Dabuyaba: Sacred Garifuna Architecture

This is probably one of the most important vernacular Garifuna architecture found in Central America.  This building, called the dabuyaba, is where traditional ceremonies are performed, among those, the Dügü.  This one, in particular, is located in the Barranco Community in Southern Belize.

The Garinagu (plural of Garifuna) translate the word Dügü into English as “family reunion.”  The Dügü is indeed a week-long family reunion, but not of just one family; it is a reunion of all the families in the community.  One family is the host, while the other families attend as a sign of unity.

Dabuyaba at Barranco Community in Toledo, Belize

Even Garinagu from outside the community travel long distances to celebrate this very special event.  They all get together to celebrate life after death, as the Garinagu believe that the spirits of their ancestors are also present in the sacred ceremony.

The Garinagu believe that the flesh dies, but not the spirit.  Also, they believe that unhappy ancestral spirits can cause bad karma, so they try to appease them with a feast during the ceremony.

During the Dügü, all the participants concentrate on the dabuyaba and spend the week there; celebrating, eating, playing drums, praying, dancing, and even sleeping. Three drums play different traditional tunes.  Each drum represents the past, present, and future.  A buyei, or traditional healer, blesses people and things and communicates with the ancestors.

Dabuyaba at Barranco Community in Toledo, Belize

The dabuyaba is considered as a temple. The dabuyaba is built facing east, towards the Caribbean Sea and welcoming the sunrise light as a sign of life.  On this side, there’s an open area that resembles a porch.  On its sides, it has doors facing north and south.  At the closed west end is the priest’s inner sanctum, dugeirugu, where the host family retires whenever anything important is about to happen.  The main room in the center, tanigi dabuyaba, is the heart of the ancestral house – where everyone gathers as one.

A new dabuyaba is built if the ancestors request it.  If so, the process begins with the gathering of cohune palm leaves.  The gathering of leaves and materials for the new temple constitutes a ritual of purification.  While builders chop and gather leaves, the drums are played.  The land where the dabuyaba is to be constructed is incensed, blessed with holy water, and sprinkled with rum.  Then, the wood posts and lintels are put in place to create the structure, followed by the palm leaves for the roof and walls.

This type of building is always located close to the beach and has a longitudinal shape often used in “traditional” temples.  There is no better evidence than this building to say that spirituality and cultural identity is what keeps the Garifuna community together.


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4 thoughts on “Dabuyaba: Sacred Garifuna Architecture”

    1. Thanks Julie! I personally was very drawn to this building as there is no other building in the Barranco community that has such a rich history, spiritual meaning, and architectural richness. I look forward to see the Garifuna ceremonies on November 19th. Everybody says it is a very spiritual event that goes beyond the “living realm”, just like the Dugu.

  1. Christy @ Technosyncratic

    This is so fascinating, Norbert. I don’t have any sort of training in architecture, but I always love to learn about it.

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