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Apr 4, 2016

In the Wake of the Stirm – A Dual Perspective

Debate continues to rage over remarks made by Evangelist Pastor Scott Stirm eight months ago comparing the Garifuna dugu ceremony to witchcraft. Scott has issued a light-hearted apology which has been flatly rejected by the National Garifuna Council. But last week, the National Evangelical Association of Belize came out in full support of Stirm at a press conference. Their position is that the pastor should be free to express his beliefs. At the event on Friday, there were also those who broke ranks with the Garifuna Council. Tonight, News Five’s Isani Cayetano looks at both sides of the controversy. 


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Garifuna spirituality, a most revered and demonstrated aspect of this great culture, is under attack.  Its enemies are seemingly from within, influenced by the powerful message of those who come bearing religion.  For centuries, the Dugu ceremony, a sacred, healing ritual has been performed to honor and commune with the spirits of ancestors.  While it has found widespread acceptance and freely coincides with other forms of Christianity, the practice is besieged by evangelism.  Father Callistus Cayetano is one of thirteen prominent Garifuna priests.  As an ordained minister of Roman Catholic faith, he is at the juncture of Christianity and tradition.


He responds to what has been said about Garifuna spirituality in other parts of the church.


Callistus Cayetano

Father Callistus Cayetano, Roman Catholic Priest

“It’s a little bit disheartening to hear again, in this day and age, condemnation of our deep, sacred, religious practice that we call Dugu.  It’s very, very special to us Garinagu.  To us it’s a cultural, healing ceremony that involves, yes, our ancestors, the spirits of our ancestors, as well as the reconciliation of the living with the dead to bring about healing, to bring about peace and to bring about solidarity.”


While the ritual itself is held to bring about mutual agreement and support within families and, by extension, the wider Garifuna community, the effect of religious conversion is dividing the people.


Victor Enriquez

Pastor Victor Enriquez, Garifuna Pastor  [File: April 1st, 2016]

“We as Christians, Garinagu, we embrace the ancestors, ancestry things and this and that or the other; to the believers, we put that aside, but to the nonbelievers, they still believe in it and keeping it up but you know something it is time to break the barrier, it is time for each and every one of us Garinagu, because for all if you are going to tell me that after your father or mother died then they will come and inflict all kinds of things on you, the things that they didn’t do to you while they were still alive.  You’ll look at me and tell me that that is my grandmother or that is my grandfather or that is my sister or whoever, I don’t think so.  That’s nothing but the devil and the devil will disguise himself in any form through or fashion just to get to the weaklings.”


If that were indeed the case, one could then simply argue that like Haitians who practice the age-old syncretic religion of Voodoo, Garinagu, through their belief in Dugu, have been weaklings for hundreds of years.


Sebastian Cayetano

Sebastian Cayetano, Garifuna Activist

“We believe that there is life after death, you know, and that the soul must be helped to reach its maker, our God, you know.  And that is why we have masses for the deceased, you know, to help them on their way to seri, to heaven, you know.  Also, why we have Dugu, as Father Cal said earlier, we have Dugu, Isani, because we believe in reciprocity.  I for you, you for me, I am because you are, you are because I am.  It’s a reciprocity thing and this goes beyond the grave.”


It is, in reality, a profound spiritual relationship, one that does not include necromancy.


Father Callistus Cayetano

“There is no witchcraft involved at all.  Rather, it’s a meeting of family members to request the healing of a particular family member, as well as the solidarity of the other family members, relatives and friends to bring about this ceremony for the healing of this person.  And so among us Garinagu, we have practiced this way back, even before Christopher Columbus came to the Americas.”


Pastor Victor Enriquez, nonetheless, maintains that nothing is gained or achieved from the practice of Dugu.


Pastor Victor Enriquez

“What do they get out of it?  Absolutely nothing.  I don’t think there’s anything they get out of it, nothing more than spending money foolishly, okay.  Because my Holy Bible tells me that once a man is dead, he is to be buried.  A dead man doesn’t need, someone that dies doesn’t eat, doesn’t drink, okay, and spending all that money for things like that it is uncalled for.  But the ones that believe in it they still want to do it because there is money in it for the ones that are over it.”


Isani Cayetano

“What is your reaction when you see Garifuna men and women who arguably grew up in an environment where Dugu was practiced while they were growing up now set that aside based on becoming religious converts?  What was your initial reaction on Friday when you saw these men and women stand behind Pastor Stirm and Pastor Lance Lewis?”


Sebastian Cayetano

“Well Isani, my reaction was that they sold themselves cheap.  I suppose they have their reasons for it, but one thing I always beg Isani, you don’t have to accept what we are saying, but at least respect it.  Respect it.  That is what we need to encourage in Belize, respect for each other’s culture, each other’s language, each other’s religion and the other practices.  Respect.  You don’t have to accept but at least respect and show respect.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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6 Responses for “In the Wake of the Stirm – A Dual Perspective”

  1. Elgi Martinez says:

    @Pastor Victor Enriquez: Let’s not talk about how much money is made from Dugu by Garinagu,because more money is made by so called Christian Pastors from Christianity .Furthermore Freedom of Religion does not give one the right to condemn other people’s Religion.All Freedom of Religion mean is that one has the right to choose a Religion or no Religion.Last but not least if we’re both reading from thesame Bible then you should know that the Bible also condemn judging others.

  2. Elgin Martinez says:

    @Pastor Victor Enriquez.The Holy Bible also condemn judging others.Let’s not be selective

  3. Garifuna says:

    Scot Stirm is nothing but a REDNECK Racist who is trying to impose his ideology on people.

  4. Logical Reasoning says:

    This type of controversy is a mediocre one, a hyped up one. People get carried away and distracted from real issues that are around us, that affect us daily. So what if they tell you dugu is witchcraft???.. catholicism is all for the money, christianity is lie or Jehova witness just like to bother people???…its like calling someone ugly. Get over it.

  5. Asa DeMatteo says:

    Only Sebastian Cayetano’s words above begin to capture the issues of “Stirmgate.” No one is attacking Stirm’s beliefs or faith. They are attacking his unthinking arrogance, egocentrism, and disrespect in his discussion of Garifuna spiritual practices. He speaks of Belize as being plagued by “dark forces” that must be overthrown. By that he does not mean the GOB, as some commenters elsewhere have asserted; he means spiritual darkness, by which he means, it seems, any practices that do not reflect his. He says that 70% to 80% of children in in Belize are born out of wedlock. It does not occur to him that this may be a choice, and a quite valid choice for some people. I am friends in Belize, a couple with a school age child, who, though they live together, are both gainfully employed in professional level jobs, mutually support their child, and are very moral and ethical young adults, choose not to marry. How should they feel about Stirm describing their choice as reflecting dark forces in Belize that need to be overthrown? After all, if Stirm were more properly educated in general history and the history of his own faith, he would realize that the sacrament of marriage is a late addition to Christian traditions and dogma, and that it has changed in meaning and purpose over the centuries since. He would also know that the Christian churches have freely adopted pre-Christian rituals from evangelized societies, including Christmas at the winter solstice, praying to images such at statues of the saints and religious icons, venerating relics of saints, and even moving the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. Were the dark forces operating in those. But the most jaw-dropping disrespect is for Stirm to call these cultural practices different from his witchcraft. The Garifuna do not consider their traditions witchcraft, and are directly or indirectly aware of how loaded a word that it. “Witch” has a long and violent history, including burning at the stake, hanging, torture, and more. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” He might also realize that there are many who consider much Christian ritual and tradition to be a form of magic or witchcraft: Praying to an invisible God, transubstantiation, the eucharist, the intercession of saints, the “signs and wonders” that Stirm mentions. Does that make these treasured Christian rituals unworthy of respect and tolerance? Had the pastor said something like “Some of the Garifuna engage in spiritual practices that we, as Bible believing Christians, do not agree with and feel to be ungodly in our faith,” he would be standing by his faith without insulting and denigrating others. For his to say, “There is still a lot of witchcraft in Belize” is disrespectful, arrogant, tin-eared, and reeking of obnoxious Christian entitlement. It displays the worst of missionary evangelism.

  6. Belizean With Sense says:

    Unu notice how history the repeat ie self? Back in the days when Europeans they mi di try convert black people to ‘Christianity’ da mi di same thing mi di happen. the white people deh mi criticize the way blacks worship and so the blacks had to do their service secretly so that the whites never burn they church down.
    you know, it is a shame that this preacher is here criticizing the Garifuna culture, and it is sad that history is repeating itself. Mein.. how I would boast to my friends here in the US telling them that in Belize we live in harmony no matter the color of your skin.. BUT this here is obvious racism and those who supports it are being racist without even knowing. Don’t be ignorant fools my Belizeans! Wake up!

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