Commentary: Garifuna Settlement Day celebrated in Belize but dependency is haunting the future

By Wellington C. Ramos

The Garifuna people first arrived in Belize in 1801 and settled in Dangriga Town with about one hundred people. At the time of their arrival, Belize was a British colony and they were the ones who removed the Garifuna people as “prisoners of war” from their native land Saint Vincent on March 11, 1797, to Roatan, Honduras, where they landed on April 12 of that same year. During this time the British and the Spanish were rivals competing for territories in the Caribbean, North America, Central America and South America.

The British knew that the Garifuna people were skilled warriors because of the wars they fought against them from the late 1790s up until 1797 to keep their homeland Saint Vincent, known to them as “Yuremei”.

In a book published by Nancy Gonzalez, an anthropologist, titled “The Ethnohistory of the Garifuna In Central America: Sojourners of the Caribbean", she mentioned that there is evidence in London that the British also had intentions to use the Garifuna people to fight on their behalf to keep Belize away from the Spanish. This reasoning tend to make a lot of sense due to the fact that in 1798 between 7 and 10 September the British fought against the Spanish in the Battle of Saint Georges Cay to maintain possession of Belize.

In addition, they assisted the British with fighting against the Spanish in Honduras and Nicaragua for territories they had occupied during that time. These territories were later given to the country of Honduras in a treaty signed and agreed by both countries in 1859 due to pressure on the British by the United States. The Bay Islands later became a Department of Honduras in March of 1861. Likewise, the Garifuna people fought in the Revolutionary War in Honduras, which caused some to be executed by the “Nationalistas” and others fleeing for their lives to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize in 1823, where they live up to this day.

Later in Belize, other Garifuna settlements were established only in the southern part of Belize, where they were restricted to remain. These settlements are Punta Gorda, Hopkins, Seine Bight and Georgetown. At the time the Garifuna people migrated to Belize, slavery existed in Belize and the British did not want the Garifuna people to intermingle with the Creole slaves. However, some Garifuna people were taken to cut logwood and mahogany and there is a village in Belize District called Bomba where they live.

Garifuna and Maya people were forbidden to own lands so Crown Lands were granted to them only for settlements. The Garifuna people used the Crown Lands to engage in farming, which is an important aspect of their culture. Through farming, fishing and food production, the Garifuna people became independent and were able to maintain their towns and villages with little help from the governments.

As Belize started towards nationhood, many Garifuna people moved from their villages and towns as teachers to help educate Belizeans all over the country with the help of the Catholic Church. Others became civil servants, police officers and members of the military. Since the time of British colonization, the Garifuna people have had strained relationship with the Creole people, the largest African ethnic group in Belize, up to this day. This was due to the brainwashing tactics used by the British to keep these two African ethnic groups divided. Over the years the Belizeans of African descent have migrated to the United States in huge numbers.

Today, the African Belizeans have become the minority. They also have the most economic problems and many of them live in poverty. Politically, they are losing representation to the Mestizo Belizeans. Garifuna people are now struggling to survive while maintaining their culture. Thomas Vincent Ramos fought not only for a holiday but for his people to be self-sufficient, economically productive, autonomous, proud and to preserve their culture by practicing it daily.

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