DANGRIGA, formerly called Stann Creek, is the capital of Stann Creek District and the largest town in southern Belize. It's also the cultural centre of the Garifuna, a people of mixed indigenous Caribbean and African descent, who make up about eleven percent of the country's population. Since the early 1980s Garifuna culture has undergone a tremendous revival; as a part of this movement the town was renamed Dangriga, a Garifuna word meaning "sweet (or standing) waters", in reference to the North Stann Creek flowing through the town centre.
Dangriga is home to some of the country's most popular artists, some of whom have small galleries here. Fine crafts – distinctive brown-and-white basketware, woven palm-leaf hats and dolls in Garifuna costume – are easy to find. The large, bronze "Drums of Our Fathers" monument, on the roundabout at the southern entrance to town, is local Nigerian artist Stephen Okeke's ode to the centrality of drumming in Garifuna culture.
This musical tradition plays an important role in local celebrations, the most important of which is Garifuna Settlement Day, on November 19, when the town erupts into wild celebration, packed solid with expatriate Dangrigans returning to their roots. Similar exuberance goes into Christmas and New Year, when you might see the wanaragu or Jonkunu (John Canoe) dances, where masked and costumed performers represent a cast of historical archetypes, including eighteenth-century naval officers and Amerindian tribal chiefs.
During quieter times the atmosphere is enjoyably laid-back, though there's little to do during the day and not much nightlife outside weekends. As the south of the country becomes more accessible, however, Dangriga is increasingly useful as a base for visiting south-central Belize, the cayes offshore and the mountains, Maya ruins and Jaguar Reserve inland.