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What is a Dugu?

By Matthew F.
Updated May 23, 2024
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A Dugu is a sacred ancestral rite performed by the Garinagu, also known as Garifuna, ethnic group of Central America. The Dugu is known as the Feasting of the Dead and is performed as a climax of respect, appreciation, and feeling for the ancestors of the Garinagu. It is one of three main rites and is the most highly celebrated in Garinagu culture. The Dugu is used to explain a particular problem or misfortune in a community.

The Garinagu are a mixed ethnic group found mostly in Belize. Also inhabiting Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, the Garinagu are descendants of African, Arawak, and Carib people. They are sometimes called Amerindians or Garifuna, and there are about 300,000 of them living in the Americas.

The Dugu performed by the Garinagu, combined with the Feeding of the Dead and the Bathing the Spirit of the Dead, honor the importance of Garinagu ancestors. The Dugu is performed when a deceased ancestor makes a request to a living one. The request is taken to a ceremony called Arairaguni (“the bringing down”), and the ceremony is held by the shaman or healer of the community, called the Buyae. During the Dugu, the Buyae summons spirit helpers, called hiuruha, to help explain a problem.

These problems that the Dugu attempts to explain can include many things: an unexplained death, a series of droughts, a string of accidents, an untimely sickness, or many other things. In the Dugu, the shaman, with the aid of the spirit helpers, contacts the deceased ancestors. The ancestors, called Gubida, are contacted on behalf of the misfortuned family, at which point the deceased will make their wishes known to the family, and explain the situation being dealt with.

As a sometimes week-long celebration, the Dugu brings in the entire family to honor the deceased ancestors. The Dugu is usually performed a full year after the passing of the deceased, and generally in the village where the family lineage originated. A small mound of earth is constructed outside of the house where the ancestors lived, and the spirits are channeled through this mound. The Dugu ritual includes dancing, chanting, and food sharing. The most sacred action of the Dugu, the amalihani, is a dance performed and led by the Buyae which signifies the entering of the spirits into the ritual.

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