Drums of My Father

Keynote address by Mr. E. Roy Cayetano

... Drums of my Fathers
of my grandfathers
of my ancestors
Drumming in my psyche
Drums of my Fathers
Drum! Beat!
Beat on! Drum on!
And on! ...

I am told that recently, on the occasion of the Black Summit, a highly educated Garifuna young man remarked that if it were left to him, he would silence the Drums of My Fathers. I was deeply saddened and troubled by this and thought of the saying "Be careful what you ask for because you may just get it". Why would anyone, particularly a Garifuna, want to silence the Drums of our Fathers? Or is it that we do not know what the Drums of our Fathers signify?

Twenty-seven years ago I sat in the Dangriga Education Office and in about twenty minutes or so wrote a poem entitled "Drums of My Fathers". Even if I say so myself, that poem is one of the better-known Belizean poems. However, I will not claim credit for it because it was too easy to write. I did not figure it out. Ichahówarügüti keisi libeágei weremun wagía Garinagu. There is the phenomenon we call Ichahówarügüti which, in translation, means "just given". This is a high level of inspiration that is acknowledged by traditional Garifuna composers who will always speak of having learnt a song instead of having composed it. It is like the spirit is giving you the song and all you have to do is to learn and remember it or, as in my case with "Drums of my Fathers", all I had to do was write it.

Why am I telling you about this? I think I was simply the instrument through whom the ahari was asking all of Belize to take note of forces like "organ music, jukebox blaring, hymns sung to Mary and the queen's English" that threatened to silence us. I was simply the instrument chosen to assert the truth that "our spirit and our voice will not be quieted, will not be silenced, will not be muffled", for, collectively, we are the "hollowed hallowed haloed trunk" of a tree whose roots go back to Africa and South America. It is from that tree that the drums are carved, and those drums capture and release our collective voice, the wisdom of our ancestors, the voices and cries of our unborn children, the sounds of the mountains, the valleys, the forests, the plains, and the wildlife of two great continents.

It is important that we understand this and that we fully comprehend the depth of this metaphor. This way we will avoid the temptation of foolish utterances that sell us short and can only serve to anger the spirit of our ancestors.

The inauguration of this monument is indeed a landmark occasion. This Drums of our Fathers Monument is not particularly huge although the three drums and the sísira represented here are larger than life. However, it is a very powerful symbol that captures and expresses Garifuna history, Garifuna spirituality, Garifuna reality and the reality of present day Dangriga.

As you can see, these are not your regular primero and segunda drums that are used for secular functions. These are the three dügü drums that are used in the dabuyaba for ritual purposes. They represent the past, the present and the future. They represent those who have gone before, those of us who are now in the circle of life, and those who are not yet born. Together, they represent all life - past life, present life and future life, which seem to be separate but flow seamlessly one into the other. The present becomes past and new life comes into the circle of present life with every death and birth and this miracle of replacement and renewal takes place every day.

In the dabuyaba, the lanigi garawoun, the heart drum, is the largest of the three and is located in the centre. That drum is the one that represents present life. That is the drum that leads the others. That is understandable because those who have died and left us have finished their work, those who are not yet born ... .. well, their turn has not yet come - and it is only while we are still alive and in the centre of the circle of life that we can work. The lesson here is that this is the time for us, you and me, who are still alive to do all the good that we can because after this will be too late.

I also wish to call your attention to the fact that the largest drum, lanigi garawoun, the heart drum on the monument, rests on the other two smaller ones, instead of between them as would be the case in the dabuyaba. This is because the present rests on the past and we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before: giants like Satuye, T. V. Ramos, Barouda, Sara Gonguez, Pablo Lambey, Chica Mudun, to name just a few, as well as countless ordinary folks who remain nameless. It is also important to note that the world we live in and its resources actually belong to those who are not yet born and we are holding it in trust for them. In other words, we are borrowing it from them.

But there is yet another significance to the large drum resting on the smaller ones. The big people among us, the leaders, whether in education, business or politics, would be nothing without the smaller people. This is a sobering thought that is well captured in the monument.

And what of the rattle? This is no ordinary sísira. This is the badge of the buyei. Lumaragan buyei. It symbolizes the authority of the buyei who has been specially selected by the hiĀruha and, in cooperation with the hiĀruha - the spirit helper - is able to bridge the gap between this world and Seiri, the spirit world.

Finally, I wish to call your attention to the circle in the centre of which the Drums of Our Fathers Monument proudly sits. Notice that like the circle that is described by the journey we take during a malí, it is the circle of life divided by the four cardinal points which when joined form the universal cross with each one of us who is alive always at the centre. In a sense, it is a map of the universe and embraces all life.

In case all of this is too heavy since Garifuna Cosmology to which this monument speaks so eloquently is really heavy stuff, maybe it is only right that I conclude with some lighter thoughts that are more secular in nature. The Drums of Our Fathers are a call to war. A call to war to take action to preserve our language, music, dance and values. A call to war for the promotion of Garifunaduáü and the nurturing of Garifuna Pride. A call to war to fight against the marginalization of our people. A call to war against the scourge of drugs, HIV/AIDS, poverty and ignorance. It is also a call to war on the dance floor between the man and the woman as they outdo each other with their moves tábugien gļubana.

War is a struggle, an ongoing struggle; and I salute each one of you who is engaged in the ongoing struggle to improve the quality of our lives. I especially acknowledge the struggle of our Area Representative, the Hon. Sylvia Flores, whose vision of monument to our struggle at the proud old entrance of Dangriga, this culture capital of our country, is being realized here at this time and in this place.

I also salute Steve Okeke, the able sculptor whose hands gave a reality to that vision. I also acknowledge, with much respect, the efforts of the Mayor of our fair town and the town councillors who have supported this struggle.

May we all play our part in this war, this struggle, and may the Drums of Our Fathers never cease to drum on and give voice to our deepest aspirations.


For More Information, click on the links below:


Special Thanks to:

  • E. Roy Cayetano
  • National Garifuna Council
  • Images Courtesy of:

  • JC Cuellar
  • Dreddi

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