MARCH 18th, The EIGHTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York. (UNESCO Proclamation of Garifuna Language, Music and Dance as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity)

 

The Garifuna: A Nation Across Borders -- Essays in Social Anthropology (Edited by Joseph Palacio)

The Garifuna: A Nation Across Borders — Essays in Social Anthropology (Edited by Joseph Palacio)

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New York, New York — MARCH 18th is the EIGHTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York.  This posting will focus on the UNESCO Proclamation on aspects of Garifuna Culture.

On May 18th 2001, UNESCO declared the Garifuna Language, Music and Dance an Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.  For those who are curious as to how this took place, there’s a special book that I’d like to bring to your attention.

‘The Garifuna: A Nation Across Borders — Essays in Social Anthropology’ as edited by Joseph Palacio and features an essay by Marion and Roy Cayetano that details this process.  Not only do they detail what they went through went formally applying for this distinction, but in doing so, they make a case for those aspects of Garifuna Culture.   1

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Much like how proclamations are used to honor a group or situation or to call attention to certain issues or events, this UNESCO declaration serves to raise awareness of an existing distinction and galvanize various cultures around their uniqueness.

UNESCO Video on Garifuna Culture

When applying to UNESCO for this distinction, Marion Cayetano and Roy Cayetano pointed out that the “Garifuna language, music and dance are elements of a LIVING  culture”.  After arguing it’s distinctiveness, Marion Cayetano and Roy Cayetano proceed to explain that many important aspects of Garifuna culture (like the Garifuna Language) are beginning to slip away.  They add that, “if a conscious effort to intervene does not occur, all aspects of the culture could be lost. HUMANITY would suffer a significant loss if that were to occur.”  2

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In the essay, there’s a segment that I’d like to point out to you where Marion Cayetano and Roy Cayetano with insight, share what they learned through this process.  They explain,

“One of the lessons that came out of the prepapration of the candidature file is that there are many wise Garifuna people.  The culture teaches us to be knowledgeable and wise.  Those who are steeped in the culture are resilient, have tensile strength and are flexible.   They also have an array of skills.  One can only marvel at how a culture could rebound after a people have been forcibly removed from their homeland and transported to unfamiliar territory.  That is the experience of the Garifuna people.”  3

“How they managed to do this (arrive and survive after being disembarked in Roatan, Honduras) in spite of the many obstacles placed before them is a story of resilience, wisdom and creativity”.  4

About UNESCO

UNESCO (United Nation Educational Scientific Cultural Organization) is a specialized agency of the United Nations based in Paris, France which wants to be a factor in world peace by encouraging countries throughout the world to collaborate through education, science, and culture in order to advance universal respect for JUSTICE, the rule of LAW and HUMAN RIGHTS.  Along with the fundamental FREEDOMS proclaimed in the United Nations Charter.

According to the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of The Intangible Cultural Heritage, ICH (Intangible Cultural Heritage) is the driving force or fountain of our cultural diversity.  The care or nurturing of which is a guarantee for continuing creativity.

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Globalization, armed conflict, cultural standardization, industrialization, rural exodus, migration deterioration, environmental deterioration, lack of means, lack of appreciation and lack of understanding are all factors which all together may lead to endangered cultures disappearing like the wet spot on the blackboard.  That an INTERNATIONAL agency sees the value in Garifuna culture is a key component for Garifuna advocacy groups to consider when looking to assert their identity and spread awareness of Garinagu worldwide.  5

In 2001, UNESCO began proclaiming various Masterpieces of the Oral And Intangible Heritage of Humanity as a way to raise awareness of many cultures in the world and to encourage local communities to protect, sustain and recognize the inherent VALUE in these cultures.  Cultures are increasingly lost due to globalization, technology, intolerance, time,  etc.

In 2001, The Garifuna Culture (Language, Dance and Music) was a part of the Inaugural List of 19 distinct cultures representing different regions of the world proclaimed UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.  6

Below is the Inaugural List of 19 UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity (made in 2001).

  1. The Garifuna Language, Dance and Music.  — BELIZE (nominated with the support of HONDURAS and NICARAGUA).
  2. The Oral Heritage of Gelede — BENIN (supported by Nigeria and Togo)
  3. The Oruro Carnival — BOLIVIA
  4. Kungu Opera — CHINA
  5. The Gbofe of Afounkaha: The Music of the Transverse Trumpets of The Tagbana Community – COTE d’IVORIE
  6. The Cultural Space of The Brotherhood of the Holy Spirit of The Congos of Villa Mella — DOMINCAN REPUBLIC
  7. Tho Oral Heritage and Cultural Manifestations of The Zapara People — ECUADOR and PERU
  8. Georgian Polyphonic Singing — GEORGIA
  9. The Cultural Space of ‘Sosso-Bala’ in Niagassola – GUINEA
  10. Kuttiyattam Sanskrit Theatre — INDIA
  11. Opera dei Pupi, Sicilian Puppet Theatre — ITALY
  12. Nogaku Theatre — JAPAN
  13. Cross Crafting and Its Symbolism in Lithuania — LITHUANIA (supported by LATVIA)
  14. The Cultural Space of Djamaa es-Fna Square – MOROCCO
  15. Hudhud Chants of the Ifugao — PHILLIPPINES
  16. Royal Ancestral Rite and Ritual Music in Jongmyo Shrine — REPUBLIC OF KOREA
  17. The Cultural Space and Oral Culture of the Semeiskie — RUSSIAN FEDERATION
  18. The Mystery Play of Elche — SPAIN
  19. The Cultural Space of the Boysun District — UZBEKISTAN

As of 2009, the original UNESCO list of nineteen masterpieces of The Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity has been expanded to 76.  7

I encourage anyone interested in learning more about this UNESCO distinction to seek out and read that chapter in the book.  It will be well worth your time as much of it is breathtaking.

Logo for the 10th Anniversary of UNESCO Proclamation of Garifuna Language, Music and Dance as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.  Logo designed by Ivan Moreira.

Logo for the 10th Anniversary of UNESCO Proclamation of Garifuna Language, Music and Dance as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Logo designed by Ivan Moreira.    

It should be noted that the distinction of this UNESCO proclamation exists for a reason. One of the main points of the UNESCO proclamation is to encourage individuals, groups, institutions, and organizations to VALUE what it is that makes their heritage unique and special.  Also, in an age of globalization, cultures are rapidly disappearing and this UNESCO distinction, it is hoped, will inspire the work needed to revitalize endangered cultures.

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.

Below is a small news story on the work being done on to help preserve or revitalize Garifuna culture.  It was done by a student at a university majoring in Journalism in New York City  named Nesh Pillay.  The piece airs on the 219 West Show on CUNY TV. Featured in the news story are Daniel Kaufman of the Endangered Language Alliance, Garifuna Singer Musician James Lovell and the founder of the BEING GARIFUNA Website, Teofilo Colon Jr (a.k.a. “Tio Teo” or “Teofilo Campeon”).

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.

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.

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 8.

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.  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.  9

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 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.  Despite their mainly Spanish surnames, their culture and history are distinct from other Afro-American and Latino ethnic groups and it’s important to keep that in mind.

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.

 

 

 

Notes:

  1. Marion Cayetano and Roy Cayetano, “Garifuna Language, Dance and Music–A Masterpiece of The Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. How did it happen?” (2006)
  2. Marion Cayetano and Roy Cayetano, “Garifuna Language, Dance and Music–A Masterpiece of The Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. How did it happen?” (2006)
  3. Marion Cayetano and Roy Cayetano, “Garifuna Language, Dance and Music–A Masterpiece of The Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. How did it happen?” (2006)
  4. Marion Cayetano and Roy Cayetano, “Garifuna Language, Dance and Music–A Masterpiece of The Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. How did it happen?” (2006)
  5. http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/index.php?cp=HN
  6. http://www.unesco.org/bpi/intangible_heritage/belize.htm
  7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masterpieces_of_the_Oral_and_Intangible_Heritage_of_Humanity
  8. Edna Negron, “Club Tragedy an Awakening for Garifuna”, New York Newsday, Sunday, August 18th 1991.
  9. Nancie L Gonzalez, “Sojourners of The Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garifuna” pgs 21-23

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