Belize's Garifuna people are fighting to preserve endangered culture
Food and music provide easy, fulfilling entrees into unique Afro-Amerindian heritage
Drums -- both playing and making them -- are the heart of Garifuna culture
Drumming on the beach, moving in time with junkanu dancers and eating heaping plates of mashed plantain soaked in coconut stew -- more than likely these aren't the experiences you imagine while planning a trip to Belize.
6 Things to Know about the Garifuna people of Belize
Every year on November 19, Garifuna Settlement day is observed which marks
the arrival of the Garifuna people in Belizean territory in 1802. The holiday was
created by Thomas Vincent Ramos, a Belizean civil rights activist and is celebrated
for a whole week with major festivities that include parades, live music, drumming,
dancing, prayers and pageantry
in Garifuna communities.
Here are 6 things to know about the Garifuna people of Belize:
1.) In 2001, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO) recognized the Garifuna language, music and dance as a masterpiece
of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity. This designation means that it is an
important culture that should be preserved, promoted and celebrated.
2.) According to Historians, the Garifuna resisted British and French colonialism
in the Lesser Antilles and were defeated by the British in 1796. Because of a violent
rebellion on St Vincent, the British moved 5000 Garifuna across the Caribbean to the
Bay Islands off the north of Honduras.
From there, they migrated to the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala
and Belize. By 1802 about 150 Garifuna had settled in Stann Creek (present day Dangriga)
area and were engaged in fishing and farming.
3.) The Garifuna are resilient people who have survived many years of extreme
hardships and are the only black people in the Americas to have preserved their native
Afro-Caribbean culture due to the fact that their ancestors were never slaves.
The Garifuna’s deep sense of kinship and participation in community cultural activities
have provide them with a sense of solidarity and cultural identity during times of turmoil.
4.) The religion of the Garifuna consists of a mix of Catholicism, African and
Indian belierfs. They believe that the departed ancestors mediate between the individual
and external world and if a person behaves and performs well, then he will have good
fortune. If not, then the harmony that exists in relationships with others and the external
world will be disrupted leading to misfortune and illness. Their spiritualism is expressed
through music, dancing and other art forms.
5.) The Garifuna foods consist of fish, chicken, cassava, bananas and plantains. One
of the staples of the diet is cassava. Cassava is made into bread, a drink, a pudding and
even a wine! The cassava bread is served with most meals. The process of making
the bread is very labor intensive and takes several days.
Hudut is a very common traditional meal. Hudut consists of fish cooked in a coconut
broth (called sere) and served with mashed plantains or yams. Dharasa is the Garifuna
versin of a tamale made with green bananas. It can be made either sweet or sour.
The foods are very labor intensive and used to be cooked over an open fire hearth.
Today, stoves save time, but some families still prefer the taste of the fire hearth.
6.) The Garifuna flag consists of three horizontal strips of black, white and yellow, in that
order, starting from the top. The flag has been accepted internationally as the flag of the
Garifuna Nation and the colors have been used in forums where Garifuna people assert
their Garifuna identity.
The Garifuna people are building nationhood beyond borders
By Wellington C. Ramos
From the time the British Crown forcefully removed the Garifuna people from their native homeland “Yurumei”, now known as St Vincent and the Grenadines, in 1796, life has not been the same for them in all the countries where they live. Today in St Vincent, the few that are left have lost most of their culture due to the decrees passed and enforced by the British, which prohibited them from practicing their culture.
They were removed from their fertile land and then forced to live in about 150 acres of non- fertile land. About 2,500 acres of their fertile land was given to the British officers and their elite families for winning the wars against them. Nothing significant has been done by the past governments of St Vincent to improve our people’s living conditions or to help them retrieve their cultural values.
It took a Garifuna Activist from Belize James Lovell and another from St Vincent Trish Hill, to start a Cultural Retrieval Program in the country. For years now, the children of St Vincent are being taught several aspects of the Garifuna culture, which include the language, dance, drumming and other important customs and traditions without any contribution from the government of St Vincent.
On April 12, 1796, the Garifuna people were taken to a distant place colonized by the British called Roatan. At the time of their landing in this distant and remote island, only the British knew what they intended to do with these people they considered a public nuisance. They did not care whether these people died or lived, as the evidence suggested. From an estimated number of about 10,000 people they removed from their homeland, only about 2,000 arrived on this new island. The conditions on this island were terrible for the Garifuna people and they begged the British to move them somewhere else.
There is evidence discovered by a famous anthropologist Nancy Gonzalez that the British were planning to use the Garifuna people to fight on their behalf in defence of Belize against the Spanish in 1798, one year after they arrived in the region. The conditions were so bad in Rotan that some Garifuna people migrated to Belize in 1801. Others began to move along the coast of Honduras, some went to Nicaragua and Guatemala where they live up until today.
When the colonies of Spain broke away in 1821, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica formed one nation known as United Provinces of Central American Republic. A sixth state was later added called Los Altos which was between Guatemala and Mexico in the Chiapas Province area. The capital of this new nation was in Antigua, Guatemala. Due to misunderstandings among themselves, this union broke up in 1841 and they all became separate nations. The problem with these new countries was whether to accept slaves or black people into their countries.
The British removed the Garifuna people from St Vincent because they wanted to take over all the Leeward islands and could not do it without defeating the Garifuna people. The Kalinagu and the Garifuna people fought against the Spanish and French for years but they were unable to defeat them. The French also tried to convert them into Christianity by making them Catholics but when they found out that this was only a French tactic to take over their lands and lose their culture they forced them out of Yurumei.
Not only were the Garifuna people fighting against these European countries but they would also go to their occupied islands steal their slaves and bring them to live on their island with them. This cultural acculturation led to the birth of a new ethnic group labelled Black Caribs by the French and the British now known as “Garifuna” people.
In “Yurumei”, now known as St Vincent, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize the Garifuna people are not seen and treated the way the other citizens are treated. Why? Because there were laws in these countries to restrict them from being citizens and their movements were limited to specific areas of the country. In Belize, St Vincent and parts of Nicaragua, which the British controlled at one time, they had slaves and wanted no alliance between these two groups to avoid rebellions. In these countries there are still problems between the Creoles and the Garifuna people due to the British indoctrinating and brainwashing techniques used during slavery.
Garifuna people are citizens of these countries but they only have some citizen rights. Even though they were born in these countries, they face discrimination by other ethnic groups and the governments many times infringe on their land and human rights. Land and community autonomy was given to these people by the British and the Spanish Crown to manage their own affairs during the colonial era. It was done during that time to avoid interaction with the other ethnic groups. Now that the populations of these countries have increased along with the value of land, these governments want the lands back to sell and make money for themselves.
They forgot that treaties were signed by their colonial countries granting the Garifuna people these lands. Some are aware of the treaties but still ignore them to use force to get the lands. The issue of land has now become the major problem facing the Garifuna people worldwide. If the British had left the Garifuna people in their native homeland “Yurumei” alone to manage their own nation, we would not have this problem today.
The Garifuna people that live in the Diaspora have always been told by their ancestors that they only have one homeland and that is “Yurumei” now known as St Vincent and the Grenadines. Some even mentioned that the British had promised to take them back there if they did not like Roatan. I do not think that too many Garifuna people believed that false promise, knowing the British.
They said recently in regards to reparations that they will not apologize for their genocidal acts against the Garifuna people and the descendants of slaves. Plus, give no monetary compensation. The Garifuna people are still angry over the fact that the British removed them from their home. Most of their elders have always yearned for the day when the government of this country would grant them their duly deserved citizenship as descendants of “Yurumei”. In the Constitution of St Vincent one of the qualifications for citizenship is “citizenship by descent”. The prime minister and his government can act in accordance with the constitution by fulfilling this obligation to the Garifuna people who were removed from their native land.
Removing the Garifuna people from their homeland should not change their legitimate entitlement to citizenship. Nationhood exists with the Garifuna people beyond borders because they all see themselves as one people living in different countries on this planet earth, who were forcefully removed from their homeland. It is only in America where a majority of Garifuna people live that they have more freedom. Yet, most Garifuna people cannot live their culture the way they would like to because of the environment where they live. Land means a lot to the Garifuna people and, like most cultures, land and culture goes hand in hand.
Two bold and courageous Garifuna brothers, namely, Ruben Reyes and Jorge Castillo, have taken the lead to start the movement towards Garifuna nationhood. Since this movement started, it is moving like a shuttle heading into space. They are being joined by many other bold and courageous Garifuna individuals and organizations worldwide. When I asked many of these fellow Garifuna brothers, sisters and leaders of organizations, why now? There is only one answer: “Why not now when everything else has failed and our conditions have not improved while our people are worse off today than in the past.”
This feeling is catching and igniting. The organization is called “Garifuna Nation” and they are planning a summit for three days in the city of New York to forge their way forward. The Garifuna people have a fighting spirit and are resilient. They were about 2,000 when they landed in Roatan in 1797 but today their number is almost 400,000 people worldwide still maintaining their cultural values.
We will be looking forward to see all the Garifuna people at the summit on April 11, 12 and 13 of this year at “Casa Yurumei” on Prospect Avenue in Bronx, New York City. We have some of our people who believe that we are on an impossible mission. My answer to those few people is that we will have to start the journey to know if it is impossible.
The journey towards nationhood will be a difficult road to travel but with the wisdom, strength and courage of our leaders, coupled with the guidance of the spirit of our ancestors we will prevail. It is now the responsibility of each and every Garifuna individual to make sure that we accomplish this long everlasting dream by joining us.
On the 11th, 12th and 13th of April 2014, Garifuna people from the countries of “Yurumein”, now known as St Vincent and the Grenadines, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize and the United States, came in large numbers for the first Garifuna Nation Summit. The purposes of this summit was to receive a mandate from the Garifuna people to form a Garifuna Nation, to receive updates on the state of affairs in the communities where the Garifuna people live worldwide, to establish a framework for the Garinagu people to work in concert with each other on a daily basis and to have the structures and institutions in place to help solve their problems.
Prior to this summit, invitations were sent to all the government representatives in the countries mentioned above and only two countries responded and they were Belize and Yurumein St Vincent and The Grenadines. Representing St Vincent and the Grenadines were two Garifuna representatives: Honourable Senator Jomo Thomas, a Garifuna as well, and Honourary Consul Cardin Gil, representative for St Vincent and the Grenadines for the City of Los Angeles, CA.
The first event was the “Welcome Reception”, which was held at “Casa Yurumein” in the Bronx and the host was Ms Mirtha Colon, a Garifuna activist and president of the Hondurenos Contra El Sida organization in New York City. The representatives of the Garifuna Nation began the ceremony by outlining their purpose, goals and objectives and then after that was concluded they welcomed their brother Senator Jomo Thomas to his family.
When Senator Jomo Thomas began speaking one could see the impressions of amazement in his face and the emotions coming from him to see his people. He spoke about the concern his government has for the Garifuna people in this Diaspora, the efforts they are making to seek justice for the genocide committed against our people and a renewed effort by his government to grant citizenship status to all his Garifuna people who reside in the Diaspora countries mentioned earlier. The representatives of the Garifuna Nation and our Garifuna people listened carefully to what the senator had to say.
After the senator concluded his remarks, I responded, being the current director of governmental affairs and associate president for the United States for the Garifuna Nation. I told the senator that a letter was written to his prime minister in March of last year on behalf of the United Garifuna Association Inc. stating our position on reparations and to date we have not received any response. He replied by saying that his government was in communication with an individual who they thought was representing all the Garifuna people from the United States but now with his presence in New York City, he has come to the conclusion that such is not the case and he will inform his prime minister.
The summit continued on Saturday and the following representatives arrived: Belize’s Ambassador to the United Nations Her Excellency Lois Young, Assemblyman Pichardo, Senator Rivera, City Councilwoman Carmen Arroyo and a representative from Councilman Andrew King’s office.
The Belizean Ambassador Her Excellency Lois Young spoke about the vital role that the Garifuna people play in the development of her country Belize. She also named some prominent Garifuna individuals who have served in the government of Belize and have contributed in other areas, such as Dr Theodore Aranda, a former leader of the United Democratic Party, the Christian Democratic Party and a minister of health in the People’s United Party administration; Russell “Chiste” Garcia, a former minister of agriculture and fisheries; Sylvia Flores, minister of defence and human development in the People’s United Party administration; Michelle Arana, a current Supreme Court judge; Andy Palacio, a Belizean musicial icon now deceased; Pen Cayetano, a musician and artist, the founder of the Garifuna music now know as Punta Rock; Anthony “Garincha” Adderlly, a footballer; Nathaniel Cacho, a former financial executive with the World Bank at the United Nations; Sherman Zuniga, Commissioner of Police, and other individuals. All the other elected representatives were given the opportunity to say a few words to the audience.
On Sunday, the summit continued with the history of the Garifuna people’s trials and tribulations by a famous Garifuna anthropologist, Dr Joseph Palacio. His presentation was about how the Garifuna people came about, their struggles, the current situation they face today in the countries where they live and what are some of the possible solutions to some of their problems moving forward towards nationhood. While Dr Palacio was speaking, the Garifuna people were paying attention and taking notes. Some of the information he was relaying to his Garifuna people was new to them. They were all impressed with his in-depth knowledge of his people’s history.
He was followed by a Garifuna activist, Bernardo Guerrero, from Lemun, Honduras. Activist Guerrero spoke about the struggles his people are currently going through in the country of Honduras to maintain possession of their lands. He stressed that the Garifuna Nation is the best thing for the Garifuna people worldwide because in every country where they live their basic human rights are being violated, especially when it comes to land issues.
From the time the Garifuna Nation leaders, namely, myself, Jorge Castillo, Ruben Reyes, Joseph Guerrero, Quisa Gonzalez, Sandra Colon, Carla Garcia, Thrish St Hill and Hubert Bailey started to lobby support for this movement, they decided to reach out to all the Garifuna organizations worldwide.
So far they have been successful in recruiting the following organizations: the United Garifuna Association Inc. of New York, The All People’s Foundation Inc. Chicago, IL, YUGACURE of New York, Hondureno Contra El Sida New York, Garifuna Hope Foundation Los Angeles, CA, The Chatoyer Project Los Angeles, CA, Organizacion Negra Guatemala (ONEGUA) Livingston and Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, Garifuna Cultural Day Mass Committee (GCDMC), Garinagu Lun Awanseruni Chicago Illinois, Hamalali Wayunagu Dance Company, Coalicion Social Garifuna Hondurenos En Texas Inc., Grupo Folklor Garifuna Wafagua, Organizaciones Patronales USA (OPUSA), Sociedad Hondurena Activa De New York, Mujeres Hondurenas Organizadas En New York (MHONY Inc.), HONGUA Seattle WA, Gemelos De Honduras, Comite De Defenza De Tierra Del Triunfo and Garifuna Heritage Center For The Arts and Culture Inc.
There are more organizations that registered to this organization during the summit and the information can be obtained by contacting the organization.
After activist Guerrero spoke, the Garifuna Nation summit continued and several motions were put forward and approved. They were:
1. To give the Garifuna Nation the mandate to go ahead with the establishment of a nation;
2. That the Garifuna Nation must form a committee effective immediately to accept sample symbols of a nation, such as a coat of arms, flag, national anthem, pledge, an animal, plant and other related national symbols;
3. The Garifuna Nation current executive body act as their representatives in carrying out all the functions that are required to become a nation; and
4. That the goals and objectives of the Garifuna Nation be carried out on the Garifuna people’s behalf.
The summit was then adjourned until April 2015 in Roatan, Honduras.
When the summit was concluded, the Garifuna people started to greet each other to discover how they are related and which family they belonged to, which is a custom of the Garifuna people when they gather together. The members of the Garifuna Nation, other organizations and the people who attended were extremely happy and delighted with the outcome of their first summit because now they are more than convinced that their people have given them the mandate to go full speed ahead with the accomplishment of a Garifuna Nation.
As a true melting pot of various
cultures, Belize has woven bits and
pieces of many ethnicities to make
what we know as our beautiful
country. With many cultures coming
in, tradition and custom sometimes
disappear as the days go by.
However, a group that is not going
silently is the Garifuna. With
November 19th, being their special
day and designated a national holiday,
Garifunas countrywide live up to this
year’s theme of Proudly empowering our children in their Garifuna heritage.
On May 18th, 2001, the United
Nations Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
proclaimed the Garifuna language,
music and dance a masterpiece of
the oral and intangible heritage of
humanity. Belize’s very own Andy
Palacio, celebrated musician and
singer was honored with the title of
Artist for Peace by UNESCO. With
much history, culture, tradition, song,
food, religion, the Garifunas have
certainly left their mark in Belize. For
that, we feature them in this week’s
Our Belize Community.
Reenactment of the Arrival of the Garifunas in Belize
Grappling with the ramifications of
the end of slavery, a new ethnic group,
the Garifuna appeared. In the early
1800s, the Garifuna, descendants of
Carib peoples of the Lesser Antilles
and of Africans who had escaped
from slavery, arrived in the settlement.
The Garifuna had resisted British
and French colonialism in the
Lesser Antilles until they were
defeated by the British in 1796. After
putting down a violent Garifuna
rebellion on Saint Vincent, the British
moved between 1,700 and 5,000 of
the Garifuna across the Caribbean to
the Bay Islands (present-day Islas
de la Bahía) off the north coast
of Honduras. From there they
migrated to the Caribbean coasts of
Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala,
and the southern part of present-day
Belize. By 1802 about 150 Garifuna
had settled in the Stann Creek
(present-day Dangriga) area and
were engaged in fishing and
Any country or entity has a flag
which symbolizes their history and
what they stand for. The Garifuna have
their own with a black strip, which is
located at the top. This black band
represents the black ancestry of
the Garifuna people. The people have
always acknowledged the African
input into what became the Garifuna
people, a phenomenon that occurred
in St. Vincent starting in the
This colour, at another level, recognizes
the hardships and injustices that
the people have had to endure, their
struggles for survival and the odds that
they have had to overcome in the
course of their history. As tough as
these experiences have been, they
helped to strengthen the Garifuna spirit
and shaped their spirituality which is
based on the principle of reciprocity,
mutually beneficial two-way relationship
between individuals or nations.
The yellow strip at the bottom of
the flag symbolizes the other half of
the ancestry of the Garifuna – the
Amerindians or Yellow Caribs as they
were referred to by Europeans. These
were actually a mixture of Caribs and
Arawaks and formed the host community
in which the fusion of Africa
and South America took place to give
rise to the emergence of the Garinagu
as a distinct group indigenous to the
In contrast to the hardships experienced
in the course of history, the
yellow symbolizes the hope and prosperity.
Yellow is the color of grated
cassava, which is further processed
to make ereba, one of the Garifunas’
staple foods. It is the color of cassava
juice, a color that is further
brought out in the process of turning
it into dumari, an additive for enhancing
sauces, soups and stews. Yellow
is also the color of the rising sun,
which brings new promise and much
hope for a better life. Yellow, therefore,
represents hope, plenty and
prosperity, as well as the Carib/
Arawak input into the Garifuna identity.
The white strip, located in the
middle between the black and the
yellow, reminds them of the role of
the white man (Europe) in the
history and formation of the Garifuna
people – the forcible removal and
enslavement of the African, the
seizure of Garifuna land, which
precipitated the Garifuna resistance,
and the forcible removal of the people
from St. Vincent. Even after the
arrival and dispersal in Central
America, it was still necessary to deal
with the white man.
At another level, white symbolizes
the peace that has eluded the Garifuna
people for most of their turbulent
history - the peace for which they
continue to yearn.
Garinagu are a resilient tribal people
who have survived many years of
extreme hardships. Despite these,
ethnological studies show that
they are the only black people in the
Americas to have preserved their
native culture. Because their
ancestors were never slaves, they
have been able to preserve their rich
and unique Afro-Caribbean heritage.
Also, the Garifunas traditions, deep
sense of kinship and participation
in community cultural activities have
provided them with a sense of
solidarity and cultural identity during
times of turmoil.
Religion and spirituality
Garinagu are a proud people
devoted to their roots and their
religion consists of a mix of
Catholicism, African and Indian
Belief in and respect for the
ancestors is at the very core of their
faith. The Garifuna believe that the
departed ancestors mediate between
the individual the external world. If a
person behaves and performs well
then he will have good fortune. If not,
then the harmony that exists in
relationships with others and the
external world will be disrupted
leading to misfortune and illness.
The religious system thus implies certain responsibilities and obligations
between the living and deceased.
Food and drink should occasionally
be laid out for the ancestors who may
also appear in dreams. A spiritual
leader, a “Buyei” leads the contact
of a family with the deceased. In
preparation of these spiritual
gatherings with healing, drumming
and dancing, a feast of seafood, meat
and cassava bread is prepared.
Garifuna spiritualism is creatively
expressed through music, dancing
and other art forms.
Traditional Garifuna foods are
based around fish, chicken, cassava,
bananas, and plantains. Most of the
meals are rich and hearty.
One of the staples of the diet is
cassava. Cassava is made into
a bread, a drink, a pudding, and even
a wine! The cassava bread is served
with most meals. The process of
making the bread is very labor
intensive and takes several days.
Hudut is a very common
traditional meal. Hudut consists
of fish cooked in a coconut broth
(called sere) and served with mashed
plantains or yams. Dharasa is the
Garifuna version of a tamale made with
green bananas. It can be made either
sweet or sour.
The foods are very labor intensive
and used to be cooked over an open
fire hearth. Today, stoves save time,
but some families still prefer the taste
of the fire hearth.
Garifuna music is similarly different
from the rest of Central America; the
most famous form is punta. An
evolved form of traditional music,
still usually played using traditional
instruments, punta has seen some
modernization and electrification
in the 1970s; this is called punta rock.
Traditional punta dancing is
consciously competitive. Artists like
Pen Cayetano helped innovate
modern punta rock by adding guitars
to the traditional music, and paved the
way for later artists like Andy Palacio,
Children of the Most High and Black
Coral. Punta was popular across the region, especially in Belize, by
the mid-1980s, culminating in the
release of Punta Rockers in 1987, a
compilation featuring many of the
genre’s biggest stars.
Other forms of Garifuna music and
dance include chumba and
hunguhungu, a circular dance in a
three beat rhythm, which is often
combined with punta. There are other
songs typical to each gender, women
having eremwu eu and abaimajani,
rhythmic a cappella songs, and
laremuna wadauman, men’s work
songs. Other forms of dance music
include matamuerte, gunchei,
charikawi and sambai. Paranda
music developed soon after the
Garifunas arrival in Central America.
The music is instrumental and
percussion-based. The music was
barely recorded until the 1990s, when
Ivan Duran of Stonetree Records began the Paranda Project. In the
Garifuna culture, there is another
dance called Dugu. This dance is
a ritual done for a death in the
family to pay their respect to their
In 2001, Garifuna music was
proclaimed one of the masterpieces
of the oral and intangible heritage of
humanity by UNESCO.
Steeped in rich traditions and
amazing ancestry, we join the
Garifunas in celebrating Garifuna
Settlement Day. They have joined
our country and formed part of it;
integrating themselves to our roots
and have grown to prominent
businessmen, entrepreneurs, teachers
and have joined our Belizean
workforce with such strength. Their
music, their dance, stories, food,
history – it all makes them a proud
and much welcome addition to “Our
Did you know…
Thomas Vincent Ramos
The Garifuna Settlement Day
holiday was created by Thomas
Vincent Ramos in 1941?
Thomas Vincent Ramos lived
from September 17, 1887 to
November 14, 1955 where he passed
away in his Stann Creek home at the
age of 68. Ramos was born in Puerto
Cortes, Honduras but later moved
and spent most of his life living in
He worked as a school teacher
and was known for being a Civil
Rights Activist with primary
concern being the lack of health
and financial facilities to aid the Garinagu living in Dangriga. He formed the Carib Development
Society as a way to help the
sick and render financial aid to
bury their dead.
Alberto August Jr. at T.V.
Ramos Monument in Dangriga
Ramos also fought against
the discrimination of the
Garifuna people. His most
well-known effort was when
he lobbied the Governor to
establish a Public and Bank
Holiday to commemorate the
arrival of the Garifuna in Belize.
His request was granted and
Garifuna Settlement Day, which
was first known as Carib
Disembarkation Day, was first
celebrated on November 19, 1941
only in Stann Creek District, then
later in Punta Gorda and Toledo in
1943 then country-wide in 1977.
Belize Cultural Celebrations Series Vol. 1: Garifuna Settlement Day (Yurumein)
The Belize Cultural Celebrations Series comprises of educational posters and short videos produced by the National Institute of Culture and History through the Institute for Social and Cultural Research. Yurumein is the first in the series, featuring images, video footage and interviews that were collected by a team of cultural activists. The materials were gathered from the communities of Libertad, Belize City, Hopkins, Dangriga and Punta Gorda on November 19th, 2013.
a little something on the uniqueness of the garifuna language.
QUIZ: Can You Speak the Endangered Caribbean Language Garifuna?
SOUTH BRONX — Growing up, Milton Guity Jr. did not pay much attention to his father's entreaties for him to learn Garifuna, an indigenous Caribbean language.
“He was always trying to teach me, but I kind of just wanted to hang out with my friends and just be a kid," he said. "An American kid.”
However, as he got older, Guity Jr. started becoming more interested in learning about his roots as a Garifuna — an ethnic group made up of indigenous South American and African descendants in Central American countries like Honduras and Belize.
So in 2012, he decided to belatedly accept his father's invitation and began taking classes with him to learn the Garifuna language.
"It’s pretty funny," said Guity Jr., who is now 28, "because all this time he was trying to get me to learn, and then I end up just coming to him."
Garifuna is mainly spoken in Honduras and Belize and considered to be a threatened language, as it has been largely replaced by Spanish and English in areas where it used to be common, according to the Endangered Language Alliance.
The elder Guity, 53, who was born in Honduras and came to New York in 1987, teaches classes in Garifuna on Saturdays from 1 to 3 p.m. at Casa Yurumein, a center on Prospect Avenue for New York's Central American population.
Guity has been teaching the language since 2009 but just recently decided to make the curriculum last for the whole year instead of his prior eight-week-long class, in an effort to help his students learn and retain more of the language.
"I realized that if the students come just for an eight-week period, they will always have a gap in the complete process of learning the language," he said.
Although he will still divide the class up into eight-week sessions, instead of teaching the same information each time, the lessons will build on each other and get more complex as the year goes on.
The Garifuna Coalition, a Bronx nonprofit, estimates that about 200,000 Garifuna live in New York City today, and Guity stressed that keeping the language alive was important because it helps define the identity of the Garifuna.
"Our commitment to protect this language, basically, it’s part of me as a person," Guity said.
People ranging from age 13 to age 74 have taken the course, according to Guity. Many are Garifuna themselves and sign up to better understand their culture and heritage, but his pupils have also included a Canadian woman who was just very passionate about linguistics.
"She wanted to know the structure of the language, the part that she could not learn in the books," he said.
Guity described learning Garifuna as similar to learning any other language. His lessons are centered on topics like grammar rules, sentence structure and how to have a conversation.
Flor Mena, a 28-year-old Garifuna teacher who commutes to Guity's class from Brooklyn, said she viewed maintaining the language as a vital way of preserving her people's past.
"A lot of our history is oral," she said, "so if young people aren’t getting the stories from the older generation, then you’re losing a cultural history."
People can register for the classes at Casa Yurumein, and each eight-week session costs $40.
Guity eventually hopes to expand his program to reach more students and described teaching Garifuna as an essential part of his identity.
"Being Garifuna—having the language—is part of my entire life," he said. "That’s why I have to do my part in protecting that language."
Documental Proyecto Fomento y SalvaGuarda de la Cultura Garifuna
Shout out to the people behind this documentary project which showcases the role of the elder in the Guatemalan Caribbean coastal town of Labuga in preserving the essence of Garifunaduou. Looking at the familiar faces from childhood brings back memories of the life lessons. S/O to Jcharlie Sanchez for being part of this great project.
Un Pequeño Material que trabaje el año pasado junto a Jcharlie Sanchez Cantautor Garifuna del Genero Paranda aca en Livingston Izabal Guatemala y con el apoyo incondicional del Proyecto Fomento Y Salvaguarda de la Cultura Garifuna. Espero les guste
Garifuna Settlement Day - Dance
Garifuna Settlement Day is a public holiday in Belize, celebrated each year on November 19. In this video you will see Garifuna Artist from Belize such as Guwie Possie, Chico Ramos and Garif celebrating the Garifuna Music and traditions away from home. In this video you will see punta rock dance, garifuna drums and attire.
The Garifuna Settlement Day holiday was created by Belizean civil rights activist, Thomas Vincent Ramos, in 1941.Garifuna Settlement Day was recognized as a public holiday in the southern districts of Belize in 1943, and declared a national holiday in 1977. The Garifuna Settlement Day holiday celebrates the settlement of the Garifuna people in Belize after being exiled from the Grenadines by the British army. The major festivities for the Garifuna Settlement Day occur in the town of Dangriga, including parades, street music, and traditional dancing.
24 Things About The Garifuna Culture
The culture started in the North Eastern South America and the Caribbean (From the edges of the Orinoco River into the Caribbean Sea)
The Roots of the Garifuna culture come from Black Caribs and Arawaks. Labeling is topical – ROOTS is where the answer is!
Saint Vincent is the place where between 1000AD to 1796AD the Garifuna were formed.
For the Garifuna, God is feminine.
The Arawaks moved up from South America (Orinoco Basin) around 0AD (birth of Christ); the Caribs moved into the Caribbean around 1000AD.
Christopher Columbus met the Island Tainos (Arawak)
On the islands, the Arawak had gold, elaborate dances, used tobacco and other drugs, they were a loving people who were organized via matriarchal lines.
The Caribs were raiders and traders. Among their raiding, they collected the Arawak women – which will sooner be a part of the larger Garifuna cultural mix and language
After the biological mixing of Caribs and Arawak, the children were organized with a patronymic organization. They started to take their names form their fathers
The Garifuna people move extensively in a extensive territory
In the early days the Garifuna were dominant in long distance travel by land and by sea
There was egalitarian gender relations – where women could engage in extra-domestic realm, including warfare
In Garifuna culture, the Shaman – a one-person operation, dominated spirituality.
The British wanted to get rid of the “Devil Garifuna” from Saint Vincent
The Garifuna village system was dominated by kin groups with their head men
The Garifuna today, collectively, have blocked the period of violent terrorism of their fore parents from their minds
When the Garifuna first came to Belize it was basically only men who came. They worked in the mahogany camps. Families eventually started to come from Honduras and formed their own villages: Barranco, Hopkins Seine Bight, Dangriga.
Garifuna children are not as conversational with the language as the older generation today. Cultural change is having a stark effect on the transmission of the language to the new generations of Garifuna.
Garifuna language is dualistic – forms for male and female. Garifuna is an Arawak language – not Carib
In the Garifuna language, when there is a word with 2 syllables, the stress goes on the first syllable
There is no “Z” in Garifuna language; there is no distinction between “sh” and “ch” – “Sheese” and “Cheese”
In Garifuna culture, the religion is based on the concern for the unknown. To the Garifuna religion brings them to relationships with spirit ancestors. The religious process is done by ceremonies, music, dancing, healing ceremonies and they communicate through dreams.
In Garifuna culture everybody gets to Seri (Garifuna Heaven). Hell is an introduced idea. In general, there is forgiveness
The greatest challenge for Garifuna cultural erosion is happening now.
“This book is about the Garifuna, more commonly known in the anthropological literature as Black Caribs, a people who presently inhabit the Atlantic littoral of Central America from Belize to Nicaragua; there are also clusters of Garifuna in several Central American cities and in the United States.”
“I was immediately faced with the analytic problem of how to define the time and space boundaries of the sociocultural group with which I was dealing. When had they, in fact, become a distinct people? It was known that their ancestors had lived on the island of St. Vincent in the Lesser Antilles and that their language was closely related to those still spoken among Amerindians in Amazonia. But the blackness of their skin belied the notion that they had no roots in Africa, even though neither their own folklore nor scientific analysis (before 1975) had provided any concrete evidence of that. Should the possibility of an African past be ignored or downplayed, as they themselves preferred in the 1950s? Most anthropologists chose to do that until very recently, even though the empirical evidence caused us to hedge some of the time. Douglas Taylor (1951:143), for example, has described the Black Carib culture as a ‘Negro cake composed of Amerindian ingredients’ and stated it was only in the ‘imponderable’ aspects that their culture differed from that of their Indian forebears. I emphasized the similarities in West Indian societies, suggesting it was not so much African as Afroamerican culture that had penetrated the Amazonian culture the earliest explorers called ‘Carib.’ (Gonzales 1959a). Beaucage (1970:47) working in Honduras about a decade after me, also has referred to the ‘racial shift’ in St. Vincent and suggested that the ‘Negro’ element possessed a greater ‘dynamism’ that enabled the newly formed culture to thrive in ways that its immediate predecessor had not. But he did not further dwell on the Caribs’ African past.”
- pgs. 3, 4, 5, “SOJOURNERS OF THE CARIBBEAN: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garifuna,” by Nancie L. Gonzalez, University of Illinois Press, 1988
“In February 1975 a Smithsonian Institution team reported the find of two Negroid male skeletons in a grave in the U.S. Virgin Islands. This grave had been used and abandoned by the Caribs long before the coming of Columbus. Soil from the earth layers in which the skeletons were found was dated to A.D. 1250. A study of the teeth showed a type of ‘dental mutilation characteristic of early African cultures,’ and clamped around the wrist of one of the skeletons was a clay vessel of pre-Columbian Indian design.”
- pg. 31, THEY CAME BEFORE COLUMBUS, by Ivan van Sertima, Random House, 1976
“A contradiction is intertwined in the religious system of the Garinagu, namely mourning versus the ‘keeping alive’ of the spirits of the ancestors. It is striking that all of the rituals in which the influence of another religious system dominates – the wake, the funeral, the novena, the nine-nights wake and the end of the period of mourning – have mourning and the controlling of emotions as point of departure. In other words, learn to live with the fact that the deceased is no longer with us and make sure that they do not come back. The total opposite of this is the fact that every ritual with the traditional Garifuna faith as point of departure underlines the importance of the wishes of the ancestors. They have to be washed. The ancestors have to eat and be offered a feast in which they are present and can dance along using another’s body.
“Furthermore, the Garinagu sing directly to their ancestors during such rituals. This in contrast to the Christian rituals in which God is asked to grant the deceased, with whom they no longer have any direct contact, absolution. Therefore it is not so strange that these two fundamentally different doctrines clashed for a long time. Up until the Sixties, the Christian establishments wanted to have nothing to do with the cult of the dead. At the beginning of the Seventies, a female buyai decided to provoke the Catholic Church, who shielded the largest group of Garinagu, in order to keep the socially relevant religious characteristic of the Garinagu alive.”
- pg. 110, “THE BELIZEAN GARIFUNA: Organization of identity in an ethnic community in Central America,” by Carel Roessingh, Dutch University Press, 2001
The ancestors of the people we now know as the Garifuna people, the people referred to before the 1970’s as “Black Caribs,” survived three near-death experiences within a matter of a few years more than two centuries ago. First, they were exiled from their native St. Vincent to a barren island called Balliceaux, where many perished; then they were deported to Roatan, an island off the republic of Honduras, and many perished on the British sailing ship taking them from Balliceaux to Roatan. In Roatan itself, many began to die, hence the decision to strike out for the Central American mainland.
These three near-death experiences must be considered within the context of the thousands of actual deaths. In other words, those who came near to dying themselves were constantly involved in the process of burying those of their brothers and sisters who were perishing – on Balliceaux, on the ship from Balliceaux to Roatan, and on Roatan itself.
‘It is our understanding that near-death experiences enhance the spirituality of an individual or a people. The ancestors of the people of African descent we now refer to as the “Creole” people of Belize, themselves survived near-death experiences after being enslaved and while being shipped as slaves from West Africa to North, Central, and South America, and the Caribbean. Most enslaved Africans had first to walk in shackles from whichever village they had been seized in the interior, and many died on the forced march to the coast, where they were chained in holding forts. The journey across the Atlantic, with the slaves chained in the bottoms of ships in hell-like conditions, normally took between two and three months. The casualty rate was high.
The Creole people of Belize have lost almost all of their African religious traditions, and today most Creoles practice various Christian religions. Because the spirituality of the Creole people is submerged beneath the rituals, ceremonies, and hymns of religions of European and neo-European origin and administration, it is as if Creole spirituality, as such, where African retentions are concerned, does not exist, or it is invisible.
The Garifuna people, on the other hand, succeeded in preserving substantial elements of their African religious traditions and practices, and the Roman Catholic priests in British Honduras eventually allowed the Garinagu to include their ancestral traditions and practices within the broad framework of their Roman Catholicism. As a result, in Belize today we have a much more vivid sense of Garifuna spirituality, or duo, than we have a sense of what Creole spirituality there is.
The process wherein ancestral African religious traditions and practices were integrated with the Christian religions of the European power structure is referred to as “syncretism,” and this occurred perhaps most notably in Cuba and Haiti. We are saying that syncretism also occurred in Belize.
The Garifuna people were first referred to as “Black” Caribs, because there were Indigenous people on the northern coast of South America, Central America and the Caribbean islands, before the coming of Christopher Columbus and his “discovery” of America – the New World, who were known as Caribs. The conventional story was that escaped or shipwrecked African slaves began to mingle with the original Yellow Caribs, and thus the Black Caribs came to be. Ivan van Sertima argued, however, that Africans had come to America on their own accord centuries before Columbus, so that the origins of the Black Caribs may be more mysterious than conventional.
In any case, it used to be that the Black Caribs in British Honduras emphasized their Indigenous ancestry, as opposed to their African ancestry. In the last two or three decades, there have arisen schools of thought which emphasize the African ancestry of the Garifuna people. This debate continues amongst the scholars of the Garifuna community.
When this newspaper was established in 1969, the Garinagu were still the Black Caribs, and there was no National Garifuna Council. In 1940, Thomas Vincent Ramos and a couple of other Carib men had approached the Governor of British Honduras asking for a day of holiday to celebrate the coming of the Caribs to the colony. It was the same British Empire which had attempted genocide on the ancestors of the Black Caribs at Balliceaux and Roatan, but in 1940 Britain itself was being bombed to pieces by Nazi Germany on a nightly basis. It may have been that timing was on T. V. Ramos’ side. The Governor granted the holiday, first celebrated, only in Stann Creek Town, on November 19, 1941. The holiday was extended to Punta Gorda on November 19, 1943. In 1977, a People’s United Party (PUP) government extended the holiday to include the whole of Belize.
When the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) was formed on February 9, 1969, the executive’s first official trip outside of Belize City took place to Stann Creek Town in mid-March of 1969. This was at the insistent urging of the late Charles X “Justice” Eagan, who stressed to Evan X Hyde that if he was going to continue talking about Africa, then he had to go to Stann Creek Town.
UBAD, an Afrocentric cultural organization, had been organized by Creoles. Creoles were a people who had, to repeat, lost their African traditions and practices during their centuries of enslavement and colonial subjugation in Belize. Even though Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) had been popular in black-majority British Honduras two decades before T. V. Ramos, himself a Garveyite, asked to see the Governor in 1940, Garvey’s “African redemption” movement had not included African religious traditions and practices.
In the case of Belize in 1969, the presence of the Black Caribs just 36 miles south of Belize City, a people who had succeeded in preserving African culture and religion, gave the Creole leaders of UBAD an opportunity to reconnect with their African ancestral roots. You know that this newspaper was established by those said Creole leaders of UBAD in August of 1969.
On the occasion of Garifuna Settlement Day 2015, therefore, this newspaper once again celebrates the Garifuna people of Belize. The Garifuna continue to play a very important role for those Creoles who have interest in our African ancestry and culture. The intent of the Europeans when they enslaved our ancestors in Africa and transported them to America, was to abolish all their African memories – names, clothes, music, dances, religion, whatever. Today, in the twenty-first century, Africans in the diaspora have made the journey back home to “Mama Africa” in many ways. In Belize, conscious Creole people owe a debt of spiritual continuity to the Garifuna people. On Thursday, November 19, we Belizeans celebrate the Garinagu.
The pinnacle of attention for the Garifuna people in the Belizean calendar has become the 19th of November. It has become so engrained in the Belizean mind, that all one has to say is “the 19th,” and instantly everyone around knows that you are talking about Garifuna Settlement Day.
However, apart from what has become a week of festivities, what else have the Garifuna people really gained?
The answer is, not too much. Garinagus were once some on the most educated people in the entire nation and that is a fact. They in turn, became educators and held some of the highest offices in the public service and were some of the most successful businessmen.
However, after decades and decades of both overt and covert discrimination, we have been relegated to the bottom of the totem pole in Belizean society. All blame can not be placed upon those who have discriminated against us, because as a people we are sometimes our worse enemies. We remain one of the most divisive communities in the country and probably the only time we come together as a people is around the 19th.
If we are to survive successfully, culturally and become a more integral part of Belizean society, then we must truly unite and demand more from our government and our leaders.
“The 19th,” has become an industry in itself. Ever year thousands upon thousands of dollars pour into the Belizean economy from what has become an extended celebration. I would dare to say that there is a small economic spike every November. But who ultimately benefits from this? Is it the Garifuna people? The answer is NO.
The government, the business community – which for the most part does not include the Garifuna community, and every other Tom, Dick and Harry are the only ones benefiting.
Government gains from increased tax revenue from food, alcohol, fuel and every other consumer good that see a increase in usage for the month of November.
The Mennonites benefit from the sale of vehicle parts, tires, lubricants and all the other goods that they sell. The Turks/Indians benefit from the sale of clothing and footwear purchased on the 19th. The Chinese literally gain from everything they sell in their stores. CPBL gains from increased citrus product consumption. The Mestizo farmers get in on the loot from the sale of more ground food, plantains and bananas. And the banks get a laugh from all financial transactions done countrywide, by Belizeans wanting to enjoy the festivities.
So what do the Garifuna people gain every 19th? Apart from dancing, singing and the usual consumption of a tremendous amount of alcohol, we gain minimally.
From a financial standpoint, it has become like a circus where the performers gain minimally, while the owners rake in all the profits. As a people we need to realize that for the 19th to be successful, only one race of people hold the trump card in Belize and that’s the Garifuna people. There can be no Garifuna Settlement Day without the Garifuna people. And while I am by no means advocating a boycott of the day by the people for whom this day was designated in the first place, what I am saying, is that we have to demand more from those who gain from us.
We can no longer sit by and allow economic opportunities derived from the 19th to pass us by. If the Government sees a 10% increase in tax collection associated with the 19th celebration, then it’s just right that at least 5% of that is reinvested into our communities because we surely cannot compete on equal footing with most of the other ethnic groups who run the business community in the nation.
There are racial, cultural and institutional discrimination forces working against the garifuna.
For us to survive the next decade, the Garifuna must gain economic power and it’s only through a collective effort, that this can happen. We must always bear in mind that deep down in the gutters of Belizean society, there will always be those and a certain element of the society that do not like or appreciate the Garifuna community. There is no hiding that and I would go as far as to say that there are those who are out to destroy our culture, traditions, our way of life and by extension our people. But that should just make us stronger and more determined as a people to survive.
If you have any doubt, just look at how a majority of the schools are now turning the 19th celebration into what is being masked as ‘cultural day.’ November is and has always been about the Garifuna people. There was never any such thing as cultural day. This is but a deliberate attempt at watering down the Garifuna influence in November. Still think that there are not powerful forces against us?