MARCH 26th, The SIXTEENTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York (Garifunas in GUATEMALA)

 

Map of Garifuna Territories in  the Central American country of Guatemala as well as southern Belize at the 2013 Smithsonian FolkLife Festival.  Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr.  All Rights Reserved.

Map of Garifuna Territories in the Central American country of Guatemala as well as southern Belize at the 2013 Smithsonian FolkLife Festival. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

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Livingston, Guatemala — MARCH 26th is the SIXTEENTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York.  This posting will focus on the Garifuna people of Guatemala.

In a country of an estimated 15 million people as of early 2014 1, Most of people of Garifuna descent in Guatemala live in Livingston “La Buga”, Puerto Barrios and Chewecha.

Gas Station in Livingston 'La Buga' Guatemala.  Photo by Carlos Gamboa.  All Rights Reserved.

Gas Station in Livingston ‘La Buga’ Guatemala. Photo by Carlos Gamboa. All Rights Reserved.

According to a 2002 Guatemalan Demographic report, of that estimated Guatemalan population, 5,040 are Garifuna.    2

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Isolated and only reachable by boats from port town Puerto Barrios; Livingston ‘La Buga’, Guatemala has the largest Garifuna population in Guatemala.   3

Below is VIDEO of a day in the life of Livingston, “LaBuga”  Guatemala as presented by the Garifuna Files blog.  4

The commemoration of Garifuna Settlement Day in Guatemala is celebrated on November 26th.  However, despite the role Garifunas played in settling Livingston, this date is when Guatemalan head of state Jose Felipe Mariano Galvez declared that a section of what was Chiquimula would be cut-off and used to form a new territory called Izabal.  It’s head would be called “Livingston” and this was declared on November 26th 1831.  While a man named Marcos Monteros was credited as the founder of the town, it was named Livingston in tribute to United States politician Edward Livingston and November 26th is the date that the town of Livingston was given it’s name.   5

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Interestingly enough, there are two dates listed for the arrival of Marcos Sanchez Diaz and the group of Garifunas and the settling land in Guatemala.  One is February 2nd 1802, the other is October 13th 1802.   6

Woman holding a framed portrait of the likeness of Marcos Sanchez Diaz during Garifuna Settlement Day in Guatemala.  Photo by Carlos Gamboa.  All Rights Reserved.

Woman holding a framed portrait of the likeness of Marcos Sanchez Diaz during Garifuna Settlement Day in Guatemala. Photo by Carlos Gamboa. All Rights Reserved.

The man credited with settling Livingston is Marcos Sanchez Diaz.  A man cloaked in mystery, Marcos Sanchez Diaz is the historical figure most think of when it comes to Livingston, La Buga, Guatemala.

According to legend, Marcos Sanchez Diaz had supernatural powers and rid the dense jungle of insects and poisonous animals.  Apparently, due to bad treatment from authorities, he took refuge in Punta Gorda, Belize (a.k.a. British Honduras).   7

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However, as noted above, Marcos Sanchez Diaz is a Garifuna historical hero who is cloaked in mystery.  Who was he?  Was he really a military general from Haiti?  Or was he from St. Vincent and did he fight alongside Joseph Chatoyer in the Second Black Carib War on St. Vincent Island?  Was he actually Marcos Monteros who is credited as founding Livingston?  Information from the Garifuna Research website can help interested readers learn more but for me everything leads to  more questions.   8

Take for example the likeness of Marcos Sanchez Diaz.  In the photo above, there’s a woman holding a framed portrait of Marcos Sachez Diaz’s likeness. Like other black people, Garifunas come in many hues.  However, in that portrait (I am not aware of any other paintings or illustrations of Marcos Sanchez Diaz), his skin tone and hair texture looks unlike that of most Blacks.  Also, he’s wearing a black tie, a white shirt and what appears to be a black suit jacket. Marcos Sanchez Diaz lived to a very old age but wearing a suit and tie in the 1800s?

Garifuna Settlement Day in Guatemala.  Photo by Carlos Gamboa.  All Rights Reserved.

Garifuna Settlement Day in Guatemala. Photo by Carlos Gamboa. All Rights Reserved.

Of course, November 26th means something else entirely different to Guatemalans of Garifuna descent.  As noted above, this is the day that commemorates the arrival of the Garifuna people to Guatemala.

Garifuna Settlement Day in Guatemala.  Photo by Carlos Gamboa.  All Rights Reserved.

Garifuna Settlement Day in Guatemala. Photo by Carlos Gamboa. All Rights Reserved.

Marked by processions of Garifunas walking to the coast while singing and drumming to see a reenactment of the arrival of Garifunas to Livingston, this day is a demonstration of the ritualistic self-determination at work while Garifunas try to maintain their culture.

As you see in the video above, the day includes processions of Garifunas singing, drumming and dancing in the streets and as well as a Garifuna Settlement Day Mass.  Apparently, while initially the majority of residents of Livingston were of Garifuna descent, over time, the demographics of Livingston have changed dramatically.

Garifuna Settlement Day in Guatemala.  Photo by Carlos Gamboa.  All Rights Reserved.

Garifuna Settlement Day in Guatemala. Photo by Carlos Gamboa. All Rights Reserved.

A few years ago, I was told by a Garifuna that there’s stream of Indigenous and/or Ladino people moving into Livingston and establishing restaurants, hotels, gift shops, bars, etc with the objective of serving tourists who were lured to Livingston due to the presence of the Garifuna people there. I recently read a post from Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott’s Uncornered Market blog.  In it, an older Guatemalan Garifuna man explains:

“When I was a kid, it was all Garifuna people here in Livingston. Each time a Guatemalan arrived by boat, we’d go down to the dock for a look. Guatemalans, they were a novelty.

Then, Guatemalans began to arrive during the war. This area was safe; there was no fighting here. Guatemalans sold everything in their villages and used the money to buy up buildings from people like my parents and set up businesses.

I blame my parent’s generation for selling our buildings, but the current generation won’t invest in our future; they want everything immediately.”   9

Livingston 'La Buga' Guatemala.  Sign marks 2001 UNESCO Declaration of Garifuna Music, Dance and Language A Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.   Photo by Carlos Gamboa.  All Rights Reserved.

Livingston ‘La Buga’ Guatemala. Sign marks 2001 UNESCO Declaration of Garifuna Music, Dance and Language A Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Photo by Carlos Gamboa. All Rights Reserved.

Guatemalan Garifunas have migrated to cities in the United States like New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, Boston and Chicago (One of the victims of the Happy Land Social Club Fire in New York, Ana Luisa Moss Centino; was a Guatemalan Garifuna Woman from Puerto Barrios, Guatemala whose family lived in Chicago).

In New York City, a highlight of the year is attending the Annual Guatemalan Independence Festival at Red Hook Park in Brooklyn in mid-September (to celebrate Central American Independence).  Here are photos from the various Guatemalan Independence Festivals over the years.  Lots of music and people.  NOTE: While it’s labeled Guatemalan Independence Festival, most of the participants at this festival are of Garifuna Descent.

(PHOTO ALBUM) 2013 Guatemalan Independence Festival in Brooklyn.

(PHOTO ALBUM) 2012 Guatemalan Independence Festival in Brooklyn.

(PHOTO ALBUM) 2010 Guatemalan Independence Festival in Brooklyn. (Part 1)

(PHOTO ALBUM) 2010 Guatemalan Independence Festival in Brooklyn. (Part 2)

(PHOTO ALBUM) 2009 Guatemalan Independence Festival in Brooklyn

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I am based in New York City, so my references for the Guatemalan Garifuna community are based here.  But here’s a photo album of a Guatemalan Garifuna Cultural Celebration in 2012 as presented by two Guatemalan Garifuna organizations, COMGARIGUA (Comunidad Garifuna Gualtemalteco) and HAHIGAGUA (HAnichugu HIñariñu GArinagu GUAdimaluna–Garifuna Women from Guatemala).

(PHOTO ALBUM) 2012 Guatemalan Garifuna Cultural Celebration.

Finally, here are photos from a 2012 Garifuna Mother’s Day Gala Celebration that I was hired to photograph by the Guatemalan Garifuna organization, HAHIGAGUA (HAnichugu HIñariñu GArinagu GUAdimaluna–Garifuna Women from Guatemala).

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(PHOTO ALBUM) 2012 Guatemalan Garifuna Mother’s Day Gala Celebration – Part 1.

(PHOTO ALBUM) 2012 Guatemalan Garifuna Mother’s Day Gala Celebration – Part 2.

(PHOTO ALBUM) 2012 Guatemalan Garifuna Mother’s Day Gala Celebration – Part 3.

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There are many prominent Guatemalan Garifuna people who have made distinct impressions on the lives of United States citizens.  One of many is Chief Wanaragua Dancer Flavio ‘Paps’ Alvarez, who was based in Los Angeles.  He founded a Wanaragua Dance Company in Los Angeles and through his efforts has helped preserve aspects of Garifuna culture for all to behold.

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Below is a video for The Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA) regarding Mr. Flavio ‘Paps’ Alvarez and relative Carlos Gonzalez regarding the Wanaragua Dance.

Below is my own brief interview with Mr. Flavio ‘Paps’ Alvarez when he was in Washington D.C. for his participation in the 2013 Smithsonian FolkLife Festival.

Here in New York City, as suggested by the photo albums above, have many Guatemalan Garifuna who are actively serving as advocates for Garinagu who have migrated here.  One that BEING GARIFUNA has reported on is Garifuna American Military Man, Mr. Edson Arzu.  A few years ago, he founded the Garifuna Veterans of America for the expressed purpose of locating and identifying American Veterans of Garifuna Descent.  Also, his organization aims to be a network and resource for said Veterans.

Mr. Edson Arzu of the Garifuna Veterans of America.  Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr.  All Rights Reserved.

Mr. Edson Arzu of the Garifuna Veterans of America. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

So what does the future hold for Garifuna people from and of Guatemala?  Your guess is as good as mine. However, hopefully, more of us begin to value more of our Garifuna Language, Garifuna Culture and Garifuna History.

March 26th is the Sixteenth Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York.  Photo by Carlos Gamboa.  All Rights Reserved.

March 26th is the Sixteenth Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York. Photo by Carlos Gamboa. All Rights Reserved.

 

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.

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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 10.

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.  11

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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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Notes:

  1. http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/guatemala-population/
  2. http://www.unicef.org.gt/1_recursos_unicefgua/publicaciones/ninez_en_cifras/documentos/ninez_en_cifras_03.pdf
  3. Shannon Gorres, “Garifuna Place Making: Hope For the Guatemalan Nation” pg. 105
  4. https://garifunafiles.wordpress.com/livingston/
  5. http://www.beinggarifuna.com/blog/2013/11/26/happy-guatemalan-garifuna-settlement-day-november-26th/
  6. Antonio Sanchez Nunez, “Bocetos historicos de Marcos Sanchez Diaz y Livingston (LaBuga)” Manuscript. (1977)
  7. Alfonso Arrivillaga Cortes, “Marcos Sanchez Diaz: From Hero to hiuraha–two hundred years of Garifuna Settlement in Central America” essay from the Book “The Garifuna: A Nation Across Borders–Essays in Social Anthropology” edited by Joseph Palacio
  8. http://garifunaresearch.com/marcosanchezdiaz.html
  9. http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/2009/06/livingston-other-side-of-guatemala/
  10. Edna Negron, “Club Tragedy an Awakening for Garifuna”, New York Newsday, Sunday, August 18th 1991.
  11. Nancie L Gonzalez, “Sojourners of The Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garifuna” pgs 21-23

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