Wanaragua: A Garifuna Christmas Dance Tradition

Discover the rich tapestry of the Garifuna culture with Wanaragua, a captivating dance that takes centre stage during the Christmas season. After the festive month of November celebrating Garifuna Settlement Day, locals eagerly await this mesmerizing ritual in the community. 

Colours and rhythm traverse through the streets of Southern Belize in the December chill, dancing from house to house. After a hearty dinner, families relax on their porches or invite friends to enjoy the entertainment in their yards for the highly-anticipated tradition. 

Wanaragua groups often go around the neighbourhood, dancing alongside Charikanari (Two Foot Cow)- a performance where the male dancer dons a cow-shaped mask and an exaggerated rare end.

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Meaning behind the Mask

After exile from St. Vincent and arrival in Belize 200 years ago, “John Canoe” or Jankunu is a form of expression as the attire and dance serve as a satirical representation, subtly mocking the British colonial masters.

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The term “Wanaragua” holds the key to the dance’s essence- “mask.” Wire masks are painted pink and designed with European features, accompanied by regal crowns created with vibrant crepe paper, mirrors, patterned fabric, and feathers. The rattle of their cowry shell knee pads tickles the ear as it harmonizes with the beat of the drums. Jankunu dancers embellish their white tops with ribbons across the chest and waist. These elements add a visual spectacle to the performance but carry profound cultural significance.

Following the Beat from Generation to Generation

During Wanaragua, the dancer takes the lead, orchestrating the shaky movements with the primero and Segundo drums. Traditionally, men are the dancers, and women accompany the drummers with melodious singing as Gayusas. The dynamic synergy creates an intriguing performance that engages the audience and preserves the tradition for future generations.

As cultural preservation becomes the driving force for maintaining Belize’s diversity, it creates opportunities to empower the younger generation. Today, Jankunu dancers range from toddlers to seniors, showcasing a deep interest in this cultural staple. Youths participating in events like Battle of the Drums and the Jr. Annual Habinahan Wanaragua Competition open doors to hone their craft and show off their best moves! 

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Culture Awaits You

Embark on a journey to Belize to experience Southern Belize in its glee during the holiday season! Wanaragua is more than just a dance; it is a living narrative and a symbolic unmaking of history. From its soulful beats and brilliant colours, this cultural spectacle invites you into the heart of the Garifuna culture.

Banner Photo Credit: Hopkins UnCut, Row Photo Credit: Pelican Beach Resort – Dangriga, Belize,