I Mi Gawn Da Malanti: Reflections from a field-trip at Gales Point Manatee

In March of 2011, I was a part of a field-trip to Gales Point Manatee along with colleagues from “Colonialism and Resistance in the Caribbean” (a history course at the University of Belize, then lectured by Ritamae Hyde). 

The field-trip gave us the opportunity to observe and experience the lifestyles of a community that was established by African freedom seekers in Belize - the ‘rebels’ to slavery.

Even though I had visited the village before (during primary school), I was not aware of the historical significance of the community. In fact, I do not remember ever being told that it was established by ‘runaways’. We had gone there to see the endangered manatees, which we never got to see.

Historical connections
We now know that slavery in Belize was not a family affair, a perspective popularized by Emory King (refer to Iyo: 2000, 2012; Bolland: 2003).

In Belize, resistance to enslavement came in various forms. For example, there were armed revolts (1765, 1768, 1773, 1820), abandonments from the settlement, and possibilities of seeking legal redress when possible. There were also less open forms of resistance: back-chatting, abortion, and working as little as possible.

Ritamae Hyde (2009) recently established that based on (textual and oral) evidence Gales Point Manatee was an early maroon community. -A maroon community is a settlement made by persons who resisted enslavement by fleeing the control of the colonial authorizes and ‘slave masters’ to live in self-sufficient communities in the hinterlands.

It is believed that Gales Point became one of such community where ‘ex-enslaved’ persons from “nearby areas such as Sibun River, Runaway Creek, Mullins River and Main River” established around the late 1700s and early 1800s (Hyde: 2009, p. 13, 16).

Colonial knowledge of maroonage in British Honduras dates to 1816 when Superintendent Col. George Arthur recorded that there was “a community ‘near Shiboon River, very difficult to discover’” outside the influence of the colonial authorities (quoted in Shoman: 2000, 51).

In 1820, Arthur again made reference to “‘two Slave Towns, which it appears have been long formed in the Blue Mountains to the Northward of Sibun’” (ibid).

Due to the geographic isolation of Gales Point Manatee from the rest of the country, some traditional African practices continue to be observable. The field-trip allowed us to experience such cultural traditions through the food, music and dance, language and folklore (also see Iyo, et.al. 2007).
Thatched Houses at Gales Point Manatee (NICH)
Like many West African cultures, the people of Manatee were traditionally reliant on ground food and other locally planted crops for subsistence.

Fishing and hunting was also a much greater source of food for the community. Now, it has become increasingly common for the community to rely on processed goods. 

However, we were able to enjoy preparing the sere. The fish sere dish is essentially a coconut-milk soup of fish and ground foods (yam, coco, potato, etc.). It may also be served along white rice.
Preparing provisions, photo by colleague
Preparing provisions, photo by colleague
Student making coconut milk
Adding fish to provisions in coconut milk, photo by colleague
Students enjoying the Sere

We also enjoyed Johnny Cakes and Creole Bread during other meals.

The people at Manatee are also well known for their homemade wines from local berries and cashews, amongst others fruits.

The Sambai was traditionally a fertility dance performed on a full moon night. The dance was customarily more spiritual and having a greater degree of socio-cultural significance than it now does. Some past beliefs holds that the dance helped to treat infertility. 

To do the dance, the dancers form a circle. Persons are selected to dance near the center of the circle, around a fire. In the past, it said that this was a way sexual partners were chosen (i.e. by identifying the person to dance with). Persons take turns, usually leaving one couple dancing at the center at a time. The dance has a distinct drum rhythm accompanied by call-and-response songs.

We were told that the drumming we heard that night was not played as it ought to have been played (as the drummers were still learning).
Drummers, photo by colleague
Even so, it was an enjoyable experience despite the rainy clouds that disallowed the moon light from appearing.

The songs contained subtle and sometimes open sensual/sexual content that one would expect since it is a traditional adult fertility dance.

Story telling
Alan Andrewin, the story teller
The storytelling was an entertaining part of the experience. Mr. Alan Andrewin, the storyteller, has a great memory and creative capacity to tell stories.

The introductions always started with a bizarre exaggeration to make the crowd laugh such as “Back in the day when monkey use to chew tobacco” and ended with the classic Creole line “if the pin neva ben, di story neva end”.

Some of the stories are long and have morals that can only be captured if one pays keen attention.

The story may also change according to the mood of the teller, for example, the storyteller mentioned or integrated hurricane Richard in two of the stories, making the audience laugh at a recent disaster that affected the community.


I was able to hear bits of an interesting conversation that Mr. Anderson, the storyteller, and other community members had. I had heard him telling some of the villagers that he “ah try” stop the rain but cannot stop it.

Yet when he was asked to talk to us about “negromancy”, he smilingly said that he did not know much about it and asked his son to respond.

While this is not necessarily “negromancy”, it reflects a deep spiritualism among the elderly. “Negromancy” also referred to as “obeah” by some is the belief in a person’s spiritual ability to manipulate occurrences in the natural world; among other practices. It is connected to the religious beliefs of obeah in West Africa (refer to Iyo et.al.: 2007; and Hyde: 2009).  

Outside influences

It is important to recognize that culture is always in a process of change due to both internal and external occurrences and influences. 

Gales Point is not in total isolation or unaffected by the broader Belizean cultural lifestyles and ‘Western culture’.

According to two community members, many things have changed in the community.
For example, the Sambai is no longer the same. There are more children participating in the dance than actual adults. In the past, no children were allowed to do the Sambai

People now live in concrete houses as opposed to thatched houses in the past.  Processed and canned foods are available in the village.  There is a local Christian church. Rastafarianism, or at least the growing of ‘locks’, is now quite common among the youth (for discussion on Rastafarianism in Belize, see Lawrence: 2012).
Lodging at Gales Point, photo by colleague
These modern influences at the same time have benefited the community. For example, they now have access to electricity and water.

There is little economic activity occurring in the village which leads people to migrate out of the community. 

According to statistics from the 2010 Census, a total of 296 persons were living in the village. Approximately 200 of these persons were below the age of 19. 

Many persons hoped that our visit and popularization of the community would increase tourist arrivals and economic activities.


The trip was a pleasant experience. I was able to taste the sere for the first time, partake in the sambai (even if I did it wrongly), and hear stories from a Creole storyteller.
Walking out in the Lagoon

As one of my colleague mentioned, it was also an experience to walk on the land where brave men and women had once threaded in their pursuit to establish an autonomous community against all the challenges.

It was their ingenuity and survival strategies along with a strong sense of community that perhaps allowed them to lead lives as free persons instead of oppressed in Belize Town.

This is not to suggest that the community was a socialist-heaven. There would have likely had their own internal conflicts and problems as well (politically, socially, economically, religiously, etc.).

Much remains to be done for the broader Belizean community to become more aware of the historical legacy of the people at Manatee. There is also the possibility for further documentation on the history and socio-cultural changes of the community. 

And if the pin neva ben, di story neva end... 

Bolland, Nigel. Colonialism and Resistance in Belize: Essays in Historical Sociology. 1988. Mexico:                Cubola, 2003. Print.
Hyde, Ritamae. "Stoan Baas” people: An Ethnohistorical study of the Gales Point Manatee community of Belize. The University of the West Indies, 2009. Master of Arts. Refer to: http://books.google.com.fj/books/about/Stoan_Baas_People.html?id=kVunnQEACAAJ&redir_esc=y
---. “Stoan Baas” people: An Ethnohistorical study of the Gales Point Manatee community of Belize. Journal of Belizean Studies 31.2 (2012). Refer to: http://edition.channel5belize.com/archives/65370
Iyo, Aondofe. "Flight from enslavement in the Bay of Honduras to Freedom in Petén, Guatemala: Preliminary Findings." Belize Archeology and Anthropology Conference. 2012. Refer to: https://www.academia.edu/5268501/ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Iyo, Aondofe, Tzalam Froyla, and Francis Humphreys. Belize New Vision: African and Maya Civilizations, Heritage of a New Nation. Belize: Factory Books, 2007. Print.
Iyo, Joesph. Towards Understanding Belize's Multi-Cultural History and Identity. Belize: University of Belize, 2000. Print.
Lawrence, V. (2012). Dreadlock displaced: Stereotyping Rastafarians in Belize Journal of Belizean Studies, 31(2). Refer to: http://edition.channel5belize.com/archives/65370

** All field-trip photos are from colleagues 

How to cite this article: 
Cocom, Rolando. "I Mi Gawn Da Malanti: Reflections from a Field-Trip at Gales Point Manatee." Blogger 2014. Web. 2014.


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