsistence are threatened and all other remedies have failed.
A priest or buiai is then brought to communicate with the ancestral spirits
with the help of his messengers (hiuruhu) to arrive at the appropriate
ceremony. Traditionally, the family gathers and the rites are held
in the village where the lineage originated. The heart of the Dugu
is a small mound of earth (dabuyaba) built on the floor of the house set
apart for the ritual. It is suppose to attract and hold the spirits,
who are mystically bound to the earth the once tread upon. The ritual
is a whole week of activities, dancing, chanting and food sharing.
The most sacred part of the Dugu is the mali or amalihani a dance led by
the buiai and the drummers. During the mali, the placating of the
spirits of the ancestors takes place. The congrgation forms behind
the buiai who faces the drummers as they all move in a counter clock-wise
direction around the dabuyaba halting position to mark the four cardinal
points. These motions signify the directions from which power is
drawn and in which the spirits may reside. Each mali is dedicated
to an ancestral spirit. Normally some dancers enter into trance signifying
that the ancestors have arrived at the ceremony. The ritual progresses
throughout the mornings, when they go to the sea to collect shellfish and
the favorite dishes of the ancestors. Upon return, they dress and
attend a requiem mass. The candles from the mass are taken back to
continue the rites. There follows three more rites: Arairaguni- calling
down the spirit; Guibida- attempts to please the spirits; Abaiuhani- allows
the children to get aquatinted with the spirits. The final rite is
the serving of the hot specialty dishes relished by the ancestors.
They are presented to the spirits and songs are sung. After it is
thought the spirits have begun to consume, everyone else partakes.
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