MARCH 13th, THIRD Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month In New York (Baliceaux Island, Where Suffering and Death Reigned)

 

 

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Baliceaux Island, St Vincent — MARCH 13th is the THIRD Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York.  This posting will discuss Baliceaux Island.

After losing to the British in war on the island of St. Vincent in 1796, thousands of Garifunas (then known as Black Caribs) were rounded up and shipped to Baliceaux Island, which is one of the Grenadine Islands that lie between St. Vincent and Grenada.   It is located about 16 miles southeast of St. Vincent.   300 acres (about a half-mile, or approximately a THIRD of Central Park in New York City) in size, Baliceaux Island was where the Garifunas were interned as the British decided their fate.

St. Vincent Island and the Grenadine Islands of Bequia and Baliceaux.  Screen Grab from Google Maps

St. Vincent Island and the Grenadine Islands of Bequia and Baliceaux. Screen Grab from Google Maps

After formally surrendering to the British on June 10th 1796, from July 1796 through February 1797; 1004 men,  1779 women and 1,555 children for a total of 4,338 people (mostly Black Caribs, as the Garifuna people  were then known) were captured and shipped to Baliceaux for internment 1.

However, upon being boarded onto a convoy of ships bound for Roatan, Honduras in early March 1797; only 2,248  people (mostly Black Caribs, as the Garifunas were then known as) remained of the 4,338 captured.  What happened to the 2090 as they waited on Baliceaux?

Sickness, Suffering and Death awaited the Garifuna (a.k.a. "The Black Caribs") people on Baliceaux Island from 1796-1797.  Photo of a vulture looking at a child by Kevin Carter.

Sickness, Suffering and Death awaited the Garifuna (a.k.a. “The Black Caribs”) people on Baliceaux Island from 1796-1797. Photo of a vulture stalking a child in the Sudan by Kevin Carter (dated March 1993).

According to Anthropologist Nancie L. Gonzalez,  the Black Caribs “died of a mysterious ‘malignant fever’, most probably either typhus or yellow fever.  The impact was aggravated, without doubt, by malnutrition.” 2

Journalist Christopher Taylor explains,

“According to the account of the British doctor on the island, assistant surgeon N. Dickinson, most of those who fell ill died, which must have struck terror into the Black Caribs, especially as no one knew how the malady spread…He believed that the disease had its origins in the desperate state the Black Caribs had been reduced to before their captivity.  Dickinson maintained that the disease had been introduced to Baliceaux by the later arrivals on the island who had been in the worst condition after being hunted through the woods of St. Vincent.  The prisoners arrived in an ’emaciated state’ which left them in a weakened condition exacerbated by ‘continual fear and apprehension’ and the ‘dread of an indefatigable pursuing enemy.’ ”  3

Baliceaux Island.  Photo from the Garifuna Heritage Foundation in St. Vincent via Facebook.

Baliceaux Island. Photo from the Garifuna Heritage Foundation in St. Vincent via Facebook.

 

What was the environmental climate on Baliceaux?  Where does Typhus or Yellow Fever take place?  When writing about the conditions on Baliceaux as well as aspects of either Typhus or Yellow Fever disease, Journalist Christopher Taylor adds,

“Although Typhus or Yellow Fever is rare in the tropics, a typhus epidemic had been recorded in Barbados in 1795.  Sometimes known as gaol fever because it was common among prisoners huddled in filthy conditions, typhus is communicated by lice and spreads rapidly in crowded, unhygienic conditions.  (Assistant British surgeon) Dickinson noted that: ‘Baliceaux being entirely destitute of water was by no means favorable to the comfort and convenience of its new inhabitants–who regard the luxury of immersion in fresh Water an indispensable necessary of Health.’  It is also a disease which has accompanied famine elsewhere, such as during the Irish potato famine.”  4

Photo at Baliceaux Island.  Photo by The Garifuna Heritage Foundation in St. Vincent via Facebook.

Photo at Baliceaux Island. Photo by The Garifuna Heritage Foundation in St. Vincent via Facebook.

There are other theories or possible causes to the mysterious disease that afflicted the Garifuna people.  Journalist Christopher Taylor continued,

“Yellow or Bullam’s fever had broken out in St. Vincent in 1793 and was described like the Baliceaux epidemic as a ‘malignant pestilential fever’. Some 80,000 cases were recorded in the region over the subsequent three years in what appears to have been a particularly devastating epidemic, making it a prime suspect for the Baliceaux deaths.  Moreau de Jonnes, incidentally, believed that it was yellow fever that killed so many Caribs before they reached their place of exile, an infection he blamed on the ships used to transport them.  One other possible cause of the dreadful mortality on Baliceaux should perhaps be noted, ‘and that’ according to Alexander Anderson, ‘was the agonizing reflection that they were to be forever transported from their native country to another they never saw’. ” 5

Photo of a woman on the shores of Baliceaux.  Part of a Yearly Pilgrimage to Baliceaux to commemorate the forced removal of the Garifuna people from the St. Vincent Island area which takes place in early March.  Photo by The Garifuna Heritage Foundation of St. Vincent via Facebook.

Photo of a woman on the shores of Baliceaux. Part of a Yearly Pilgrimage to Baliceaux to commemorate the forced removal of the Garifuna people from the St. Vincent Island area which takes place in early March. Photo by The Garifuna Heritage Foundation of St. Vincent via Facebook.

The Garifuna people are people of African descent (in other words, Black people) whose ancestry can be traced to Africans mixing with Carib Indians and Arawak Indians on the Eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent.  From this fusion of race and ethnicities in St. Vincent Island, a distinct culture and language arose.  They are noted for being one of the few (only?) peoples of African descent (again, in other words, Black people) in the Americas to have maintained aspects of their ancestral culture and full use of their ancestral language for everyday use over the course of hundreds of years.

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After being defeated in war with the British on St. Vincent in 1796; 1004 men,  1779 women and 1,555 children for a total of 4,338 people (mostly Black Caribs, as the Garifuna people  were then known) were captured and taken to Baliceaux, a small island, a rock, basically, off the coast of St. Vincent.  This took place from July 1796 through February/March 1797.  About 2,000 Garifunas died of a mysterious and very infectious fever while living on Baliceaux awaiting their fate.  In early March 1797, the remaining Garifunas were loaded onto the HMS Experiment and other ships.  Once they were rounded up, the convoy were taken to a Bequia, which is another island off the coast of St. Vincent. They proceeded to go to Grenada to get water, then Jamaica for refueling, then finally Roatan, Honduras, arriving on April 12th 1797.

St. Vincent Island in relation to other Caribbean Islands as well as South American countries.  Screen grab of Google Maps.

St. Vincent Island in relation to other Caribbean Islands as well as South American countries. Screen grab of Google Maps.

Garifuna Scholar Nancie L. Gonzalez explained in her book Sojourners of the Caribbean that,

“to understand the magnitude of this operation the reader should know that according to Steele’s list of British ships for 1796, there were only FIFTY British ships of all types in the West Indies and Jamaica at the time.”  6 .

So imagine, about a FIFTH of the British Royal Navy was used to transport the Garifunas (a.k.a. “Black Caribs”) to Central America.

If you find the BEING GARIFUNA Website helpful and useful, please DONATE.  Every dollar donated helps keep this website in operation.  Donations are accepted via the PAYPAL website so your potential donations are SAFE and SECURE.

You might be wondering, what caused war to break out between the Black Caribs / Garifuna people and the British on St. Vincent Island?   What was it about the Black Caribs that prompted such a show of force by the British?   What was it about the Black Caribs that caused the British to proclaim that they must be destroyed?   We’ll explore that in a future post.

By the way, I spent hours looking for paintings that convey this horrifying aspect of Garifuna history but was unable to find any, which I find odd.  I do not know if there are any paintings that illustrate the Garifunas (a.k.a. Black Caribs) internment on Baliceaux island.  If readers of the Being Garifuna website know of any art that specifically relates to this, please contact me here.

EDITOR NOTE: From what I understand, Garifuna Artist Pen Cayetano from Belize has a painting with the subject of Garinagu in Baliceaux after being exiled from St. Vincent Island.  I have not seen the painting, but have read about it.

About Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York

Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York (March 11th through April 12th) is designed to reflect on and observe the occasion of the Garifuna people (then known as Black Caribs) being kicked out of their ancestral land of St. Vincent Island on March 11th 1797 to their arrival in Central America on April 12th 1797.  The dates reference the period of time where the Garifuna voyage took place between their ancestral land and their new place of residence, where a new life was forced upon them.

According to a press release from the non-profit organization the Garifuna Coalition USA Inc, Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York also,

“celebrates the great contributions of Garífuna-Americans to the fabric of New York City and New York State, and pays tribute to the common culture and bonds of friendship that unite the United States and the Garífuna’s countries of origin (Belize, Guatemala, Honduras Nicaragua and St Vincent and the Grenadines.)”.

The Garifuna Coalition adds, “New York City is home to the largest Garífuna Community outside of Central America!  However, although Garífunas have been migrating here in search of a better life since the 1930s; the community was virtually obscured until the Happy Land Social Club fire on March 25th, 1990.”  Most of the victims of that tragedy were Honduran, many were of Garifuna descent 7.

Logo for 2014 Garifuna American Heritage Month.  Logo by Ivan Moreira.

Logo for 2014 Garifuna American Heritage Month. Logo by Ivan Moreira.

Overall, the idea is to pay tribute to the survival and resiliency of the Garifuna people and also highlight the contributions made by Garifunas to the state of New York and the United States of America.

ABOUT The Garifuna People

The Garifuna people are people of African descent (in other words, Black people) whose ancestry can be traced to Africans mixing with Carib Indians and Arawak Indians on the Eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent. From this fusion of race and ethnicities in St. Vincent Island, a distinct culture and language arose.  They are noted for being one of the few (only?) peoples of African descent (again, in other words, Black people) in the Americas to have maintained aspects of their ancestral culture and full use of their ancestral language for everyday use over the course of hundreds of years.

After being defeated in war with the British on St. Vincent in 1796; 1004 men,  1779 women and 1,555 children for a total of 4,338 people (mostly Black Caribs, as the Garifuna people were then known) were captured and taken to Baliceaux, a small island, a rock, basically, off the coast of St. Vincent.  This took place from July 1796 through February/March 1797.  About 2,000 Garifunas died of a mysterious and very infectious fever while living on Baliceaux awaiting their fate.  8

If you find the BEING GARIFUNA Website helpful and useful, please DONATE.  Every dollar donated helps keep this website in operation.  Donations are accepted via the PAYPAL website so your potential donations are SAFE and SECURE.

In early March 1797, the remaining Garifunas were loaded onto the HMS Experiment and other ships. Once they were rounded up, the convoy were taken to a Bequia, which is another island off the coast of St. Vincent. They proceeded to go to Grenada to get water, then Jamaica for refueling, then finally Roatan, Honduras, arriving on April 12th 1797.

Finding much of Roatan unliveable, the Garifuna people petitioned officials representing Spain and it’s government (which controlled much of Central America at the time) to be allowed to move to the Honduran mainland.  Upon being allowed to move to the Honduran mainland, namely the port town of Trujillo, Honduras in May 1797; the Garifunas settled many towns and villages along the Caribean coast of Honduras.  They also migrated to the neighboring countries of Guatemala, Belize (then known as British Honduras) and Nicaragua over the years.  Finally, Garifuna People have also migrated to the United States of America where generations have settled in cities like New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles.

If you find the BEING GARIFUNA Website helpful and useful, please DONATE.  Every dollar donated helps keep this website in operation.  Donations are accepted via the PAYPAL website so your potential donations are SAFE and SECURE.

Sickness, Suffering and Death awaited the Garifuna (a.k.a. “The Black Caribs”) people on Baliceaux Island from 1796-1797. Photo of a vulture stalking a child in the Sudan by Kevin Carter (dated March 1993).  Photo from iconicphotos.wordpress.com

Sickness, Suffering and Death awaited the Garifuna (a.k.a. “The Black Caribs”) people on Baliceaux Island from 1796-1797. Photo of a vulture stalking a child in the Sudan by Kevin Carter (dated March 1993). Photo from iconicphotos.wordpress.com

Notes:

  1. Nancie L. Gonzalez, “Sojourners of The Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garifuna” pg 21. (1988)
  2. Nancie L. Gonzalez, “Sojourners of The Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garifuna” pg 21. (1988)
  3. Christopher Taylor, “The Black Carib Wars: Freedom, Survival, and the Making of the Garifuna” pg.143 (2012).
  4. Christopher Taylor, “The Black Carib Wars: Freedom, Survival, and the Making of the Garifuna” pg.144 (2012).
  5. Christopher Taylor, “The Black Carib Wars: Freedom, Survival, and the Making of the Garifuna” pg.144-145. (2012)
  6. Nancie L. Gonzalez, “Sojourners of the Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garifuna” (1988). pg. 36.
  7. Edna Negron, “Club Tragedy an Awakening for Garifuna”, New York Newsday, Sunday, August 18th 1991.
  8. Nancie L Gonzalez, “Sojourners of The Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garifuna” pgs 21-23

Comments

comments

3 thoughts on “MARCH 13th, THIRD Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month In New York (Baliceaux Island, Where Suffering and Death Reigned)

  1. Hi,
    I found your website interesting. I have been reading and researching the history of the Garifuna and St. Vincent, as well as the Atlantic Slave Trade Era for about ten years for first a history thesis and recently for a novel about the Black Caribs of St. Vincent and their ethnogenesis and the wars they fought with the French and English to try to maintain their lands and freedom. I live in California and am curious if there are similar festivals in our state where Garifuna celebrate their heritage.
    I have visited St. Vincent three times, for pleasure and for research and took a trip to Balliceaux to see where the exiles were held before being shipped off to Roatan. Pretty barren place. Mostly scrub plants, no streams and from what I have read water had to be brought in for the captives by the barrel. It would have been hard for any to escape as there were English soldiers who guarded the families held there, provided provisions, and cared for the sick. Most of the people there only surrendered because they were starving, sick, and unable to continue resistance to the British toward the end of the Second Carib War. Doubtful and any would have had the opportunity to try to flee, once captured or surrendered to the English forces and taken to Balliceaux. Taylor recounts the times very clearly in his recent book on the Carib Wars.
    I hope to have a novel completed in the next year or so called Black Caribs and I am attempting to tell the tale of the Caribs and St. Vincent in from the imagined perspective of the victims of slavery and imperialism, especially as it related to the Sugar Empire that was a major driver of both. Sure would like to share what I have learned over the last decade of study with anyone interested.
    Jim Sweeney, Ph.D.
    currently a student of Stanford University’s Continuing Studies Online Writing Certificate Program and working on a historical novel focused on the history of St. Vincent and the Black Caribs

    • Seremein (“Thanks” in the Garifuna Language) for writing, Mr. James Sweeney. I have been trying to locate you about your research on Garinagu in St. Vincent since 2010-2011 but wasn’t able to get any contact information for you. Glad to see that you came across the BEING GARIFUNA website. I’ll email you and perhaps we can begin a correspondence.

  2. Great article. It’ll be great to have a central Garifuna Museum with dated photos of all the villages depicting how life was.

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