Warsawa Drum School

My Un-belize-able experience

Tonight we had another cultural night that was planned for us by the Hillside staff. We went to a drumming school in PG. This was a Garifuna family who owned and ran this school. They teach people how to drum to different Garifuna music. We got there and listened to the family play their songs for about a half hour. Then we all got up and learned how to do the dance called the Punta. This is basically a dance where you wiggle your hips as fast as you can. It was so much fun. We were all dancing and laughing while this family played this amazing music on the drums. After we got to play around with the drums and dance to the music they made us original Garifuna dinner. It was Hudut which is basically a piece of fish in this delicious saucy soup and mashed plantain on…

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By Warasa Garifuna Drum School

Garifuna Food

The Garinagu in Hopkins Village, Belize.

One of the richest features of the Garifuna culture is the delicious food. It strikes a brilliant balance between African and Indigenous American heritage. Many people travel all the way to southern Belize just to get a taste of this food’s natural flavor, which comes as a result of the many organic ingredients used in its preparation. Speaking of ingredients, foods such as coconut, plantain, banana, garlic and cassava make up the basis of the Garifuna diet. These fruits and vegetables are used to prepare many of the staple Garifuna’s dishes.

One famous Garifuna dish is Serre, which is a soup that uses coconut milk as the base and a multitude of other vegetables such as carrots and okra, along with whole fish to add rich flavor. It is known for its spiciness, which is usually not provided by soups. Hudut is one of the more straightforward dishes. It is…

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By Warasa Garifuna Drum School

Garifuna Drumming Lessons


Learning the basics of drumming has been on the “things to do” list since our very first family deferred trip (Carriacou, 2009). Finally, it happened in the coastal town of Punta Gorda in Belize’s deep south.

Punta Gorda 1.JPG “Downtown” Punta Gorda

Punta Gorda 2.JPG Punta Gorda Shop

There are often times (this trip and others) I think we are travelling in the middle of nowhere. This was no exception. Once again we were the only white folks around. After a bumpy, muddy drive five minutes out of town (the town itself is in the middle of nowhere), we arrived at the Warasa Garifuna Drum School. It was the home of Ronald Raymond McDonald (Ray), founder of the drum school. We had arrived mid-afternoon without notice and we were not very hopeful that we would be able to get a lesson, but went nonetheless.

punta gorda warasa road.jpg Road to Warasa

Obviously, our arrival had awakened Ray. Fortunately for us, he…

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By Warasa Garifuna Drum School

Weekly Photo Challenge: Cherry On Top

Musings of a Random Mind

Punta Gorda, Belize
Location: Punta Gorda, Belize

Needless to say, I had a great time. Belize is a small country in Central America known for its beauty and innate charm.

Punta Gorda, Belize

Taking drum lessons from Ronald McDonald at his school was the cherry on top. He helped me discover the rhythm in me.

Ronald is a member of the Garifuna, one of the five major ethnic groups in Belize. He said that his ancestors originated from Western Africa, but he was quick to point out that they were free men. It happened that, when their ship sank during a storm, their European masters drowned. This allowed the survivors to escape to the hinterlands and build their own settlements.

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By Warasa Garifuna Drum School

Garifuna Settlement Day

This gallery contains 7 photos.

Originally posted on furiosities:
As I’ve mentioned before, Belize is an incredible melting pot of cultures and people. In the month of November, there are celebrations countrywide to honor one of these cultures: the Garifuna. These culminate on National Garifuna Settlement…

By Warasa Garifuna Drum School

Aurelio Martínez & the Garifuna People: A History of African Resistance in the Americas

Repeating Islands

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A superb interview with Aurelio Martínez by Pablo Medina Uribe for OK Africa. Follow the link to the original report for photographs and videos.

Aurelio Martínez laughs every two sentences, even when he describes the crimes of colonialism and slavery. Maybe, he says, it’s because Garifunapeople are happy people. The Garifuna are a community of mixed-race people who inhabit Central America’s Atlantic coast, particularly in Honduras, where Martínez is from.

The Garifuna people originated in the island of St. Vincent in the Caribbean. In 1635, the survivors of the wreck of a Spanish ship carrying people from Biafra, in modern-day Nigeria, to be sold as slaves in the Americas, were welcomed by the local Caribs. A few years later, another ship, this time Portuguese, suffered the same fate, and would-be slaves from Congo and Ghana joined their fellow Africans in St. Vincent.

The Caribs, originally from nearby modern-day…

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By Warasa Garifuna Drum School

Small Business Struggles in Belize

NOTICE: I have amended this from the original post, as the issue has been resolved honourably with the Facebook page in question.  However I think it is good to leave it up in some form, so that people become more aware of copyright laws and intellectual property rights.

I have previously written about some of the challenges of managing a business in Belize…well let’s just say the struggles continue!

There is of course the expected challenges of others thinking that we are making Big Bucks (oh if only…we barely break even!) and therefore also starting to offer Garifuna drumming lessons and related.  I’m sure they will quickly realise it’s not a booming business, but we hold no hard feelings…everyone is simply trying to make a living in a small town with few opportunities.

But today, I became very upset after finding out that one of our designs, which is used in our logo on our business cards, website, tshirts and more, had been taken and used on Tshirts by another organisation and Facebook Page.

Now here are our original designs, that were constructed from a full colour photo of Mario McDonald’s (my father-in-law’s) mahogany primero and segunda drums, that I then converted into black and white, edited in various ways to improve the look, posterised, and added the white outline to make it “pop” more.  I.e. it is no longer just a photo.  This (for a novice like me at least) was not easy, and very time consuming!




Sadly, the Facebook page in question chose the black and white image of the primero and segunda to use on t-shirts they were printing and selling in celebration of November 19th 2015.

They did not ask, and our business name was taken off the image and mentioned nowhere on the t-shirts or in any of the Facebook posts: we would have gained no exposure or marketing from the t-shirts.  At first, they refused to take the images down, seemed to find our concerns amusing, and continued to share the photos of the t-shirts despite our requests to take them down.

This is a page, that up until this time, I had considered supporters of Warasa.  They had about a year or more ago, asked if they could share some of our photos on their page if they credited us, and we gave permission.  They claimed that they did not know the image belonged to us.  Now even if that were true, it is no defense.  It is common knowledge that you can’t simply use a design without first checking who it belongs to, and asking permission.

For those that are not aware: Copyright is automatic – you do not have to register it.  

In the end, the page in question did the honourable thing and did as we requested from the start, which was to:

  1. Issue a public apology for using our design without permission on their FB page
  2. Remove all photos that include our design/products that use our design
  3. Cease production and distribution/sale of all tshirts and other merchandise that include our design
  4. Advise everyone that already received a tshirt that it is not their design, but is in fact that of Warasa Garifuna Drum School

Quite a few professional photographers also messaged me to tell me their photos had also been used by the page, with their name/watermark on the bottom of it removed and replaced by the page’s own logo/watermark.  So it seems indeed they didn’t understand the concept of artistic intellectual property.  I think this was a harsh and upsetting lesson for both parties.

For the small number of people who are trying to make this somehow about me not being a born Belizean and/or not being Garifuna, then you have clearly never met me.  Garifuna drums and music belong to the Garinagu people.  But this particular image of Garifuna drums belongs to Warasa, the same way that PG town belongs to all its residents, but a photo of PG town belongs to the photographer.

Thank you as always for your support…



Hard-Work and Hammocks

Some visitors to Belize may leave with the illusion that many of its residents are, shall we say, under-worked.  Stores that close for two-hour lunch breaks, people lounging around in hammocks in the middle of the day, people that extend even the Belizean definition of “right now” to seemingly endless stretches of time.  But just as you wouldn’t judge the overall productivity of Spain by observing their lunchtime siesta, or assume they never eat dinner just because none of the restaurants have opened by the time you go to bed at 10pm, take a pause for thought before you judge a country without knowing or understanding the culture and economic realities.

Most Belizeans I know get out of bed at 5am (or earlier!) every day and by 7am they have already been to the market, sold their morning supply of crafts/baked goods/snacks, cooked and/or eaten breakfast, and started making lunch, preparing their next round of wares to sell, or gone to their “proper” job.

My mother-in-law has built her whole house and put 7 children through school almost entirely on the proceeds from cooking and selling conch fritters.  But if you catch her around the hottest part of the day, you may indeed find her snoozing in a hammock or sitting at her sister’s house having a chat.  When you consider that she’s already been up and working for eight hours, you might think it sounds like a rather good idea.


My mother-in-law, Ms Dami, almost finished cooking the morning batch of conch fritters by the time I drag myself out of bed at 6am

Many families live entirely on informal trade, not documented in the employment figures or any other official reports.  When I visit the Maya villages, mothers tell me they want to send a daughter to high school, so they start baking bread on the fire-hearth to sell.  That same daughter will have to catch a bus at 4am every school day to get to school for a 7am start, and won’t get home until 5pm.  Almost everyone I know, even those with a regular salaried job, has a back-up, as political, seasonal, or other unpredictable firings from such jobs are common.  The x-ray technician also makes glass windows.  The government driver also cuts grass and fixes lawnmowers and weed-eaters.  The road worker also welds burglar bars.  The nutrition coordinator also promotes a drum school and writes a riveting blog and the security guard also teaches and plays Garifuna drums to locals and tourists.


Our house with windows made by the local X-Ray technician, and burglar bars made by a local road construction worker.

Office jobs, or indeed any job where you get to work inside all or most of the day, are considered a pretty sweet deal.  Compared to working in a sugar cane, banana, orange or shrimp farm, or doing construction work or security work for $15USD a day, it certainly is.  Living costs in Belize are high.  My utility bills here are triple what they were living in London, food is also more expensive, and unlike back in Scotland, there is none of the security of free quality health care, free primary and secondary education or unemployment benefit.  Instead, people have their families.

The young woman who found a day job saved up money to finish her high school education at evening classes.  Now she has graduated high school, she is using whatever money she can spare to put her younger sister through university.  Older brothers quit high school before graduating so that they can work and save money to make sure their younger sisters graduate high school.  Mothers put food on the table by getting up at 5am every day to make snacks to sell by walking or cycling around in the hot sun all day.  Fathers get up at 5am to go work on the construction site in the blazing sun till 5pm.  Children are sent out after school to sell bread and buns to help make ends meet.  Mayan farmers work the land around their village to grow enough corn and beans to feed their families.

Life in Belize is tenuous.  You never know when you or a family member will get sick or have an accident, and if they do, how you will pay for treatment.  Almost every week there is a radio appeal for donations to help the family get treatment for the mother who has been diagnosed with cancer or the family whose uninsured house burnt down, or for the family who want corrective surgery or a wheelchair for a disabled child.


This week’s appeal for help

Like any country, there are those who don’t pull their weight.  And since the weather is good, there is a good chance you will see them as they hang about outside, instead of in cooler countries where they might be hidden inside their house, bar or gambling shop.  But next time you see the mother relaxing in her chair at 2pm, or the shop owner reopening 15 minutes later than advertised, or the office worker seemingly doing nothing, count how many hours it is since 5am, ask yourself how many children or younger siblings or nieces or nephews they may be supporting, consider how low their income is, wonder how many other jobs they may have, and re-evaluate.

So bear with your drum school instructor and promoter as we juggle our day jobs and our budding business – if we don’t get back to your message right away, be patient, or give us a call.


Now excuse me as I go lay in my hammock before preparing for another early village journey tomorrow.