“Let’s Worship Our Lord as Garinagu”: Sacred Music and the Negotiation of Garifuna Ethnicity

This dissertation explores the ways that Garifuna communities in Belize, Central America use religious belief and sacred music to articulate ethnic identity. Belize is in the midst of a tourism boom that has brought an influx of tourists, capital, and access to global media to the small seaside village of Hopkins, Belize. In response to this rapid globalization, Garifuna people in Hopkins are struggling to distinguish who they are and who they will become in the future; both music and spirituality play central roles in these processes of defining self and community.

The most influential religious communities in Hopkins are Holy Family Catholic Church and Ligilisi Lareini Bungiu, an inter-denominational Evangelical church. Through musical ethnographies of these two churches, I explore the different ways that each uses music to express faith, values, and Garifunaduáü, or “the Garifuna Way.” By composing and performing meaningful musical repertoires, Garifuna Christians articulate both local and cosmopolitan facets of present-day Garifuna identity. Until the early 1980s, Hopkins was religiously unified as the vast majority of its residents were Garifuna and Catholic, and the establishment of churches such as Ligilisi Lareini Bungiu has caused conflict in this small village. However, I suggest that the tension engendered by religious pluralism in Hopkins is promoting religious and cultural vitality as individuals and groups are prompted to actively evaluate who they are and what they believe.

Garifuna culture has always evolved to meet the changing needs and circumstances of Garinagu. Garifunaduáü in the present day is best conceptualized as a multi-directional flow of cultural expressions, beliefs, and values rooted in Garifuna history and tradition. Thus, this dissertation is an exploration of several processes: sociocultural change within Hopkins Village, the commodification of Garifuna music due to Belize’s growing tourism industry, and the indigenization of Christianity in Garifuna Catholic and Evangelical churches. Central to this ethnography is the idea that the negotiation of identity—whether collective or individual—involves both looking back toward roots and tradition, as well as looking forward toward choice and innovation.