Museum Explores Garifuna’s Rite of Passage

“Keeping Culture: A Rite of Passage Among the Garifuna of Roatan Island” will open at the Wake Forest University Museum of Anthropology Tuesday, March 3. The exhibit, curated by anthropology graduate student Rebecca Benedum Mankowski, will run through April 9.

The Garifuna, a group of people of Native South American and African descent, live in the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and Nicaragua.

The exhibit will focus on the Garifuna of Roatan Island, located off the coast of Honduras, and their rite of passage into death.

When a Garifuna individual dies, friends and family members gather together and pray for nine nights so the deceased person can gain entrance into heaven. On the ninth night, the Garifuna hold a wake to celebrate the person’s passage into heaven. At the wake, the Garifuna sing, dance and tell stories unique to their culture.

“Keeping Culture” takes visitors step by step through the rite of passage and explains its significance within the culture. In addition to photographs taken during Mankowski’s field study, the exhibit includes drums, a conch shell used to signal the start of the ceremony’s “punta” dance, and a reconstructed altar, replicated to look like those used during the nine nights of prayer.

The exhibit explores how performing the rite of passage helps the Garifuna hold onto key elements of their culture, said Mankowski, who researched and designed the exhibit as part of her master’s thesis. “These practices help to maintain and reaffirm Garifuna identity.”

Exhibits at the Museum of Anthropology are free and open the public. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday. For information, call (336) 758-5282.

Categories: Arts & Culture, Events