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Monday, January 30, 2023

A BRIEF PROFILE OF SEINE BIGHT VILLAGE, BELIZE

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Seine Bight is a small village located about halfway up the Placencia Peninsula in southeastern Belize. Seine Bight is home to approximately 1,000 people, primarily belonging to the Garifuna culture, who principally subsist on fishing, hunting, and small-scale farming, predominantly mangoes, coconuts, breadfruit, and bananas. The name of the village comes from a combination of two terms – a “bight” or a curve in the coastline and “seine fishing,” a traditional way to catch fish with a large net.

With fishing being so important to the local economy and seine nets so frequently used, the nickname for the area “The bight where people use seine nets to fish” was shortened to Seine Bight, now its official name. The area where the village is located is extremely narrow, just a quarter mile wide with a lagoon on the inland side and a beach on the Caribbean side. Thousands of years ago, the ancient Maya used the lagoon to produce vast quantities of salt which were then packed onto canoes and traded further inland. It is believed that English pirates briefly used the area as a base of operations to prey on Spanish shipping during the early part of the 17th century. During the 19th century, a few English Protestants settled in the area, but the village only came into its modern form when the Garifuna people arrived in that area after they landed in what we know as Belize today in 1802.

When the Garifuna people first came to Belize in the late 1700’s, the British were prohibited from using that area of land from the Sibun to the Sarstoon River because they were only granted permission by the Spanish in a Treaty with France in 1763, to cut logwood and mahogany from the Rio Hondo to the Sibun River.

The folks of Seine Bight take their culture seriously. The village is a frequent champion in the annual Wanaragua (JONKUNU) Dancing Festival. Seine Bight village is located two and a half miles south of Maya Beach on the Placencia Peninsula. The peninsula itself is narrow, a quarter mile at its widest point north of Seine Bight. However, the Garifuna people have been using all the surrounding lands in that region from the time they landed there to fish, hunt, log and all their other customary cultural usage. According to some residents from Seine Bight, they even travelled as far as current-day Georgetown village.

Driving through some areas of Seine Bight Village, you can see the sea easily on one side and the lagoon on the other. It is said that the first modern inhabitants of the area were the Mayas, who used the waters of the lagoon for trade and salt production, but they left that area centuries ago. When the Garifuna people settled in that area, no Mayas were living in that area. They were followed by Protestant Puritans, and then the Garifuna in the 19th century. This tiny Garifuna village has about 1,000 inhabitants. Most of the men are engaged in fishing, but tourism is now a major force as little hotels and new homes have sprung up in the area. About 30 miles south of Dangriga, is the location of the village, which Garifuna residents of Seine Bight call home, subsisting on fishing, hunting and homegrown vegetables.

One of the most compelling reasons to make a stop in Seine Bight is the culture, the beaches and the secluded swimming spots with coconut trees to string your hammocks. Nestled in a bight, Seine Bight is a flat, sandy coastal village about ten feet above sea level, and it stretches four miles along the Placencia Peninsula. It is one of the five Garinagu communities in the Stann Creek District, located about 68 miles south of Belize City, about 30 miles south of Dangriga, 19 miles from off the Southern Highway near South Stann Creek and 3 miles from Placencia.

The village is predominantly a community of Garinagu who are devoted Roman Catholics. Seine Bight villagers continue to practice traditional drumming, singing and dancing. Traditional dress is worn for the dances, including unique masks and head dresses. Some performers may wear bells or shell beads that rattle when they dance. The performers will stage a dance with musicians at short notice at your hotel or your party. They will teach you how to dance to the local music.

Garifuna folk music is the basis for the popular Punta Rock. Locals and visitors like to accompany this with a drink of stout or “bitters”, a traditional drink made by soaking special herbs and bark in strong rum. Bitters has a special kick, and it’s legal. You can go native at Sam’s disco, where there is dancing to punta and reggae, or Wamasa at Seine Bight nightclub with live entertainment on weekends. The pirates always seemed to know the best places to get away from it all and are said to be responsible for finding this particular hideout in 1629. Subsequently occupied and named by a transplanted French Canadian community, Seine Bight is truly a tropical paradise.

(To be continued)

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