By Wellington C. Ramos
In studying Belize’s history, when most Belizeans hear of the south the first thing that comes to their minds are the Garifuna people. Why? Because when the British granted permission to the Garifuna people to reside in Dangriga Town in 1801, they were told not to go anywhere else but to remain in the south. At that time the Creoles were still slaves to the British and the Maya Indians were trying to survive the colonial policies of the British and the Spanish, who were taking away their lands from them.
The Maya Indians who lived in Belize, Guatemala and Mexico fought viciously against the Spanish and the British but did not have the military tools to overcome these two great giants that were competing for territories in the region. The British did not want the Garifuna and the Creole people to intermingle with each other because it would not be to their interest to have free black people with enslaved black people. This would have caused an alliance between the two groups to have slave resistance in the south and other parts of Belize.
The Garifuna people knew of the Spanish and the British decades before the Creoles and the Mayas due to the fact that the Spanish attempted to occupy the island of Saint Vincent in the 1500s but were defeated by the Carib Indians and the British conquered the Garifuna nation on March 11, 1797. This subsequently led to the forced migration of the Garifuna people to the Roatan islands, where they landed on April 12, 1797.
At the time the Garifuna people landed in the Central American region, the British were competing with the Spanish for more territories. Hence the reason why they occupied the Bay Islands in Honduras, the Mosquito Coast in Nicaragua and the territory of British Honduras, which is now Belize.
From the Bay Islands the British moved the Garifuna people to Nicaragua and Belize to perform labour and to fight their wars for them against the Spaniards if they were needed. Around this time the British only had permission to cut logwood and mahogany in Belize and still acknowledged Spain’s right to the territory of Belize.
In a book written by anthropologist Nancy Gonzalez, namely, “The Ethnohistory of The Garifunas In Central America”, she documented that there is evidence that the British had plans to use the Garifuna people as soldiers to fight for them in the Battle of Saint Georges Caye, which took place in September 1798. As time went by, the south developed into towns and villages, mainly inhabited by the Garifuna people in the towns of Punta Gorda and Dangriga. The villages of Barranco, Seine Beight and Hopkins later followed.
The Mayas kept moving back and forth between Guatemala and Belize to avoid the Spanish atrocities that were being committed against them. The Mayas did not like or trust the Spanish and the British because they were their common enemies. When slavery was abolished in Belize, the British had an emancipation period in Belize.
The former slaves were now given the opportunity to own land, go to school, learn a trade and do other things to uplift themselves. However, after years of being slaves to the British, this transformation from enslaved people to free people was not going to be easy. The physical, psychological and emotional effects of slavery can be more damaging over a period of time for future generations to come, as has been documented by several experts.
For a person to enslave other human beings for generations and deprive them of their personal freedom and basic human rights is immoral, unjustified and inhumane in the eyes of God. Yet, some of these very same people claim to be the most pure and humane individuals.
This slavery resulted in a division between the Garifuna and the Creole people in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Belize. There is evidence that some Creoles, who think that they are Creoles, are Garifuna because of the changing of people’s names done by the British in Roatan and Nicaragua before they were brought to Belize. Some Garifuna people also voluntarily changed their names to English names because it was convenient for them to do so to be socially accepted in Belizean society.
Creole people started to move into the south after slavery was abolished in Belize and establish new villages. In Stann Creek District, the main villages were Sittee River, Mullins River and Gales Point villages. For many years these people stayed in their villages but, as Dangriga Town started to become an urban center, some families moved into the town. Other families preferred to move to Belize City and left many of their family members behind. For those who lived in Dangriga Town, they still kept their distance from the Garifuna people and some Garifuna kept their distance from them as well.
The Creoles did not know that, when the Garifuna people were brought to Belize, it was the British that had the Garifuna people under a curfew and they were restricted from moving throughout the country to intermingle with other people. The British at the same time were also telling the Creole people many negative things about the Garifuna people in their game of divide and conquer. In the Toledo District, the main Creole village was Monkey River and many of the people who lived there were mixed with European blood.
Today, the south has changed and the majority of people living there are Mayas and Mestizos. There is oil and other natural resources discovered and the Mayas and Mestizos from Guatemala and the other districts in Belize are coming in faster than the growth rate of the Garifuna and Creole population. An area that was once predominantly Garifuna has changed and the Garifuna people are now the minority group.
What is frightening is that the Garifuna villages of Barranco, Seine Beight, Georgetown and Hopkins are surrounded by mostly Maya and Mestizo villages. They are also acquiring lands, while the villages of Seine Beight and Hopkins are landlocked and there is not too much land in their vicinity to acquire.
It is now time for the Garifuna people to come together and examine their current status and future in the southern part of Belize. There are some people who have plans for the Garifuna people because the Garifuna people have no plan for themselves. Caribbean News Now