MARCH 16th, The SIXTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York (Debate Over WHO and WHAT The Garifuna People Are)

Garifuna Anthropologist, Dr. Joseph Palacio.

Garifuna Anthropologist, Dr. Joseph Palacio.

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Washington D.C. — MARCH 16th is the SIXTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York.  In this posting, I explore a debate about who and what the Garifuna People are.

In March of 2013, I posted about Garifuna Anthropologist Dr. Joseph Palacio’s participation at a Symposium in Washington D.C. which took place in 2012, Video of which was made public at the time of posting.  At this Symposium, Dr. Palacio explored the Amerindian aspect of Garifuna heritage.  Insisting on the Garifuna people being indigenous and examining the links between Garifunas and Taino Indians.  Most of what I including below is re-published from the original post.

Entitled, “Beyond Extinction II: Caribbean Indigeneity, Updates from the Field”  Dr. Joseph Palacio, as well as a number of professors, archeologists, anthropologists, and scholars all came together to share new findings from the field in the disciplines of archeology, history and genetics and also explored themes from national iconography to rural traditions throughout the Caribbean.  According to a press release by Smithsonian Latino Center; the goal was to explore the myriad ways indigenousness, particularly the consciousness of Taíno, is manifested in the Caribbean, where growing numbers of people of native descent are reclaiming their ancestral heritage. and explore the indigenous roots of Caribbean Culture at this symposium (the first of which was held in August 2011).

Garifuna Anthropologist, Dr. Joseph Palacio.

Garifuna Anthropologist, Dr. Joseph Palacio.

Released by Puerto Rican Filmmaker Alex Zacarias of the LostTainoTribe.com website, this video serves as an introduction to this unique symposium which itself was a collaboration between The National Museum of The American Indian, The National Museum of  Natural History and The Smithsonian Latino Center.   This symposium was part of the Caribbean Indigenous Legacies Project.

Attendees included:

Dr. Joseph Palacio (University of The West Indies)

Dr. Juan Martinez Cruzado (University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez)

Dr. Rachel Beauvoir-Dominique (Independent Scholar, Haiti)

Alejandro Hartmann  Matos (Museo Matachin de Baracoa, Cuba)

Dr. Jose Barreiro (National Museum of The American Indian)

Dr. Lynne Guitar (Independent Scholar, Dominican Republic)

Dr. Juan Manuel Delgado Colon (Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y El Caribe)

Jorge Estevez (National Museum of The American Indian)

Ariel Boinayel Mota (Filmmaker, Dominican Republic)

Clennis Tavarez Maria (Museo Del Hombre Dominicano)

Dr. Jose Antonio Garcia Molina (Independent Scholar, Cuba)

Dr. Osvaldo Garcia Goyco (Jardin Botanico, Puerto Rico)

Roberto Mukaro Borrero (United Confederation of Taino People)

Eduardo Diaz (Executive Director, Smithsonian Latino Center)

 –

Points were made that may be of interest to readers of Beinggarifuna.com  After viewing the video, I wished I had been aware of and been present at this symposium as it took place.

In his presentation, Dr. Joseph Palacio began by talking about his background (he is of Garifuna descent and from Belize) making a distinction between who the Taino people are and who Arawak Indians are.  Dr. Palacio explained that Arawak is more of a general term as opposed to Taino, but they are one and the same.   He also explained that the Garifuna Language has Taino elements and he went on to make connections between Garifuna people and the Taino people.

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Dr. Palacio went on to explain that for the Garifuna, Caribbean identity defies geography.  It can be slippery and then he explained that the formation of the Garifuna people is a ‘phenomenon’ in the Caribbean region that is noteworthy and worthy of study.  In fact, he said that the benefit of looking at Garifuna culture is that it has formed and it is still forming.

One comment that resonated with me was his statement that the existence of the Garifuna people is a miracle.  With the “imprint of identity not withstanding genocide, exile and now living in poverty”.

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He also talked about the Garifuna Language being key to aspects of the culture.  “It open doors of those aspects we thought were extinct.”

The video is about an hour long and is in English.  If you have the time, watch this video and see if you got as much out of it as I did.

When I posted my blog listing on Facebook, a few people were able to take the time to comment on the video and express their thoughts on it.  A few days later, Filmmaker Alex Zacarias posted a response on the Being Garifuna Facebook Page by Puerto Rican Scholar Dr. Gabriel Haslip-Viera.  In his comments he challenged Dr. Palacio’s points and gave viewers much to ponder.  In fact, much of what Dr. Haslip-Viera brought were questions that I had.

Puerto Rican Scholar, Dr. Gabriel Haslip-Viera

Puerto Rican Scholar, Dr. Gabriel Haslip-Viera

 

Dr. Gabriel Haslip-Viera is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology at City College at City University of New York.  He also served as the Director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College.  Below are his comments in response to Dr. Joseph Palacio’s presentation at the 2012 Symposium in Washington D.C.

Dr. Gabriel Haslip-Viera — March 2013

This video of Dr. Joseph Palacio’s presentation on the Garifuna begins with an unidentified advocate or spokesperson for the Taíno revival movement who gratuitously summarizes the typical assertions that are made in the effort to somehow validate an exclusive Neo-Taíno identity from a genetic, historical and cultural standpoint. It is not clear why this segment of the video was added to Dr. Palacio’s presentation, but it may be rooted in the fact that Dr. Palacio ultimately complicates the assertion of indigenous identity for the Neo-Taínos and others that do not have a scientifically grounded and connected genetic, historical and cultural background that would justify the assertion of an exclusive indigenous identity.

In any case, Dr. Palacio, a Garifuna anthropologist from Belize, presents an accurate summary of the origin and evolution of the Garifuna in all its complexity but also in a manner that ultimately complicates the definition of indigeneity in significant ways. The Garifuna are said to originate from the biological and cultural mixture of the original Amerindian or “Island Carib” population of the eastern Caribbean and escaped African slaves (etc.) from other parts of the circum-Caribbean region. He correctly locates the center of this development on the island of St Vincent, where the emergent Garifuna experienced a measure of autonomy, and even independence, under nominal British rule until the end of the eighteenth century.

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Dr. Palacio then summarizes how the British decided to impose a systematic control over St Vincent for the purposes of economic development at the end of the 1790s by violently suppressing the Garifuna resistance to this initiative and their autonomy. This eventually resulted in the resettlement of some 2,000 Garifuna in areas claimed or controlled by the British in Central America, especially in Belize, and the Caribbean coast of Guatemala and Honduras. The Garifuna that were resettled in Central America are referred to by Palacio as the “seed population” of the modern Garifuna who are said to number about 350,000 at the present time.

The Garifuna as a group have a long, established historical and cultural tradition that dates back to their origins in the eastern Caribbean in the early colonial period and continues up to the present time in St. Vincent and various parts of Central America, but their self-definition as an indigenous population is problematic and technically incorrect when applied to Central America. For example, in St. Vincent, the indigenous, or first people, were the so-called “Island Carib,” not the Garifuna, although it can be said that the Garifuna are indeed indigenous in St. Vincent because they originate in part from the original Amerindian population and have a long, established and unbroken historical tradition.

Puerto Rican Scholar Dr. Gabriel Haslip-Viera on Political Scientist and Analyst  Doug Muzzio's show CITY TALK on CUNY-TV in 2012.

Puerto Rican Scholar Dr. Gabriel Haslip-Viera on Political Scientist and Analyst Doug Muzzio’s show CITY TALK on CUNY-TV in 2012.

It also can be said that the Garifuna are undeniably Garifuna in both St. Vincent and Central America because they, as a group, along with Dr. Palacio, assert and celebrate their mixed Island Carib and African origins. However, the Garifuna are technically not indigenous to Central America because the “first people” in the region where the Garifuna are located are the Maya, not the Garifuna, who were resettled there by the British at the end of the eighteenth century. Thus, they are in fact, a diasporic people, which is how they are defined by the Garifuna of St. Vincent—a term that the Belizean Dr. Palacio tolerates but finds curious and perhaps problematic despite its accuracy.

Dr. Palacio also acknowledges in his mostly careful presentation, that there has been little communication between the indigenous Maya and the Garifuna in Central America, but he doesn’t elaborate on why this is the case. There also is no discussion of why the Garifuna chose (and continue to choose) not to identify themselves with the other African oriented mixed creole populations of the Caribbean and Central America.

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The assertion of a separate and indigenous Garifuna identity is probably rooted in the early colonial period in St. Vincent when they were largely autonomous or independent and before they came into contact with Africans and African creoles who came or were brought to St Vincent in later years. Thus, they have linked themselves officially to defined Amerindian groups such as the Kalinago of Dominica and the Neo-Taínos of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and their Diaporas who are not officially recognized as indigenous.   1  The Garifuna also do not apparently identify or connect with the truly indigenous Maya of Belize, Guatemala and Honduras where these two groups live together.

The Garifuna are officially recognized as a subgroup of the Belizean population that also includes the Maya and the African oriented “Kriols.” It should be noted at this point that the genetic make-up of the Garifuna is 76% African, 20% “Arawak/Carib” and 4% European (See Crawford, 1997) 2  but they don’t see much, if any, connection with the “Kriols” and other similarly mixed African oriented populations in Belize or elsewhere. There may be complex factors that have resulted in the separation of the Garifuna from the Kriols and the indigenous Maya in Belize and the rest of Central America, but Dr. Palacio fails to elaborate on this problem in his presentation.

 

POPULATION OF BELIZE

BREAKDOWN BY MAJOR ETHNIC GROUPS

________________________________________________________

 

1.0% = Caucasian/White

20.8% = Creole (“Kriol”)

4.6% = Garifuna

9.9% = Ketchi, Mopan, and Yucatec Maya

49.7% = Mestizo/Spanish/Latino

14.8% = Other / including Chinese, South Asian, African, and others

100.0% = Total

Total Population Ethnicly Identified = 303,422

________________________________________________________

Calculated from

http://www.belize.com/belize-demographics#ixzz2MQ9KsMi9

Dr Palacio also discusses the Amerindian or Taíno elements of the Garifuna culture and acknowledges the mixture with Africans and others, but he overemphasizes the Amerindian over the other elements of Garifuna culture in this presentation to the delight of the mostly Neo-Taínos present at the event. Aside from the Garifuna language, which is in large part of Arawak Amerindian origin, he fails to distinguish the admitted African elements in Garifuna culture from the indigenous elements as in the healing/ancestry ceremony he describes, or the cultural mixing between the Central American Garifuna and Haitians who were also brought to the region, which Palacio admits is an issue that requires systematic study.

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Dr. Palacio also makes statements that support the claims of the Neo-Tainos at various points in the video with phrases such as…… , but on the whole, Dr. Palacio’s presentation demonstrates that the Garifuna are a mixed creole people of mostly African and Amerindian background and culture with a rich historical tradition that enables them to credibly identify as currently indigenous on the island of St. Vincent. However, despite adhering to an indigenous identity in Central American, they should be seen as a diasporic population in that region because they were brought there by the British at the end of the eighteenth century. It also needs to be emphasized again, that various groups of the Maya are in fact the indigenous people of Belize and the other areas where the Garifuna are located and not the Garifuna.

Dr. Joseph Palacio versus Dr. Gabriel Haslip-Viera debate Who and What are the Garifuna?

Dr. Joseph Palacio versus Dr. Gabriel Haslip-Viera debate Who and What are the Garifuna?

 

So what do you think of Dr. Gabriel Haslip-Viera’s comments?  If you have the time, please write your comments below.

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

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

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 (St. Vincent Island — March 11th) and their new place of residence (Roatan, Honduras — April 12th), 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 3.

2015 Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York. (March 11th through April 12th). Logo by Ivan Moreira.

2015 Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York. (March 11th through April 12th). 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.  Also, this as well as other activities taking place in New York during Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York are designed to further visibility of the Garifuna ethnic group to the general populace of New York City.

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.  4

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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 Caribbean 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.

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Notes:

  1. Certain extended families with a historical tradition in the mountainous region of eastern Cuba have apparently been recognized as indigenous by the Cuban government.
  2. Crawford, M.H. 1997 “Biocultural adaptation to disease in the Caribbean: Case study of a migrant population.” Journal of Caribbean Studies. Health and Disease in the Caribbean. 12(1): 141–155.
  3. Edna Negron, “Club Tragedy an Awakening for Garifuna”, New York Newsday, Sunday, August 18th 1991.
  4. Nancie L Gonzalez, “Sojourners of The Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garifuna” pgs 21-23

Comments

comments

2 thoughts on “MARCH 16th, The SIXTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York (Debate Over WHO and WHAT The Garifuna People Are)

  1. Wow this is a very powerful piece. I also love your analysis of the presentation. Thanks for posting this very important and informative
    historical documentary by Dr Joseph Palacio.

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