MARCH 23rd, The THIRTEENTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York (Garifuna Connection to JAMAICA)

 

Port Royal, Jamaica.  Map courtesy of piracyinmediterranean.blogspot.com

Port Royal, Jamaica. Map courtesy of piracyinmediterranean.blogspot.com

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Port Royal, Jamaica — MARCH 23rd is the THIRTEENTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York.  In this posting, I’ll explore the Garifuna Connection to the island nation of Jamaica.

Upon the forced exile of the Garifunas from their ancestral land of St. Vincent Island in March of 1797, a little over 2,000 Garifunas (or Black Caribs, as they were then known) were transported in a convoy of mostly British ships across the Caribbean Sea and stopped in a few places before arriving in Roatan Island near Honduras.  Upon leaving after their forced internment on Baliceaux near St. Vincent Island, they first went to  Bequia, then Grenada (for water and supplies), both small islands near St. Vincent Island.

After days of sailing across the Caribbean Sea, the convoy of approximately ten ships stopped and spent ten days  1  in Port Royal, Jamaica where the convoy took on additional supplies, troops and conducted repairs.   2

ABOUT Port Royal, Jamaica

Located at the southern end of the Palisadoes at the mouth of Kingston Harbour; Port Royal, Jamaica was a major city and the center of shipping business in the Caribbean in the second half of the 1600s.   3

Port Royal in the 1600s, where it was a thriving center of business in the Caribbean.  Illustration courtesy of playingintheworldgame.wordpress.com

Port Royal in the 1600s, where it was a thriving center of business in the Caribbean. Illustration courtesy of playingintheworldgame.wordpress.com

Map of the above illustration of Port Royal, Jamaica.  Courtesy of playingintheworldgame.wordpress.com

Map of the above illustration of Port Royal, Jamaica. Courtesy of playingintheworldgame.wordpress.com

Port Royal was originally colonized by the Spanish, but attacked and captured by the British in 1655.  Because of its good natural harbor and key position, Port Royal became a key destination for pirates and buccaneers. In its day, it was described as the wickedest city in the world.  A haven for prostitutes, pirates and bad people.  Booming business by pirates and privateers in the Caribbean soon led to Port Royal being a trading center for slaves, sugar and raw materials such as wood.    4

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Many are familiar with Port Royal, Jamaica due to it being a key location in the Pirates of The Caribbean films starring movie star Johnny Depp as Pirate Jack Sparrow.

NOTE: In an ironic real-life twist, scenes of Port Royal for the movie were filmed at Wallilabou Bay on St. Vincent Island.   5

Port Royal, Jamaica.  Illustration from colonialquills.blogspot.com

Port Royal, Jamaica. Illustration from colonialquills.blogspot.com

However, in June 7th 1692, an earthquake destroyed most of Port Royal as much of it fell into the sea.  A subsequent tsunami and fires didn’t help matters either.

Port Royal, Jamaica was no longer a hub of commercial activity by the time the Garifunas were momentarily there in March of 1797. However, I can’t help but wonder what it may have been like when the Garifunas were there.  I do not have access to journal entries from captain’s logs of the ships in the convoy during their time in Jamaica.  But I can’t help but wonder if they were ever allowed to roam around in Port Royal, did they ever exit the ships they were in?  What were their ten days in Jamaica like as their ships were being refueled and such?  Were they aware of the Maroon population in Jamaica?

Port Royal, Jamaica.  Photo from april-hart.livejournal.com

Port Royal, Jamaica. Photo from april-hart.livejournal.com

According to wikipedia, Jamaican Maroons are descendants of Africans who fought and escaped from slavery during the long era of slavery on that island. These Africans,  imported during Spanish rule of Jamaica may have been the first runaways.  Of interest to readers of BEING GARIFUNA however is that apparently they mixed with ARAWAK INDIANS that remained on the island.

Sound familiar?

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Again, in 1655, when the British captured Jamaica, the Spanish colonists fled, leaving behind a large number of African slaves.  Rather than be re-enslaved by the British, they escaped into the hilly, mountainous regions of the island, joining those who had previously escaped from the Spanish to live with the Arawak Indians.  The Maroons intermarried with the Arawak Indian natives, establishing independence in the back country and survived by subsistence farming and by raiding plantations.  Over time, the Maroons came to control large areas of the Jamaican interior.   6

Plantation raids led to the First Maroon War.  The two main Maroon groups in the 18th century were the Leeward and the Windward tribes, the former led by Cudjoe in Trelawny Town and the latter led by his sister Queen Nanny.   7

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In 1739-1740, British governor Edward Trelawny signed a treaty with the Maroons, promising them 2500 acres (10 km²) in two locations. They were to remain in their five main towns.  They are:

Accompong

Trelawny Town

Mountain Top

Scots Hall

Nanny Town

 –

The Jamaican Maroons lived under their own chief with a British superintendent. In exchange, they agreed not to harbour new runaway slaves, but rather to help catch them. They were paid a bounty of two dollars for each returned slave. This last clause in the treaty naturally caused tension between the Maroons and the enslaved black population, although from time to time runaways from the plantations still found their way into Maroon settlements. Originally, Jamaican Maroons fought against slavery and maintained their independence from the British. However, in the treaty of 1738, they were also paid to return captured slaves and fight for the British in the case of an attack from the French or Spanish.  8

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For those who have read this far, it may interest you to know that when a new British Governor took power in 1795, and began to mistreat the Maroons tensions between planters and Maroons grew and a SECOND Maroon War broke out.   9

The Accompong Maroons remained neutral and the British left them alone. The British fought with 100 Cuban dogs and brought in 5,000 troops. By the end of the war, the other Maroon settlements in Jamaica had been destroyed, and Accompong alone remained. Despite the fact that the Maroons surrendered on the condition that they would not be deported, just a year later 568 were taken to Nova Scotia, Canada in 1796.  Not liking conditions in Nova Scotia, the British government then decided to send the surviving Maroons to Sierra Leone, Africa.   10

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With the majority of the Jamaican Maroon population GONE by the time the Garifunas arrived in Jamaica (for a moment) in March 1797, it’s doubtful that there was any contact with the remaining Jamaican Maroons there.  But speculation (my own, as well as others garnered through casual conversation) remains that perhaps a few Garifunas (then known as Black Caribs) escaped captivity and remained in Jamaica.  But that’s pure speculation.

I was aware of the Jamaican Maroons but didn’t pay much attention to their story until I read a 2012 news story by Journalist Vinette Pryce in the Caribbean Life Newspaper in New York City about the Maroons marking 274 years since signing a treaty with the British.   11

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It was then when I slowly would learn about the Maroons and their place in the history of the Americas.  However, it wasn’t until today while reading the Jamaican Maroon Wikipedia entry when I learned about their exile to Canada as well as their apparent mixing with Arawak Indians.

It must also be remembered that blacks were in Central America prior to the arrival of the Garifunas due to slavery.  Also, Jamaicans were imported into Honduras and Guatemala from the 1890s onward to work in the thriving banana industry at the time.   Remember, these Banana companies were American companies and Jamaicans who immigrated to Honduras for employment opportunities had a distinct advantage due to their ability to speak English.  Jamaicans and other West Indians in Honduras became a privileged class leading to tensions between them and native Hondurans.  You can learn more about Jamaicans in Honduras in Glenn A. Chambers book (in the footnotes).   12

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So what do you think about the connections between Garifunas and Jamaicans?  Of course, I could write a little more about contemporary issues.  Particularly, the tendency for many Garifunas to pass for Jamaican (or West Indian).  That’s probably best reserved for another post though.  For the purposes of this post, I tried to keep things in a historical context.  Hopefully that historical context can be kept in mind when considering the contact these two cultures have between each other.

NOTE: To confuse matters even more, the Garifunas arrived at Roatan, Honduras on April 12th 1797.  The name of the port?  Yup, Port Royal, Roatan, Honduras.

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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 13.

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.  14

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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.  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.

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Port Royal, Jamaica.

Port Royal, Jamaica.

Notes:

  1. James L. Sweeney, “The Last Stand of The Black Caribs on Saint Vincent”
  2. Christopher Taylor, “The Black Carib Wars: Freedom, Survival, and the Making of the Garifuna”. pg. 146 (2012)
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Royal
  4. http://latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/historyofthecaribbean/p/The-History-Of-Port-Royal.htm
  5. http://gocaribbean.about.com/od/specialinteresttravel/a/PiratesCaribtou_2.htm
  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamaican_Maroons
  7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamaican_Maroons
  8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamaican_Maroons
  9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamaican_Maroons
  10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamaican_Maroons
  11. http://www.caribbeanlifenews.com/stories/2012/1/2011_12_30_vkp_maroons.html
  12. Glenn A. Chambers, “Race, Nation and West Indian Immigrants To Honduras: 1890-1940” (2010).
  13. Edna Negron, “Club Tragedy an Awakening for Garifuna”, New York Newsday, Sunday, August 18th 1991.
  14. Nancie L Gonzalez, “Sojourners of The Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garifuna” pgs 21-23

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