Food and festivals give VIU tourism student a taste of Garifuna culture

The month of June has brought many new exciting experiences that have allowed me to explore the land and culture of Belize more in-depth. I have become settled and more comfortable, and have quickly learned the in-and-outs of both Seine Bight and Placencia, including where all the best local cuisine is hiding. It is safe to say I am officially addicted to Creole bread, made fresh and sold every afternoon from a local woman in the heart of Seine Bight.

To offset my indulgence in cultural Garifuna and Creole food I have developed an active lifestyle that comes with more benefits than physical fitness. I have joined the Beach Workout Club and the Girls Run Club in Seine Bight. These clubs require an early start of 6 am to beat the heat, and have allowed me to gain a greater sense of what this once “sleepy fishing village” used to be like before the hurricanes of 1996 and 2001, and before the major tourism developments were built along the peninsula. At 6 am, the sun has just risen, everything is so calm and quiet, and local fishermen are out at sea in their boats – some with spears, others checking on the nets they had cast the night before (prior to tourism development, communities on the peninsula made their livelihoods fishing and farming). My 6 am rituals, however, are more frequently being interrupted by the start of the rainy season!

I have been lucky to be involved with a variety of other community engagement activities that allow me to indulge in the wonderful nature and culture of the peninsula and its surroundings. I have also been able to satisfy my more adventurous side by taking a day trip to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. A local tour guide from Placencia led a hike, river tubing, and natural waterfall sliding, all while educating our group of the unique wildlife, flora, and fauna of Belize. In a separate workshop delivered by the Pan American Development Foundation I was able to learn more about one of Belize’s most important, yet increasingly vandalized, species – the mangrove tree. The workshop included the importance of mangrove reforestation to curb critical issues of coastal erosion and habitat destruction in Belize, and the subsequent sociocultural, environmental, and economic sustainability issues related to the removal of mangroves for development purposes. This workshop was of interest to me because of its relationship to amenity migration, namely the growing tourism and real estate industries of Belize that support coastal development projects.

The Placencia Peninsula also has many annual events, two of which occurred this past month. The Battle for Cancer Run is a five-mile race from Seine Bight to the Placencia pier, and was my first organized run! Participants were all ages, and came from various districts of Belize. More recently (and my personal highlight thus far) was Lobsterfest in Placencia. This is one of the most celebrated and anticipated events in Belize that is held in various popular locations throughout the Lobster season, such as San Pedro, Placencia, and Caye Caulker. I loved the festival not only for its exotic music, food, and culture, but also for the opportunity to work with the Seine Bight Reservoir to Museum Foundation to raise funds for the construction of a Garifuna museum of history and culture in Seine Bight. At the festival we sold traditional Garifuna cuisine, including hudut (fish in coconut gravy with smashed plantains), sahaou (a cassava and coconut based porridge), and cassava cake. The endless grating of cassava and coconut to make these dishes is not an easy task! But it was worth all the labor because: a) the final product was delicious; b) I got a truly authentic Garifuna cultural experience; c) it supported a cultural tourism development initiative; and d) I got to spend time in the kitchen with some of the loveliest, most outgoing, and inspiring women I have ever met. I’m curious to see how July might top this past month! It will begin with Lobsterfest round 2 in Caye Caulker over Canada Day weekend, and in the company of my fellow Canadian #QEScholars. 

Sarah Hain, Tourism, VIU