June 21, 2024
Garifuna Legend

The retired “Three Kings” Paranda star gives the author a private concert

By Megan L. Wood

Paul Nabor spent most of his life as a fisherman in Punta Gorda, a coastal village in Belize. As he waited for the fish to bite, he composed. He became known for writing songs about what he experienced: village life, love, religion, the ocean. Then, he became famous.

Nabor is Garifuna, an Afro-Caribbean people born of a shipwreck. In the 17th century, his ancestors, enroute to being sold as slaves in the West, were shipwrecked. The survivors settled in the Caribbean islands, where they intermarried with local Caliponan Indians. They named themselves Garifuna, and over the years developed their own music, dance, religion and language.

Famed warriors, the Garifuna were never conquered by their foreign enemies. The French tried to enslave and colonize them, but failed. The Garifuna were instead deported to various parts of Central America, including to Belize.

Nabor was born in 1930, and began practicing Garifuna Paranda music as a child. He had no formal lessons, only a guitar and talent. He believes God called him to be a spiritual medium and religious healer.

Nabor hooked up with two other Belizean musicians and formed The Three Kings, a culturally diverse group of a Mayan harp player and Creole accordionist, with Nabor on guitar. The band toured the world, bringing their emotionally raw music to some 40 countries. Once they gave a concert for the Queen of England.

Nabor has by now forgotten most of the songs he wrote. His world traveling has ended too, with old age, and the death of one of the Kings.

Now he spends his days around his wooden house by the Caribbean, lying in a hammock and drinking warm stout. He’s built a Garifuna temple, so he can pursue his calling as a religious leader.

But he still prizes his collection of backstage passes, from as far away as The Philippines and England. And he still picks up the guitar to play for festivals in Belize, where he’s a local hero.

In exchange for three warm Belikin beers, he agreed to play and sing for me. I didn’t understand his words, but was moved by his haunting voice, and impressed by the agility of his fingers. He played like a much younger man.

Megan L. Wood’s work has appeared on CNN Travel, Wisconsin Public Radio and in many other venues.

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