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.
Traditional Garifuna drum making at the Lebeha Drumming Center in Hopkins Village, Belize. Jabbar Lambey, drumming instructor, performer, and culture keeper shows the steps of making a drum. Rodents are a problem due to the fact that they eat the skin, which is what is replaced in this video. For more information on the Lebeha Drumming Center, visit their Facebook page.
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?
218 years since the Garifuna were removed from their homeland but injustices continue
By Wellington C. Ramos
In March 1797, after our people lost the war to the British Crown and surrendered, about 5,000 of our people were rounded up, unlawfully imprisoned on the isolated island of Balliceaux, tortured, killed and those who survived subsequently forcefully removed to the distant island of Roatan, now a part of the Bay Islands in Honduras.
They landed there on April 12 of that same year but were not happy with the conditions on the island. The soil was not fertile for them to grow their food and the lack of enough water was a major concern of theirs. Immediately, some of the Garifuna leaders were looking for other places to migrate.
Discussions between the British and the Spanish Crown, led to some of our Garifuna people being given permission to migrate to Trujillo and other coastal areas. However, during that transition most of their names were changed from native and French names to Spanish names, which a majority of them have up to this day. There are a few Garifuna original names remaining such as Parchue, Elijio, Sabio, Avaloy, Sambola, Chatoyer, Satulle, Franzua, etc.
Others left Roatan to go to Belize in 1802 and established a settlement in the southern part of Belize now known as Dangriga Town. Due to the British control of Roatan, the Bay Islands, Belize and the Mosquito Coast in Nicaragua, Garifuna people moved from all these territories back and forth with their permission.
As Honduras nationalism grew to seek its independence from Spain, fighting emerged between factional groups which led to a full scale civil war. The Garifuna people were involved in these wars and became victims of some of these factions. Many of them were slaughtered and those who survived had to flee to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize. Many of them sent for their relatives to join them in these countries where they live up to this day.
Despite the fact that the Garifuna people live in different countries they see themselves as one people and that is “Garifuna” as individuals and “Garinagu” as one nation totaling about 600,000 people worldwide. They did not come together in the past to confront the British Crown about the genocide committed against them in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Three years ago, a group of Garifuna individuals established the “Garifuna Nation”, the primary goal of which is to address this and all the other issues affecting their people in the countries of Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, the United States of America and elsewhere. They believe that the British Crown committed genocide against their people and that this issue must be addressed by them and no other group, nation or regional organization.
They have also examined the social, economic and political conditions of their people in the countries where they reside today and see a continued pattern of racism, discrimination, land encroachment, economic deprivation, violation of their basic human rights and many other infractions. Some of these countries are also receiving funds to address the issues affecting the Garifuna people but the funds are not being spent in their communities to improve their living conditions.
Only through the internationalizing of the Garinagu plight in the countries where we reside as representatives of the Garifuna nation, will our people see fundamental changes with their lives and in their communities. We have had many of our leaders killed in the past and our Garifuna organizations infiltrated to cause chaos, disunity and friction among ourselves.
Some of us have become so selfish that our individual goals and objectives are being championed over the collective goals and objectives of all of our people. A few even think that they are the change and changes cannot occur without them. Fundamental changes will occur when all of us come to the realization that we must come together and contribute to the Garifuna Nation as one people.
Some of us want change to come but refuse to do anything on our part to bring about the changes we so desperately need. My fellow Garifuna brothers and sisters, if you are proud of the fact that you are a Garifuna, you are not happy with the current state of affairs with our people and you want to bring about positive and fundamental changes, please get involved in this struggle and become a part of the change.
Some 218 years have passed and we cannot wait another year to seek justice on behalf of our people and ancestors, who gave up their lives so that we can still retain our beloved culture.
Garinagu organization and political growth in Belize - Part 1
By Dr Maximo Martinez
Edited by Wellington Ramos
Garifuna Arrival in Belize
Belize is located along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean (Circum-Caribbean), between Mexico and Guatemala. Unlike the Spanish-speaking countries in the region, Belize, which was once a British colony, maintains English as its national and official language. In addition, in 1981 Belize was the last country in the Central American region to gain its independence, in contrast with Mexico and the other republics of Central and South America that became independent in the early nineteenth century.
Belize’s diverse population comprises the Creole, Mestizo, Maya, Menonites, East Indian, Chinese, Arabs and Garinagu.1 The Creole, predominantly of African descent, and mestizo, a Spanish and indigenous mixture, represent the country’s majority population. Belize City, the earliest settlement and former capital, is presented as central in the development of Creole culture.2
At an estimated population of nine percent, Garinagu comprise one of the minor population groups arriving in Belize from the Honduran coastal region, for the most part presented divided into two phases. Their first phase of settlement is between 1802 and 1832.3 The first migration was in 1802 from the British Colony of Roatan in the Bay Islands, which is now part of Honduras. Garinagu travelled to the regions as laborers for the thriving logging industry in the region.
It is documented that in 1832 another Garinagu group arrived in present Dangriga, led by Alejo Beni.4 Garinagu that supported the group that staged a failed revolt against the president of the Central American Republic resulted in many fleeing to Belize by 1832 to avoid oppression.5 The second phase of Garinagu arrival in present Belize is documented between 1932 and 1945 as a result of repression faced by Honduran dictator Tiburcio Carias Andino. The high point of migration was 1937 after several Garinagu were massacred by the national army at a Honduran village San Juan causing many to flee to Dangriga.6
For the most part Garinagu reside in southern districts (Toledo, Stann Creek) with the lowest indices of health, economic and education, with the exception of Garinagu residing in Belize City located in Belize district. Garinagu in Belize reside in urban as well as rural areas. In the cities Garinagu reside among its diverse inhabitants.
The 2000 census population percentage of Garinagu urban residents are, Belize City 20.8% (2,925), Dangriga 37.6% (5,289), and Punta Gorda (1,315) 9.3 %. Garinagu comprise the overall population in their other communities of Barranco (241), Georgetown (763), Seine Bight (831), Hopkins (994).7
Belize Political Structure
Belize became self-governed in 1964 and then achieved its independence from Great Britain on September 21, 1981. Garinagu sustained political representatives from their regions and continued in the post-independence period. To understand public policy toward the Garinagu it is essential to have a conceptual understanding of the current political structure of Belize.
Belize government is structured based on the British parliamentary system. The governor general is the representative of the British monarch who is the titular head of state appointed by recommendation of the prime minister. A governor-general’s executive authority is limited by the constitution, acting on advice of Cabinet members or the prime minister.
The prime minister, who is the head of government, and the Cabinet are guaranteed executive authority and supremacy under the constitution. Belize holds a National Assembly, which is a bicameral legislature made up of an elected House of Representatives and an appointed Senate. The 31 House members serve up to a maximum five-year term. In the House legislation is introduced and in the Senate (made up of 12 members) the bills from the House are debated or approved.
The political party system was dominated by the People’s United Party (PUP), which is center left, and the United Democratic Party (UDP), which is center right. Belize is divided into six districts, which are Corozal, Cayo, Belize, Orange Walk, Toledo, and Stann Creek.
For the most part, the highest Garinagu concentration is in the southern districts (Toledo and Stann Creek) although they also sustain population segments in Belize City and Belmopan. In Belize, local government comprises city councils, town councils, village councils and community councils. The village and community council is present in rural regions and the others are designated in urban population sectors. The members of those councils are elected every three years by the people who reside in those constituencies.
The British implemented a system to control and govern rural regions in Belize where primarily the Garinagu and the indigenous peoples resided. The 1858 Alcalde Act was approved, designating leaders in indigenous Maya and Garinagu villages. The year 1877 is indicated as the earliest date known of the Alcalde system introduced in Garinagu villages.
The Garinagu adjusted to this system of local governance although they had elders who functioned as leaders in their communities. In 1948 another change occurred as the colonial administrators proposed establishing an elected village council with seven members. The new system was initiated 1958 in the Garinagu village of Hopkins. Eventually, as administrative, financial and local police issues were successfully established under this system, in 1969 the Alcalde system was terminated.
Studies show the post-independence period presents intense political partisanship in the Garinagu villages as dominant political parties obtain patronage and secure support in votes for national elections. The political candidates initiate this measure by dealing directly with village council members, seeking to obtain their political objectives, thus hampering complete community development.8
History of Garifuna Organizations In Belize and Belize History
In Belize there have been two prominent Garifuna organizations, the World Garifuna Organization (WGO) and the National Garifuna Council (NGC). The WGO was formed by Dr Theodore Aranda in 2000 to represent Garifunas in Belize as well as throughout their diaspora. As a non-profit and non-government organization, its focus is targeted at the Cultural Preservation, Economic Development and Unification of the Garifuna people.9
The WGO leaned towards shared relations with blacks in the Americas and, led by Dr Theodore Aranda, articulated the need for Garinagu reparations from the British government for the suffering experience by the ethnic group in the Caribbean island of St Vincent.
The other Garifuna organization is the National Garifuna Council also known as the NGC. Its purpose, similar as the WGO, is to develop, strengthen and preserve the Garifuna culture as well as to promote economic development in the communities. Although functioning years beforehand, the National Garifuna Council was recognized as a non-governmental organization in 1981, the same year Belize became an independent country.
This organization is recognized as representing Garinagu in regard to presenting the community’s needs before the government. The NGC origins are associated with the Garifuna Settlement Day Committee founded by T.V. Ramos, and the Waribagabaga International Dance Group created in 1967.10 In 1999, the Belizean government formally recognized the NGC as a legal representative of the Garifuna people in Belize and pledged to directly consult the organization on administrative or legislative measures directly impacting Garinagu.
Colonial period to 19th century
The area presently known as Belize was inhabited by various indigenous groups when the Spanish, as the first Europeans, arrived there and attempted to conquer the region in 1508.11 British pirates, and later British settlers, also came to Belize, contesting the region with the Spanish.
In 1638, a British buccaneer by the name of Peter Wallace had a shipwreck at the mouth of the Belize River. He and his men came ashore and discovered logwood and mahogany. He then recommended to the British crown that the territory be settled.
Britain sought permission from the Spanish crown to grant them permission to cut logwood and mahogany. British logging camps were established, seeking to control the hard mahogany wood that was ideal for shipbuilding. The settlers, who were primarily males, imported African slaves from various territories to cut and export the wood.12
Sources present that in 1779 slaves comprised 80% of the population in this British territory.13 British settlers in the eighteenth and nineteenth century are described as having children with their African slaves, creating the Creole population.14 A class structure was developed as British slave owners created a group called the “free coloured” who would serve as an intermediate between the masters and the slaves.
The “free coloured” are noted as evolving and becoming the Creole elite, who later replaced the Europeans in positions of power.15 Slavery was abolished in the region in 1838 and workers were replaced by the Maya, mestizo, and Afro-Caribbean laborers from the islands, and later in 1860 by indentured servants from India and China.16 By the 1900s, the white population decreased due to interbreeding and emigration out of the country.
Belize, formerly known as British Honduras, was a colony of Britain until 1981. During the period of colonial rule several policy/ordinances were issued, for the most part targeting infrastructure development projects in their region and the Garinagu’s territorial status.
Garinagu presence in the region presently known as Belize is documented as early as 1802. Before the British entered into the region groups of indigenous Mayas inhabited the area. It is estimated that the British settled in the region in 1655. The entire Central American region was claimed by Spain; however, several treaties, begininng with the 1670 Treaty of Madrid, granted the British territory with boundary limits.17
As early as 1811, the first documented source of government relations with the Garifunas is recorded. A magistrate instituted the requirement of Garifuna settling in the region (of present Belize City) for more than 48 hours needed permission. The permission was to be asked from the superintendent appointed by the British who governed the entire settlement region of Belize.
Garinagu eventually settled in Stann Creek town (now Dangriga), and Punta Gorda town in the Toledo District, and other areas along the coast.
1 Shoman, Assad, 2010, Reflections on Ethnicity and Nation in Belize. Documento de Trabajo No. 9 / Document de Travail No. 9, México: Proyecto AFRODESC / EURESCL, 61p. 2 ibid 3 Palacio, Joseph O., Carlton J. Tuttle and Judith R. Lamb. 2011. Garifuna continuity in land : Barranco settlement and land use 1862 to 2000. Caye Caulker, Belize: Producciones de la Hamaca. p. 55 4 Palacios O. Joseph. 2005. The Garifuna, A nation across borders: Essays in Social Anthropology Cubola, Belize p.69 5 Ibid p. 3 6 Ibid p. 71 7 Palacios O. Joseph. 2005. The Garifuna, A nation across borders: Essays in Social Anthropology Cubola, Belize p. 113 8 Moberg, Mark. “Continuity under colonial rule: the alcalde system and the Garifuna in Belize,” 1858-1969 in Garifuna: A nation across borders. p. 98 9 Palacios O. Joseph. 2005. The Garifuna, A nation across borders: Essays in Social Anthropology Cubola, Belize 10 ibid p.185 11 Shoman, Assad.2010. Reflections on Ethnicity and Nation in Belize. Document No. 9, AFRODESC/EURESCL Project. Mexico. 12 ibid Ewens, Debbie. 1996. “Belize.” in Afro-Central Americans: Rediscovering the African Heritage. edited by Minority Rights Group 13 Shoman, Assad.2010. Reflections on Ethnicity and Nation in Belize. Document No. 9, AFRODESC/EURESCL Project. Mexico. 14 ibid 15 Ibid p.7 16 ibid 17 Palacio, Joseph O., Carlton J. Tuttle and Judith R. Lamb. 2011. Garifuna continuity in land : Barranco settlement and land use 1862 to 2000. Caye Caulker, Belize : Producciones de la Hamaca. 28
Garinagu organization and political growth in Belize - Part 2
By Dr Maximo Martinez
Edited by Wellington Ramos
The Rise of Belizean Settlers Political Activism In Belize and land rights
National policy directly targeting Garinagu, for the most part was associated with their settlement/land status and development in their regions. It could be that the reason why the British crown was hesitant in granting land rights to the Maya and Garifuna people was due to the British having problems getting the Spanish crown to give them rights over Belize, the reluctance of Britain to grant colony status to Belize, the Creoles were still slaves in Belize, they wanted no intermingling between the Creoles and the Garifuna people and Guatemala assumed Spain’s claim to Belize when it acquired its independence.
All the residents of Belize began to apply pressure on the British crown to grant colony status to Belize and, in 1862, the British crown reluctantly granted them their wish. The government legislation regarding territorial rights was combined with the indigenous Maya. In official documents the land ordinances were designated to the Maya and Carib, in which “Carib” was the previous title name used to identify the Garinagu.
As the government in Belize18 developed, with executive authority fluctuating and constitutional changes, policy/ordinances were issued known as Crown Land Ordinances regarding Garifuna lands. A notice was issued by the Crown Surveyor directed at the Garifunas in 1857 presenting the need to obtain leases for their lands in the Stann Creek area.
During the Crown Colony period, with the new 1871 constitution in effect, the 1872 Crown Lands Ordinance was issued providing reserve land for Indians and Caribs (Garifuna). However, the lands were regulated with restrictions such as prohibiting title to lands.19 The law was repealed with the 1879 Crown Ordinance, following conflicts in Dangriga. The Crown Land Ordinance of 1886 reinstated the authorization to create Maya and Carib Reserves.
Lands were designated for the Caribs in Stann Creek and Punta Gorda with rules and regulations of occupancy published in 1890 and rewritten in 1924. One of the early rules was that consent by the District Magistrate was a requirement before a person could build a house on a lot. In addition, rent was to be paid yearly in the lands.20 This ordinance is also described as permitting reservations for Maya and Caribs to be established on any lands not only in the lands where these ethnic population groups had settled.
Changes took place in the 20th century with the ordinances leading to abolition of rights of cultivation on the Carib Reserves.
Early 20th Century developments
In 1913, an ordinance in Stann Creek abolished the right to cultivate on Carib Reserves, in addition to provisions for surrendering these territories. The authorization provided grants and leases to individuals surrendering their territorial rights. Similarly, a 1922 ordinance in Punta Gorda also abolished the rights to cultivate on the Carib Reserves and provisions for surrendering the territories were issued. The Garinagu reserves lands in Punta Gorda went through various changes.
Garifuna Political Activism In Belize
A Garinagu leader, Jose Maria Nunez, led several Garinagu in pooling their resources to purchase the reserve land. When Nunez died without heir to the territory, the land was given back to the Crown in 1923. Nevertheless, in 1924 the Garinagu re-acquired the property through paperwork filed now presently known as Cerro/Saint Vincent block estate.22
In the early 1900s another significant event took place contributing to Garinagu culture in Belize and internationally. Development of a Garinagu day of recognition and a flag as a symbol of the group was initiated.
The Garifuna Thomas Vincent Ramos, who was born 1887 in Honduras and in 1923 arrived in Belize, was an ardent promoter of Garifuna culture and heritage. Ramos was influenced by Marcus Garvey’s UNIA ideology in Belize, and applied elements of the movement in uplifting the Garinagu culture.23
He established several organizations such as the Carib Development Society24 in 1924, and later the Carib Burial Fund Society. The organizations supported Garinagu in various measures such as assisting recently arrived Garinagu from Guatemala or Honduras with loans, and collecting money for burials or medical treatment.
Another organization Ramos founded was the Carib International Society (CIS).25 In 1931 the Carib International Society held a meeting in Barranco, Belize, with various Garinagu delegate representatives including from various countries in Central America. Similar to the UNIA the CIS had a flag that evolved to the present Garinagu flag colors of black, white and yellow. Black at the top representing the people, yellow at the bottom representing the Amerindian heritage and white in the middle for peace between these two ethnic groups.26
Another organization Ramos founded was the Garifuna Settlement Day Committee, which recognized Garinagu history and arrival to Belize as central. Ramos, together with Domingo Ventura and Pantaleon Hernandez, led the lobbying before the governor of the colony (then British Honduras) for Garifuna Settlement day, recognized as Carib Disembarkment Day, to be established as a public and bank holiday in Belize in observance of Garinagu arrival to Belize on November 19.
The proposal was accepted and cultural recognition of Garinagu initiated locally with Carib Disembarkment day (Garifuna day of settlement) 1941 in Stann Creek and 1943 in the Toledo District.27 Ramos’ contribution continues with the presence of local and international organizations representing the ethnic group, the promotion of the Garinagu flag as part of ethnic identity, and day of recognition of the culture and history evident throughout Garinagu communities of settlements in the diaspora.
The Rise of Creole Political Activism and Garifuna Elected Representatives In Belize
With the changes occurring during the 1900s and a subsequent decrease in white population, the Creole mobilized for political power in the country. Labor movements were inspired by Marcus Garvey, along with greater adherence to his United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) ideology. The great depression also contributed to Creole mobilization in which Garinagu also participated.
There were periods in Belize (known as British Honduras) when public officials were appointed. As Belize returned to its period of elected government 1936-53, political participation increased, with the founding of a political party and the labor and nationalist movements.28 Important union organizations that evolved resulting from the movements were the “Labour and Unemployed Association”, “British Honduras Trade Union” and the “General Workers Union” (GWU).
In Punta Gorda, the credit union movement was led by a priest, Marion Garney, with ties to the General Workers Union. Eventually these actions resulted in the formation of the political parties. The Belizean Nationalist Movement was formed in 1949 and the People’s United Movement, now known as the People’s United Party (PUP), was formed between 1950 and 1952.29 Other political parties were The Honduran Independent Party, Christian Democratic Party and the National Independence Party, Liberal Party, People’s Democratic Party, all of which combined to make up the current United Democratic Party.
Garinagu such as Catarino Joseph Benguche, Fausto Zuniga, Charles Martinez and David Mckoy are listed as active participants in the nationalist movement that took place during this period. These Garinagu assumed public office, becoming pioneering elected officials representing the ethnic group in Belize.
1960s and 1970s
In the 1960s, with the political movements occurring in the United States and Africa, in Belize political parties were established and the foundations were prepared for the country’s independence. Transition in governance continued with two constitutions preceding the country’s period of full internal self-rule 1964-81, with the 1964 constitution.
The recognition of Garinagu history and settlement continued with the celebration of Carib Disembarkment Day after TV Ramos death in 1955. The Carib Disembarkment Society was re-established in 1964 led by Simeon Sampson, Godsman Ellis and Dennis Gonguez.30 Another significant course of action this period was government support towards Garifuna settlement of Georgetown following the hurricane in 1961, which destroyed the ethnic group coastal community of Seine Bight.31
Document sources record the Garifuna representative David McCoy supporting infrastructure development projects in Georgetown, lands traditionally used by Garinagu specifically for farming.32 This same year, 1961, three Garinagu, David Mckoy, Catarino Benguche and Faustino Zuniga were also elected to office.33
The 1960s were also a period of substantial number of Garinagu migrating from Belize to the US for better economic opportunities. This was also a period of the US black civil rights movement and African independence movement, which perhaps may have influenced Belizean blacks mobilizing based on shared African racial heritage and marginalized conditions experienced.
The Creole predominantly of African descent, and mestizo, a Spanish and indigenous mixture, are the two dominant groups in Belize that experienced the socially stratified model or racial hierarchy implemented by the British as they ruled the country.34
As Belize moved toward independence, the nationalist movement leaders supported the ideals of multiculturalism embracing the Garinagu. Belize City sustained the largest concentration of blacks in the country, and it was also listed as the third largest concentration of Garinagu population.35 The 1965 Belize City Black Nationalist movement concentrated on blacks’ present and past contributions in Belize, and encouraged increased connections between Creole and Garinagu, its two black populations in the country.36
As these changes were occurring, Garinagu identity was also growing with its younger generation. Garinagu university graduates returning to their community stimulated by their exposure and experiences surged a movement of rediscovering their Amerindian and African roots. This initiative is designated as the 1970s Garifunadao movement. Through information gathering, the youth revived their culture, opting to use the term “Garifuna” rather than “Black Carib”.
In addition, the use of Garinagu traditional attire, artifacts, dance, food, music and spiritual rituals was promoted. A result, the Black Nationalist and the Garifunadao movement brought the Garinagu closer to Creole and Maya, decreasing the barriers the British imposed among them.37
In the 1970s Garinagu continued strengthening their presence, promoting their culture and contributing to Belizean society. Garinagu gained renown as competent teachers serving throughout Belize, and they served in the military and as political figures. In 1979, Dr Ted Aranda was designated as leader of the United Democratic Party, which was the country’s opposition party. This marked the highest political leadership post by a Garinagu in Belize extending to 1982.
Dr Aranda was also among promoters of the culture, along with Phyllis Cayetano, Jean Martinez, and Austin Flores initiating in 1972 the first annual Ms Garifuna contest.38 Garinagu were recognized for their contribution and development in Belize by the national government. In 1977, Carib Settlement Day was extended to the entire area of Belize with the name changed to Garifuna Settlement Day. A bill was passed by the National Assembly declaring the day a Public and Bank holiday in the entire country. It is recorded that Representative C.L.B. Rogers tabled the motion before the National Assembly leading to the passing of the bill.39
18 “The Settlement of Belize” was one of the names this region was classified which eventually become the independent country of Belize.
19 Palacio, Joseph O., Carlton J. Tuttle and Judith R. Lamb. 2011. Garifuna continuity in land : Barranco settlement and land use 1862 to 2000. Caye Caulker, Belize : Producciones de la Hamaca. p.29
20 Noe, Susan Y. 2001.“Land Rights of the Garifuna of Belize: A Preliminary Analysis Under Domestic and International Law.”; Palacio, Joseph O., Carlton J. Tuttle and Judith R. Lamb. 2011. Garifuna continuity in land: Barranco settlement and land use 1862 to 2000. Caye Caulker, Belize : Producciones de la Hamaca. p.29
21 Garinagu served as part of the British forces in WWI and the Allied forces in WWII; Land was granted to returning soldiers in the Toledo District- Charles Martinez interview, Punta Gorda, Belize 2015
22 J.C. Arzu.2014. Amandla.
23 Roy Cayetano. Lecture in Trujillo, Honduras. 2014
24 Other sources show the CDS as the Carib Development and Sick Aid Society – Noe, Susan Y. 2001.“Land Rights of the Garifuna of Belize: A Preliminary Analysis Under Domestic and International Law.” p. 33
25 Both the Carib International Society and Carib Development and Sick Aid Society are listed present throughout Garinagu communities in Belize. The CIS is listed as seeking the reunification of Garinagu in the diaspora an objective. Cayetano, Sebastian & Fabian Cayetano. 1997. Garifuna History, Language & Culture of Belize, Central America, & The Caribbean, Bicentennial Edition April 12th 1797- April 12th 1997. Belize City, Belize. p.33
26 Cayetano, Roy. Lecture in Trujillo, Honduras 2014.; The UNIA flag were black, red and green.
27 Garifuna continuity in land : Barranco settlement and land use 1862 to 2000, p.40; The Garifuna, A nation across borders 185; Garifuna History, Language & Culture of Belize, Central America, & The Caribbean, Bicentennial Edition 33
28 The Garifuna, A nation across borders 191; Barranco settlement and land use 1862 to 2000. p.38
29 Cortes, Alfonso Arrivillaga. 2007. “En Torno a las ideas y la participacion politica de los garinagu: una aproximacion”.
31 Barranco settlement and land use 1862 to 2000. p.40
32 Belize Archives and Records Service 2015, Belmopan, Belize
33 Garifuna History, Language & Culture of Belize, Central America, & The Caribbean, Bicentennial Edition p 16
34 Ewens, Debbie. 1996. “Belize.” in Afro-Central Americans: Rediscovering the African Heritage. edited by Minority Rights Group
35 Palacio, Joseph. 2006. “Cultural Identity among Rural Garifuna Migrants in Belize City, Belize,” Forte, C. Maximillian (ed.). Indigenous Resurgence in the Contemporary Caribbean: Amerindian Survival and Revival
36 ibid. (Political parties recruited members from the various ethnic groups for artistic performances.)
37 Palacio, Joseph. 2006. “Cultural Identity among Rural Garifuna Migrants in Belize City, Belize,” Forte, C. Maximillian (ed.). Indigenous Resurgence in the Contemporary Caribbean: Amerindian Survival and Revival
38 Miss Garifuna Queen of the South Contest evolved into Miss Garifuna Belize National Contest.
39 Garifuna History, Language & Culture of Belize, Central America, & The Caribbean, Bicentennial Edition 73
Garinagu organization and political growth in Belize - Part 3
By Dr Maximo Martinez
Edited by Wellington Ramos
The Struggle for Belize’s Independence and its Effects on the People
1980s and 1990s
The 1980s is a significant period in Belize and for the Garinagu, as the country in 1981 obtained its independence from Britain. Although discrimination continues in employment promotion and granting certain positions, prejudice against Garinagu decreased in the post-independence period.
It is commented that negative stereotypes of the group decreased through the arts recognizing Garifuna Punta Rock music in the 1980s and also their participation in the nationalist movement and many contributions to the country recognized.40 Since this period, the Creole continued to exercise social and political power in Belize.41
Nonetheless, it is estimated that this may change with the growth of the mestizo population and increase in their socioeconomic status. Furthermore, other Spanish-speaking populations from neighbouring countries (Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico) continue to migrate to Belize in large numbers.42
The National Garifuna Council (NGC) was officially recognized as a non-governmental organization in 1981. In 1986 NGC delegates visited its counterpart organization in Honduras (OFRANEH), establishing connections. Several years afterwards was the 1987 formation of the Caribbean Organization of Indigenous People (COIP), which the NGC office collaborated with, and in which the Toledo Maya Council also participated.43
Another significant event in 1982 was the ordination of Garinagu, Oswald Peter Martin, to Bishop of Belize and Belmopan in the Roman Catholic Church. This achievement gained, and the recognition of the NGC and its outreach, enhanced the positive image and renown of Garinagu engaging in various areas of society. In national politics the 1984 elections resulted in two Garinagu elected to office and two appointed.
Simeon Sampson and David Mckoy of the PUP were elected, while Doris Garcia (designated as President of the Senate) and Silas Cayetano JP (Senator) of the UDP were appointed by Prime Minister Manuel Esquivel.44 History was made when Edmund Zuniga of Punta Gorda became the first Garinagu appointed permanent secretary in Belize. In 1988 Zuniga became permanent secretary in the ministry of defence.
During the 1989 elections one Garinagu returned and was designated as a cabinet member in the House of Representatives. Dr Ted Aranda returned and was designated as minister of health and urban development during Prime Minister George Price’s PUP administration. There were also two appointed Garinagu senators, which were Conrad Lewis (PUP) and Soloman Lewis from Hopkins representing the PUP.45
During the 1980s and 1990s in Latin America, cultural diversity was recognized within constitutional changes occurring. Development agencies (World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, UNPFD, UN, ILO and NGOs) played a role enforcing advancing ethnic minorities’ needs within aid rendered to countries in the region. The post-Cold War period, and democratic government transformation, allowed for increased demonstration and protest for political and social rights in Central America. There was a rise of indigenous groups advocating for their rights during the 1980s, motivating Mayas in Belize to also demand their rights.
The leading Garinagu organization, the National Garifuna Council, collaborated with Mayan organizations on several lobbying initiatives such as proposing for bilingual and cultural based education. The Belizean government undoubtedly grew aware of indigenous and ethnic minority rights, which became part of the agenda leading to adopting policies in health, economic development, education and cultural awareness and preservation programs. The government accepted Convention 169 of the ILO on Indigenous and Tribal Rights by signing but has yet to ratify it.
In 1999, the Belizean government formally recognized the NGC as a legal representative of Garifuna people in Belize and pledged to directly consult the organization on administrative or legislative measures directly impacting Garinagu. With the memorandum of understanding the NGC aspired to cooperate with the government on various issues impacting the Garinagu such as: land, education, language and culture in education, health, support for economic and community development, and social issues.
Belize in the 21st Century and Garifuna Political Representation
Government Policy Actions in 21st Century
Formal institutions or established procedures specifically targeting Garinagu are non-existent in Belize. The state adopts the view of diverse coexistent multiculturalism in Belize. Ethnic minorities’ needs are addressed on a regional basis rather than individual groups. In Belize, a large scale policy framework does not exist in addressing issues of its minority populations.
National legislation on indigenous rights in Belize is limited to the Belize constitution containing one reference in the preamble referencing the states obligation to protect their culture and social status. The Garinagu organization’s alliance with indigenous organizations has assisted in several lobbying initiatives addressing their grievances. In addressing social, health and education issues, Belizean government ministries are assigned to attend to these needs on a regional basis.
As previously mentioned, for the most part, Garinagu reside in the southern districts (Toledo, Stann Creek) with the lowest indices of health, economic and education with the exception of Garinagu residing in Belize City, located in Belize district.46 Sources present the government attending to distressed social and economic needs in their southern districts through their ministries programs with some aided by support from international agencies.
In reducing poverty, the ministry of national development, investment and culture, implemented the Social Investment Fund, Belize Rural Development Programme, and the Toledo Strategy and Action Plan (TSAP).
Goals of the Social Investment Fund (data available since 1997) are to improve social stability and increase economic productivity. The program addresses primarily infrastructure projects such as potable water, roads, drains, health and education facilities, in addition to supporting projects for community empowerment.
The Belize Rural Development Programme, created in 2006, goal is to alleviate poverty in rural areas. Documents record aid from US and Europe in program funding. For the most part, sources record Garifuna exclusion from this project due to their high population concentration in Belizean urban regions.
Another program, the Toledo Strategy and Action Plan, was established as part of the government’s Environmental and Technical Assistance Project with the 2006 Toledo Development Corporation. Poverty reduction as priority areas of investment is focused on geographical areas of: agriculture, and fisheries, education and awareness, infrastructure. Sources record a lack of national consensus, as the 2006-2009 TSAP was developed without efficient consultation from the southern district residents Garifuna or Maya.47
In addressing health concerns, the ministry of health establishes leadership, addressing such needs with its varied programs. One such program is the Belize National Health Agenda 2007-2011, with its goals of targeting indigenous peoples (Garinagu included) in distant communities that are in need of health professionals in addition of implementing preventive programs for improvement in health.
Fortunately, health facilities are available in the urban location located in southern districts, which sustain the largest population concentration of Garinagu. Data from 2007 show Belize southern district comprising two public hospitals, 14 health centers and 12 health posts serving 61,000 residents.
One of the public hospitals is in Dangriga (52 beds) offering both primary and secondary care services. The other hospital in Punta Gorda (30 beds) also provides primary care services with specialist clinics offered by visiting physicians.48
The ministry of education’s actions at addressing issues of education policy and culture for its underrepresented population is initiated through several programs. One such program is the ministry of education’s 2005 action plan for 2005-2010 seeking improvements in its southern districts of Toledo and Stann Creek. Improvement sought comprises improving all level of education indices.
It is described that there is no national government policy on intercultural and bilingual education in Belize.49 However, groups such as the Maya Leaders Alliance and the National Garifuna Council’s successful lobbying efforts resulted in establishing intercultural bilingual education for each respective group. The Tumul K’in Center pilot project with the National Garifuna Council and Maya Leaders Alliance, introduced bilingual and intercultural education in three primary schools in Belize; the Garifuna’s Gullisi Community Primary School, established in 2007 by the NGC in Dangriga is one. This school follows the national curriculum, however, incorporates Garifuna culture and language in the lessons.50 The schools are described as a UNICEF supported project.
Belizean Garinagu political representatives outnumber their ethnic counterparts in the Central American region. Several Garifuna have also served as Cabinet members, as judges in the Judiciary, the House and Senate, and local governments.
Governance in Belize differs in villages compared to townships. In the villages Garinagu sustain the village council system and in the towns they hold local representatives through the town council system and a regional representative in Congress.
One of the early local representatives was Catarino Joseph Benguche JP. who was born 1896 in Trujillo, Honduras. Benguche began his career in public service at an early age. He served as an acting district commissioner in Stann Creek and Toledo Districts, justice of the peace, in addition to serving in Belize City. In 1946, he was elected a member, afterwards chairman of the Stann Creek Town Board. Benguche was re-elected in 1954 and also served in the Stann Creek Town Board in 1961.51 In 1954 he was elected as Town Board Councillor with the National Party-GWU in the Stann Creek District.
Another Garinagu elected, however as area representative, from the Toledo District two terms representing the PUP 1957- 65 was Faustino Zuniga. Zuniga previously in 1957, 1961, and 1963 served in the Town Council in the Toledo District.
The other Garinagu who was elected starting in 1957 as an area representative for consecutive terms was David Mckoy with the PUP, representing the Stann Creek District. Mckoy is the longest serving Garinagu representative and also held several post such as minister of labour and social services. In 1967 Mckoy invited three Caribs from St Vincent to Belize.
Benguche, Zuniga and Mckoy are also listed as active participants in the birth of the political nationalist movement (for independence?) and trade unionism. Another Garinagu town board councilor Charles Martinez also served as area representative (1969-1974) from the Toledo District representing the PUP. He is also listed involved in the nationalist movement and trade unionism efforts in the former British colony.52 Prior to becoming area representative, Martinez was first elected in 1963 and served in the Toledo Town council a number of years.
40 ibid 42
41 ibid Ewens, Debbie. 1996. “Belize.” in Afro-Central Americans: Rediscovering the African Heritage. edited by Minority Rights Group
43 Garinagu anthropologist Dr Joseph Palacio sustained a significant role organizing and serving as coordinator of COIP Secretariat (Office) and inviting the Toledo Maya Council to participate. Garifuna History, Language & Culture of Belize, Central America, & The Caribbean, Bicentennial Edition 41; Palacio, Joseph. “Looking at ourselves in the Mirror”
44 Garifuna History, Language & Culture of Belize, Central America, & The Caribbean, Bicentennial Edition p.39-40
45 ibid p. 42.
46 Palacios O. Joseph. 2005. The Garifuna, A nation across borders: Essays in Social Anthropology Cubola, Belize, 113
47 Ibid 240
48 Garifuna History, Language & Culture of Belize, Central America, & The Caribbean, Bicentennial Edition p.33; Ministry of Health http://shr.health.gov.bz/ retrieved 1/4/2014.
49 Garifuna History, Language & Culture of Belize, Central America, & The Caribbean, Bicentennial Edition 243
50 Ibid 244
51 “The Biography of lieutenant Catarino Joseph Benguch J.P.” December 10, 1982 AMANDLA page 7
52 Garifuna History, Language & Culture of Belize, Central America, & The Caribbean, Bicentennial Edition
Garinagu organization and political growth in Belize - Part 4
By Dr Maximo Martinez
Edited by Wellington Ramos
Garifuna Women in Belize Politics
Garifuna women in Belize have also achieved becoming public servants as both local and national representatives. It is known that, in the terms starting from 1963-1972, Venancia Petillo served as the first Garifuna woman to be elected to become a Town Board Councillor in the Toledo District representing the PUP political party. She was also the first Garifuna woman to become a senator.
Dorris June Garcia from Dangriga served as president of the Senate, representing the UDP political party 1984-1989. Garcia reached a milestone becoming the first Garinagu appointed to the position of president of the Senate. Another Garinagu woman obtained a prominent position. Sylvia Flores, from Dangriga served as mayor of Dangriga, and speaker of the House during the 1998- 2003 term. Flores also served as an area representative 2003-2008 and as minister of defence and national emergency management (2003) and minister of human development and women (2005).
Similar to the men, these Garinagu women also began as town council representatives in their local municipalities.
Several Belizean Garinagu have achieved high profile political positions in cabinet as well as one who became leader of a political party. One of the individuals is Theodore Aranda, who holds a doctorate degree in philosophy. He joined the United Democratic Party in 1974. In 1979- 82, Theodore Aranda was elected leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP), the highest political office ever held by any Garifuna in the country of Belize.53
Aranda campaigned to become prime minister of Belize in the 1984 elections representing the Christian Democratic Party, which he formed. In 1989, Aranda was elected area representative of Dangriga, with the Peoples United Party (PUP). As minister of health and urban development, Aranda acquired 20 acres of land outside of Dangriga, resulting in the construction of a Garinagu monument. The area obtained was dedicated as a monument representing the arrival, struggles and prosperity of the Garinagu globally. The site was known as the Chuluhadiwa Garinagu Movement.
Aranda was also the founder of the World Garifuna Organization (WGO) in 2000, advocating for Garinagu with the aim of cultural, economic, and social progress for the Garinagu. The WGO emphasized Garinagu ties with the black diaspora, identifying the ethnic group’s challenges with other communities of African descent in the Americas negatively affected by colonialism.
Another important Garinagu public servant is Roy E. Cayetano who is also an anthropologist and linguist. Cayetano has worked in the standardization of the orthography of the language and production of the Garifuna dictionary (246). In 2001 Roy E. Cayetano served as chief executive officer in ministry of rural development and culture.
During this period Cayetano was also president of the National Garifuna Association (NGC), carrying out his duties simultaneously serving the Garinagu as well as all Belizeans. Cayetano capitalized on his cabinet position in government, pushing the initiative of beginning the process of proposing to UNESCO the importance of the Garifuna language, music and dance as part of the culture.
The end result of the long process, which included collaborating with Belizean Garinagu leaders and scholars, and other Garinagu organizations in Central America, resulted in 2001 UNESCO naming the Garifuna as an Intangible World Heritage Culture.
The many government rule and constitutional changes reflect the evolution of Belize moving towards gaining its independence from Britain in which Garinagu were participants. Belize, compared to the other neighbouring countries Garifuna reside in, has sustained greater political stability and a substantial black population and presence in government.
These details, as well as racial diversity, contribute to Belize having the highest number of Garifuna political representatives compared to their political representation in other neighbouring Central American countries.
Although blacks in Belize sustain economic and political power, challenges continue as a result of the colonial period and the foundation of the economy based on free labour. A social class system has emerged, where the Creole elite usurp the positions of economic and political power with a vast population of impoverished citizens below them in a hierarchal pyramid. Those of clearer phenotype continue to sustain greater positions of economic wealth.54
Minority groups, including the Garinagu population, once discriminated against, have faced greater challenges in obtaining social mobility. Nevertheless, the greatest obstacles for Belize can be found in its economy, which for the most part remains under foreign control, with multilateral agencies dictating policies. The country suffers from poor infrastructure in many locations, high unemployment contributing to the “brain drain”, an unequal distribution of the nation’s wealth and the substantive migration of the young population to North America.55
With its diverse population, the government of Belize has adopted a national policy of “coexistent multiculturalism”. Nevertheless, inequalities of racism and discrimination exist in the country like in all the other countries where the Garinagu people are currently residing.
Garifuna people have overcome some discrimination in Belize. However, most of this group still resides in the poorest districts of the country, along with the Maya, with the lowest level of the development indices. Garinagu reside in southern districts (Toledo and Stann Creek) with the lowest indices of health, economics and education. Garifuna organizations have collaborated with Maya groups in presenting their shared grievances to the government.
Sources indicate that the government is attending to some distressed social and economic needs in their southern districts through various ministerial programs, some aided by support from international agencies.56 As described earlier, Belize lacks a large-scale policy framework directly addressing ethnic/ minority issues in supporting their social advancement. To obtain comprehensive development, adequate political representation is essential.
Ethnic and minority groups hold representatives in local and national governments in Belize. The Garinagu sustain representatives in local and national offices on behalf of their communities but, when they get elected, they are not provided with the funding to deal with their constituencies’ problems. Garinagu as a minority population have made substantive gains politically in Belize since their presence in the region. The ethnic group’s political representatives have also played extensive roles in the community development, which needs to be further explored.
Over time, globalization and collaborating with the indigenous helped in addressing community needs. Nevertheless, Garinagu in Belize face many challenges. Garinagu activists frequently articulate some of the challenges in the communities. Economic development issues such as high unemployment, no access to capital, inadequate housing, inability to re-establish self-sustainable farming and fishing industry. Low test scores compared to the national average and pollution and environmental challenges due to coastal sea changes. In addition, foreigners investing in mineral development and purchasing land in Garinagu communities at low rates is also a persistent challenge.
53 Garifuna History, Language & Culture of Belize, Central America, & The Caribbean, Bicentennial Edition 38
54 Garifuna History, Language & Culture of Belize, Central America, & The Caribbean, Bicentennial Edition
56 Ewens, Debbie. 1996. “Belize.” in Afro-Central Americans: Rediscovering the African Heritage. edited by Minority Rights Group
The Garifuna People
In 1635, two Spanish ships were wrecked near what is now St Vincent in the West Indies. The ships held West Africans who were to be sold as slaves in the West Indies. The West Africans escaped from the Spaniards and hid themselves among the indigenous Amerindian group, the Carib people on the island. The Africans eagerly adapted to the new environment in hopes of avoiding slavery and remaining under the protection of the Carib community. Likewise, the Caribs protected their new African neighbours because they resisted European encroachment on their lands. Eventually the Caribs and West Africans began intermarrying, and ultimately, created the Garifuna people.
When the French defeated the Garifuna on St Vincent in 1795 and drove them to nearby Becquia Island, they and other Garifuna left the Lesser Antilles Islands by the thousands and settled on the coast of Honduras. By 1802, they had migrated to what is now Belize. Led by Thomas Vincent Ramos, they settled in the township of Dangriga and soon spread out to other communities. The Garifuna population resides at present in 43 locations on the Atlantic Coast between Belize and Nicaragua. The largest of these communities are in Honduras and Belize, where about 98,000 Garifunas are concentrated in various towns.
Today, Garifuna culture is still heavily influenced by its Carib and African ancestry. The music, language, food, religion and dance provide evidence of the strong presence of both West Africa and Amerindian cultures. Nonetheless, like other West Indian and Latin American people, the Garifuna have emigrated to the United States. The largest Garifuna population outside of Central America resides in New York City.
Through both disease and warfare, the Caribs died out as a separate Amerindian people. Thus, Garifunas are regarded as the last remaining descendants of this group. They are often referred to as the Black Caribs and are the only people remaining who reflect the culture and traditions of the original Amerindian inhabitants of the Caribbean islands. Unfortunately, like the Caribs, the Garifuna are also declining in numbers and their traditional culture is being undermined by the economic and political modernisation of Belize and Honduras.
With the strong pressure on the Garifunas to speak either Spanish or English, their indigenous language — placed in the Arawak category — is rapidly disappearing. With each generation, parents make less of an effort to teach their children the Garifuna language and culture. However, more recently, there has been resurgence in interest in the Garifuna traditions. A number of new books and festivals, both in Belize and in the United States, are focusing attention on the people and their history while serving to maintain the Garifuna identity in the contemporary era.
We the Garifuna people are among the 400 million people on this earth who speak one of the 6,000 indigenous languages that exist. Most of us are struggling to preserve our languages that we have been speaking for centuries before the Europeans came to our lands and established their colonial rule. They then passed decrees and laws forbidding us from speaking our native language and practicing our culture. This is what the French and the British did to us in our native land “Yurumein” now known as Saint Vincent & The Grenadines up until the war ended in 1796. About 5,000 of our people were removed from our mainland island and taken to one of our other island Balliceaux, where we were tortured and imprisoned.
In 1797 about 2,500 of our people who survived the torturing, inhumane treatment and conditions they endured at Balliceaux, were packed up like cargoes and taken to the island of Roatan in the country of Honduras where they arrived on April 12, 1797. At the time our people arrived in Roatan, our language was already mixed with French. Now that we were brought to Roatan, our language is now influenced by the British and the Spanish. Both the British and the Spanish did not want us to intermingle with the other ethnic groups in their colonies so they isolated us from them.
The British hated us because of the fight we put up against them, to protect our land and to avoid being their slaves. They also did not want to run the risk of our people assisting the slaves in Belize and Nicaragua to rebel for their freedom. In most of Honduras and the other countries were the native Indians who the Spanish colonized their territories, tortured and slaughtered. Like the French and the British, the Spanish established their language as the official language for all their colonies. The Indians fought to retain their land and preserve their language and culture by running away from them. Yet, the Spanish pursued them and killed all those who resisted their rule.
When the French, British, Spanish and the other European colonial countries made their languages the official languages for their colonies, they did this with the intent to eradicate all the other languages that were spoken in their occupied territories. Why? Because they know that the language of an ethnic group is the essence of their culture. Once the native languages are removed by them, they will be in a better position to control and subjugate the people. We the Garifuna people because of our isolation from the other ethnic groups in these countries, were able to speak and maintain our language.
As time went by, these countries decided to setup an educational system where everybody must go to school and learn their languages. In their schools that were located in Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala all the various ethnic groups were learning how to read, write and speak Spanish and in Belize and parts of Nicaragua, English. This introduced new languages to the Garifuna people in these territories that they must learn for their economic, political and social survival. As a result of this, Garifuna people focused on learning how to speak, write and read these languages while neglecting their own Garifuna language. Most Garifuna people cannot write or read the words in their language because there were no schools in most of their communities that taught them how to read and write Garifuna.
Under International Law it is the responsibility of all governments to facilitate, accommodate and assist the indigenous people like the Garifuna to preserve their languages. Most countries have signed on to these international agreements like St. Vincent, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize and the United States. Yet, they have no program in place for the Garifuna language and other ethnic languages. In order for we the Garifuna people to learn how to speak, write, read and analyze our Garifuna language in the countries where we live, we must do the following things; continue to speak and teach our language to our children at home, open schools in all of our communities to teach our people how to speak, write, read and analyze our Garifuna language, bring a case against the governments in all the countries where we live who signed Treaties, Conventions, ILO-169 and other International Agreements to teach our language in the schools, interact with Garifuna people who live in other communities and countries to conduct language workshops and symposiums, establish an International Garifuna Language Institute (IGLI) with representatives from all the countries where we live to be responsible for the preservation, promotion and protection of our language.
This organization should be under the jurisdiction of the Garifuna Nation and it is a needed body to preserve the language, introduce new words, deal with all aspects of the language and to gain worldwide recognition. Once we establish the IGLI, the members of this organization will be able to do a thorough evaluation of the current state of our language and make recommendations on how to improve, preserve and protect it. In the research I conducted, the late Vilma Roches-Joseph, a Garifuna scholar who did extensive research on our language, said that most of our people do not want to speak our language because of shame and low self-esteem. I also think that we should add the following reasons because it was not spoken to us in our homes which I experienced, acculturation with other ethnic groups, peer pressure in the communities where some of us live, nobody to speak the language with regularly, resentment from other Garifuna people like ourselves who know how to speak it and some of us do not see it beneficial for us to speak. We know what are the problems we face with our language, now is the time for us to come together and fix them.