MARCH 27th, The SEVENTEENTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York (Garifunas And The Country of BELIZE)

Map of Garifuna Territories in the center or the middle of  the Central American country of Belize at the 2013 Smithsonian FolkLife Festival.  Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr.  All Rights Reserved.

Map of Garifuna Territories in the center or the middle of the Central American country of Belize at the 2013 Smithsonian FolkLife Festival. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright 2014 by Teofilo Colon Jr.  (a.k.a. “Tio Teo” or “Teofilo Campeon”) All Rights Reserved.  Telephone: (646) 961-3674.

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Belize, Central America — When one traces migration patterns of the Garifuna people (initially known as the Black Caribs) upon arriving in Central America after being forcibly removed from their ancestral land of St. Vincent Island in the Eastern Caribbean; one can only imagine the stories that exist as a person takes their finger and goes westward and then north along a map of the Caribbean coasts of the countries of Honduras, Guatemala and  Belize.

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

Map of Garifuna Territories in the Central American countries of Belize, Guatemala and Western Honduras at the 2013 Smithsonian FolkLife Festival. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Belize is unique among Central American countries in that it was the sole country controlled by Britain.  In other words, it’s the only country that isn’t Latin American (although I understand that the demographics of that country are changing to such a degree that that may not be the case a few years from now).  Considering that Belize was initially a British colony, it’s worth briefly exploring the relationship between Belize and Garifunas.

Close-up of Map of Garifuna Territories in Southern Belize and Guatemala at the 2013 Smithsonian FolkLife Festival in Washington D.C.   Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Close-up of Map of Garifuna Territories in Southern Belize and Guatemala at the 2013 Smithsonian FolkLife Festival in Washington D.C. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Mention of Black Caribs in Belize were recorded as early as 1802 with the publication of the minutes of a Magistrate’s meeting of August 9th 1802, “that the admission of Caribs into the settlement rests with the Superintendent”.  1 . I am not sure, but I think that the Black Caribs sought to settle what was called Carib Town, which later became Stann Creek and is now known as Dangriga.

Between August 1802 and December 1802, there were an estimated 150 Black Caribs in the British Colony.   At least, that is what has been documented.  According to Sebastian Cayetano, while the presence of the Black Caribs in Belize (then known as British Honduras) was unwelcome, they were needed to settle the land and help protect that part of the country from roving Spanish forces.  The Black Caribs sought to find work as wood cutters.   2

Garifuna Woman at Belize Garifuna Settlement Day Mass in Brooklyn.  Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr.  All Rights Reserved.

Garifuna Woman at Belize Garifuna Settlement Day Mass in Brooklyn. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Alejo Beni led a large group of Garifunas to British Honduras after fleeing Honduras.  I am not sure whether not this was due to war in Honduras but this took place on November 19th (most state the year as 1832, other sources state 1823).

Garinagu at Belize Garifuna Settlement Day Mass in Brooklyn.  Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr.  All Rights Reserved.

Garinagu at Belize Garifuna Settlement Day Mass in Brooklyn. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

In any event, imagine the irony of Garifunas seeking to reside in a land controlled by a people who defeated them a few years prior after years of conflict on St. Vincent Island.  Well, somehow, someway Garinagu were allowed to live and settle that land.

According to the National Garifuna Council of Belize, Garifuna Towns or Villages located in Belize include:  3

  • Dangriga — Coastal town which serves as heart of Garifuna culture in Belize.  According to the National Garifuna Council of Belize, 80% of the population there, around 7,000 are Garifuna. The Gulisi Garifuna Museum can be found at the entrance to this town.   4
  • Hopkins — This village was established as a small Garifuna fishing village in 1942.  According to the National Garifuna Council of Belize, Hopkins is the only town in Belize where Garifunas learn the Garifuna language as their first, native language. English is the official language of Belize.  5
  • George Town — This is a newer Garifuna community established in the 1960s by Garinagu from Seine Bight looking for farmland.  Today, approximately 200 people live in this village.  6
  • Seine Bight — Small Garifuna Village of approximately 700 residents.  According to the National Garifuna Council of Belize, the Garifuna settled in Seine Bight in 1869.  7
  • Punta Gorda — This town was established as a fishing village in the early 1800s.  Because of other ethnic groups migrating to this town and transforming it into a commercial center of Southern Belize, it no longer is considered a predominantly Garifuna town.  However, about 1,500 Garifunas remain at its core.  8
  • Barranco — Garifuna village located in southern Belize.  It was settled in 1860 and is a fishing and agricultural center.  This Garifuna village has around 150 residents and is recognized as one of the last traditional Garifuna communities in Belize.  9
  • Libertad — a small group of Garifuna families make up the smallest Garifuna community in Belize.  The community developed around the Belize’s first sugar mill, which was established in the 1930s.  10

Other towns where you can find Garifuna communities include:

  • San Pedro — mostly founded by Garinagu who went to Ambergris Caye looking for work in the island’s tourism industry.  11
  • Belize City — A significant Garifuna community resides in Belize City, including several hundred from Honduras.  While the Belizean Garifuna are spread out throughout Belize City, the Honduran Garifuna can be found in a little section called ‘Little Honduras’.  Some of the more talented Garifuna musicians in Central America live there, including Garifuna Singer Musician Lugua Centeno.  12
  • Belmopan — relatively new Garifuna community is based here.  Garifunas who are well-educated went there looking for work as teachers, nurses and civil servants in the Belize’s capital.  13

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According to the 2010 Census in Belize, from figures from the Statistical Institute of Belize; out of a total Belize population of 322,453, Garifunas make up 19,639.  14

Population totals of some of the other ethnic groups in Belize are also instructive.

Mestizo / Spanish / Latino = 170,446

Creole = 83,460

Maya = 36,507

GARIFUNA = 19,639 (6.1% of the Population).

East Indian = 12,452

Mennonite = 11,574

Caucasian / White = 4,015

Asian (Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese) = 3,316

Other = 4,010

Not Stated = 845

NOTE: There’s an interesting footnote to this Table, where they say the column percentages will NOT sum to 100, as some persons claim more than one ethnic group.

Again, while the official Language is ENGLISH in Belize, it sure was a surprise for me to learn about the size of the Spanish / Latino / Mestizo population in Belize in 2014, at least when it was said to me by a Garifuna friend from Belize.

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 also be remembered that it was Garifuna intellectuals from Belize who were responsible for submitting the application to UNESCO designating the Garifuna Language, Music and Dance of the Garifuna People a Masterpiece of The Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.   15

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There are many Belizean Garinagu (plural for Garifuna, Garifunas) who have successfully integrated into Belizean society and have made serious strides serving as teachers, public servants, etc.  In fact, I included the Population Totals by Ethnic groups in Belize above to point out that although Belizean Garifunas make up a small percentage of the Belizean population, they nonetheless pretty much serve as the cultural face of the country.  Also, Belize is the only country on EARTH that recognizes Garifuna Settlement Day as a national public AND bank holiday.  That did not happen by accident folks.

While there are many prominent Belizean Garifuna to profile, for the purposes of this posting, I’d like to mention Garifuna Singer Musician Andy Palacio and note that his ambitions for a successful music career alternatively helped shape him as an ideal Garifuna ambassador and vibrant embodiment of Garifuna culture and values while he was still alive.  Below is a a Look Behind The Music of Andy Palacio and the making of his breakthrough, “Watina” album.

Multi-lingual (Fluent in the Garifuna, English and Spanish languages) and made the rounds in media circles both nationally and internationally to promote his Watina album, his role as a Garifuna ambassador (in 2007, he was designated a UNESCO Artist for Peace) has been noted but at the same time, been largely unexplored.  16

Finally, a posting about Garifunas and their connection to Belize would be incomplete without talking about Garifuna Civil Rights Leader, Thomas Vincent Ramos (T.V. Ramos).

About Thomas Vincent Ramos (T.V. Ramos)

Visionary Garifuna Civil Rights Reader Thomas Vincent Ramos was born in Puerto Cortez, Honduras on September 17th 1887.  He died in Belize on November 14th 1955.  According to wikipedia.com, he was educated at Wesleyan Methodist Primary Schools in Stann Creek (not known as Dangriga, Belize) and Belize City.  He eventually permamently moved to Dangriga in 1923, but didn’t become a British subject until 1954, which was a year before his death in November of 1955.

Garifuna Leader Thomas Vincent Ramos.

Garifuna Leader Thomas Vincent Ramos.


Known primarily as the co-founder of Carib Disembarkment Day (later re-named Garifuna Settlement Day) in Belize (formerly known as British Honduras), it wasn’t until one fateful day in the fall of 2011 where I learned so much more about this Garifuna man.


In the fall of 2011, I called or texted the Chairman of The Board of The Garifuna Coalition, Jose Francisco Avila and asked if I could read his copy of the book, “Thomas Vincent Ramos: The Man And His Writings” (the front cover of the book is above), which in fact was a gift given to him by Garifuna Linguist from Belize, Roy Cayetano.  Sensitive to the issue of people borrowing books only to never return them, I offered to read the book in the office of the Garifuna Coalition, as long as there weren’t any meetings scheduled.  He consented and off I was to the headquarters of The Garifuna Coalition in the Bronx!

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A collection of Thomas Vincent Ramos’s writings organized (and published) by Adele Ramos, who is Mr. Ramos’s granddaughter, the book, “Thomas Vincent Ramos: The Man And His Writings” is a slim book filled with a sample of literature detailing the strategic thinking of Mr. Ramos.


As my fingers flipped through the pages of this book I read document after document by Thomas Vincent Ramos detailing his efforts at integrating Garifuna people from that time into Belize society.  Despite Garifunas at the time being  looked at as cannibals–people not deemed human, therefore not worthy of simple dignity–Mr. Ramos persisted and for the most part achieved his goals.  Now, many Garifuna people in Belize are Teachers, Bishops, Administrators, Ministers of Government, Principals, Part of The Belize Defense Force, The Police, Environmentalists, Lawyers, Engineers, Musicians, Journalists, Doctors, Artists and Music Composers, to name a few.

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One of the noteworthy aspects of this book is seeing evidence of concrete action supporting Mr. Ramos’s belief that Garifuna people need to be integrated into Belizean society.  To that end he:
1.    was one of the First Garinagu who rendered support to the Universal Negro Association (the organization founded by Marcus Garvey).
2.    registered the Carib International Burial Fund Society (January 24th 1926)
3.    Founded the Independence Manhood and Exodus Uplift Society in Man-o-War, Stann Creek (in the 1920s)
4.    spearheaded the formation of Colonial Industrial Instruction Association of Stann Creek
5.    Founded The Carib Development Society in 1924 (only a YEAR after his arrival in Belize).
6.    Was a member of The Stann Creek District Board from 1927 to 1929 (this board took care of matters pertaining to the environment, streets, market, etc…)


These organizations were all geared towards the advancement of the Garifuna people.  These organizations provided sick and death benefits and executed an education program.  Not only that, but the Carib Development Society was successful in obtaining 800 acres of LAND at Sarawee, Stann Creek, which was later designated as the Carib Reserve.


What struck me as I read Thomas Vincent Ramos’s writings was his intelligence and frankly his audacity.  You see, Mr. Thomas Vincent Ramos dared think enough of his Garifuna people to think that their experience merited recognition.  Not only that, but he took appropriate action to see his dream through to fruition.

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Mr. Thomas Vincent Ramos was a prolific writer who spoke Garifuna, Spanish AND English.  He read widely and according to the book, “had a deep grasp of the social, religious, economic and even educational issues of his time”.


Thomas Vincent Ramos was also a journalist, poet, farmer, boxing manager, candy-maker, song composer and writer.


Below is an excerpt of a 1941 letter to the District Commissioner explaining their reasons for their petitioning of a day of recognition of the Garifuna people in Belize.  Signed by Thomas Vincent Ramos, Mateo Avaloy and C. S. Benguche; I marvel at the articulation of the deep understanding of the issues that brought some Garifuna people to Belize (a.k.a. British Honduras) and the irony or paradoxical circumstance regarding their settlement in that country.


“One hundred and eighteen years ago, disgusted with the tyrannical rule of the Honduran Indians after acquiring their independence from Spain, they came to these shores in search of liberty and security.”

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“It is indeed an extraordinary co-incidence that those against whom they fought a protracted war for what they regarded as intrusion in their island homes in the Lesser Antilles — and who, after conquering them, deported them to Roatan, one of the Bay Islands — extending them a hand and offered them the facility to settle in Stann Creek (a.k.a. Dangriga).”


“The Caribs, one of the most skillful seafarers of the world, are…and possessing as they do this maritime ability, it is not to be wondered at, that they were the principal pioneers in the settlement of the Atlantic Coast of Spanish Honduras and that of this Colony extending from Stann Creek to Barranco near the southern frontier.”


“We respectfully solicit that you be good enough as to recommend to the Governor in Council that this day be declared a Public and Bank Holiday at Stann Creek (Dangriga).”  – Letter signed by Thomas Vincent Ramos, Mateo Avaloy and C. S. Benguche in the book, “Thomas Vincent Ramos: The Man and His Writings”

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Carib Disembarkment Day was first created/celebrated in Stann Creek (a.k.a. Dangriga), British Honduras (a.k.a. Belize) on November 19th 1941. It was recgonized as a public and bank holiday in the southern districts of Punta Gorda or Toledo district of Belize in 1943.  Finally was renamed Garifuna Settlement Day and declared a nationwide public and bank holiday in 1977.


This was NOT easy.  If you can, think for a moment about the extraordinary depth of that accomplishment.  Not only were Garifuna people discriminated against by other races, ethnic groups in British Honduras (a.k.a. Belize) but they were even discriminated against by Kriols / Creoles with whom they share a common African/Black ancestry!!!  But through a persistent petitioning of the government, as well as a consistent effort to integrate Garifuna people of British Honduras (a.k.a. Belize) into mainstream society there, they were able to  accomplish this considerable feat.

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Those interested in buying the book, “Thomas Vincent Ramos: The Man and His Writings” can contact The National Garifuna Council in Belize, as they published the book.


While Garifuna Settlement Day is celebrated in Honduras (April 12th), Guatemala (November 26th) and Nicaragua (November 19th) the only place in the WORLD where it is officially recognized as a public and bank holiday is in Belize.  The heart of the celebration is held in the southern part of Belize.


Annual commemorations of this historic achievement are held in American cities with sizable Belizean Garifuna populations, in particular Chicago and Los Angeles.

March 27th, The SEVENTEENTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York.  Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr.  All Rights Reserved.

March 27th, The SEVENTEENTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

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.  17

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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.

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 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.)”.

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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 18.

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.

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. Sir John Alder Burdon “The Archives of British Honduras” 1931-1934 (11 :57)
  2. Sebastian R. Cayetano, “Garifuna Re-Settlement in Central America: Nicaragua, Honduras and Belize” — from the book, Garifuna History, Language and Culture (1989).
  3. http://ngcbelize.org/content/view/18/147/
  4. http://www.ngcbelize.org/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=28&Itemid=157
  5. http://www.ngcbelize.org/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=23&Itemid=152
  6. http://www.ngcbelize.org/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=22&Itemid=151
  7. http://www.ngcbelize.org/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=21&Itemid=150
  8. http://www.ngcbelize.org/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=20&Itemid=149
  9. http://www.ngcbelize.org/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=19&Itemid=148
  10. http://www.ngcbelize.org/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=26&Itemid=155
  11. http://www.ngcbelize.org/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=27&Itemid=156
  12. http://www.ngcbelize.org/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=25&Itemid=154
  13. http://www.ngcbelize.org/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=24&Itemid=153
  14. http://www.sib.org.bz/Portals/0/docs/publications/census/2010_Census_Report.pdf Table 8: Percentage of Population in each Ethnic Group by District, Belize 2010.
  15. Marion Cayetano, Roy Cayetano “Garifuna Language, Dance and Music–A Masterpiece of The Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. How did it happen?” — from book “The Garifuna: A Nation Across Borders–Essays in Social Anthropology” (2006).
  16. http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=41640&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html
  17. Nancie L Gonzalez, “Sojourners of The Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garifuna” pgs 21-23
  18. Edna Negron, “Club Tragedy an Awakening for Garifuna”, New York Newsday, Sunday, August 18th 1991.

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