LIVINGSTON,Guatemala – This community of Garifunas – a legacy of a colonial-era mix of African slaves and indigenous peoples – has surmounted its geographical isolation and centuries of neglect on Central America’s Caribbean coast to become a hotspot for U.S. and European tourists attracted by a culture known for its sensuality.
With its uniquely sensuous and erotic dance, called “la punta,” and lively African and indigenous roots, the Garifuna community, which considers happiness one of its cultural values, has drawn international attention.
Guatemala’s Garifunas, who share their roots with those in neighboring Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua, live off fishing and ecotourism, and their music, metallic and rhythmic, is an ode to sensuality and eroticism.
Visitors from Europe and the United States, drawn by Garifuna culture and dance, travel to Livingston, on the border with Belize, in their own boats or are brought here by tourist operators.
The swaying of hips by both men and women to the beat of drums captivates visitors, who are mesmerized by the sensual movements required to dance la punta.
La punta is also known as “the fertility dance” because dancers usually consume a local drink, known as “giffity,” that is considered an aphrodisiac.
The Garifunas, also known as the Black-Carib people, have their own territory, language and culture, but unlike the other 23 ethnic groups in Guatemala, they gained legal recognition with the signing of the 1996 peace accords that ended the civil war in the Central American nation.
The Garifuna presence in Livingston, a port on Guatemala’s Caribbean coast, dates to the 18th century, when groups of African slaves ran away from persecution in the British island colonies.
It was in St. Vincent, they say, where the group’s history and language, different from any other in the region, took root, and Garifuna is a mixture of the Arawak and Kalipuna Indian languages, with a smattering of African words.
“Kabiri” (What’s your name?), “idabiña” (How are you?), “gereme” (Thanks), “useitina eigininu” (I want to eat) and “ubaticensu” (There is no money), are some of the most common phrases uttered by locals and tourists in the region, which is the birthplace of great athletes and models who have made their mark nationally and internationally.
Among notable Garifunas is Teodoro Palacios Flores, who was born in 1939 to a shoeshine man and later became one of the greatest athletes in Guatemala, winning medals at the Pan American, Central American and Caribbean games.
In 1960, he set a national record with a high jump of 2 meters, 10.5 centimeters. Palacios studied in the United States and was a professor for 24 years, serving as an adviser to one of Chicago’s mayors.
Another Garifuna star is Deborah David, whose face and figure have graced the runways of the fashion world for many years, especially in Latin America.
David, a tall 27-year-old beauty, became famous when she appeared in “La Negra tiene tumbao,” the last video made by the late salsa queen Celia Cruz, which showed her scantily clad and strutting down the streets of Mexico City. In 2003, People en Español magazine listed her as one of the “50 Most Beautiful” people in the world of entertainment.
The Garifunas are no longer a forgotten people, they have reconnected with their roots and identity as they look toward the future.