MARCH 28th, The EIGHTEENTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York (The Later Garifuna Migration to NICARAGUA)

 

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

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

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NICARAGUA, Central America — MARCH 28th is the EIGHTEENTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York.  This posting will explore the Later Migration of Garifuna People to the country of NICARAGUA.

REPOST of BEING GARIFUNA Blog posting dated March 4th 2013.

Nicaraguan Garifuna miming riding in a canoe in the ocean during 2012 Garifuna Settlement Day Commerations. Screen Grab from Neyda Dixon Report.

Nicaraguan Garifuna miming riding in a canoe in the ocean during 2012 Garifuna Settlement Day Commerations. Screen Grab from Neyda Dixon Report.

Orinoco, Nicaragua — Nicaraguan Reporter and TV Personality Neyda Dixon (she is Creole), profiled the Nicaraguan Garifuna as they celebrated 2012 Garifuna Settlement Day, which takes place in Nicaragua on November 19th.

The fifteen minute report is mostly in Spanish and it touched on a number of things as it relates to Garifuna people in Nicaragua.   This particular Garifuna Settlement day was special because it marked 100 years since Garifunas have been in Orinoco.  Early in the news story is video of Garifuna people reenacting their arrival to Nicaragua.  There’s the miming of riding in a canoe and also marching in the towns singing in the Garifuna (well, as much of the Garifuna Language as  they can manage) Language.

Nicaraguan Garifuna Girl Participating in Miss Garifuna Pageant there.  Screen grab from Neyda Dixon Report.

Nicaraguan Garifuna Girl Participating in Miss Garifuna Pageant there. Screen grab from Neyda Dixon Report.

According to Neyda Dixon, the Garifuna first arrived in Nicaragua in 1830, in a town called Greytown.  Located in the southern tip of Nicaragua, it is also known as San Juan de Nicaragua or San Juan del Norte and according to Neyda Dixon, the Garifunas who  came to Greytown were from Honduras and Belize (then known as British Honduras).

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When I looked at a map, the location of Greytown being the place where Garifunas first were confused me.  Being that it’s at the southern tip of Nicaragua, it seemed odd that Greytown would be the first place noted for having Garifunas, especially since they were coming from the North.  In short, there is a LOT of land between where those Garifuna came from and Greytown. Why Greytown?

Nicaraguan Map demonstrating where Greytown is located in that country. Image courtesy of Nicaraguandispatch.com

Nicaraguan Map demonstrating where Greytown is located in that country. Image courtesy of Nicaraguandispatch.com

So I quickly looked up any essays or articles I could find about the Garifuna in Nicaragua and I came across a William V. Davidson essay from the Winter of  1980 entitled, “The Garifuna Of Pearl Lagoon: Ethnohistory of An Afro-American Enclave in Nicaragua”     1.   According to that essay, there is confusion over whether the accounts of the “first half of the 19th century refer to Garifuna as permanent settlers or merely as sojourners.”   Mr. Davidson expressed the notion that, “Individual off on temporary wage-earning trips, can hardly be considered  as new residents of Nicaragua”.

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However, there are reports of The Garifuna being “just south of Bluefields at the mouth of the San Juan River in the 1860s” and that they were there because “excitement over the possibility of a trans-isthmian canal through Nicaragua attracted many explorer-adventurers who often teamed with Caribs to traverse the route from the port of Greytown up the San Juan River.  The activity at Greytown, and the possibilities of wage work there, also must have attracted the Garifuna.  They enjoyed a good reputation as boatmen and handled the mail through the surf at Greytown. Garifuna were also employed as mahogany cutters in Nicaragua during the 1860s and 1870s, but that activity was seasonal and the workers normally returned to the families in Honduras.”  2.

Marching while singing songs in the Garifuna Language and carrying various Garifuna cultural items and cassava bread in Orinoco on the celebration of 2012 Garifuna Settlement Day in Nicaragua. Screen Grab from  Neyda Dixon Report.

Marching while singing songs in the Garifuna Language and carrying various Garifuna cultural items and cassava bread in Orinoco on the celebration of 2012 Garifuna Settlement Day in Nicaragua. Screen Grab from Neyda Dixon Report.

Neyda Dixon also reports that the Garifuna started settling in the Pearl Lagoon basin section of Nicaragua in 1880.   William Davidson’s essay confirms that bit of historical settlement information.

Neyda Dixon explained that the main Garifuna communities in Nicaragua consist of

  • La Fe,
  • Justa Point,
  • San Vicente,
  • Brownbank,
  • Marshall Point and finally
  • Orinoco.

Orinoco is the Nicaraguan town most people associate with the Garifuna people.  In the William Davidson paper, Joseph Sambola (from Sangrelaya, Honduras) is credited with being the first to permanently settle in Nicaragua when he founded San Vicente in the 1880 or 1881.  3.

Map of Pearl Lagoon Basin in Nicaragua, where Garifuna Towns / Settlements can be found. Map courtesy of isdrgl.org

Map of Pearl Lagoon Basin in Nicaragua, where Garifuna Towns / Settlements can be found. Map courtesy of isdrgl.org

Neyda Dixon also explained that Orinoco was founded in 1912.   She also explained that there are approximately 5,000 Garifunas in Nicaragua and that their basic economic activities include fishing and cultural activities.   Neyda Dixon’s report includes video of a Garifuna Mass for the first child who was born in Orinoco, who is now 98 years old.  Her name is Nora Estrada Colindres.

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Viewers can also see video of the Miss Garifuna pageant election of Miss Garifuna Nicaragua.  In this pageant, Various Young Nicaraguan Garifuna Women (who look to be either teenagers or young adults) sing, dance and act out or mime various aspects of the Garifuna culture in memorable skits.

Nicaraguan Garifuna Girl dancing during her participation in the 2012 Miss Garifuna Pageant in Nicaragua. Screen Grab from  Neyda Dixon Report.

Nicaraguan Garifuna Girl dancing during her participation in the 2012 Miss Garifuna Pageant in Nicaragua. Screen Grab from Neyda Dixon Report.

Neyda Dixon also mentioned that Efforts made to teach the Garifuna Language so that more Nicaraguan Garifunas know it.  Overall, efforts are geared towards revitalizing Garifuna culture in the area.

Sadly there weren’t any titles or names underneath the many people who were being interviewed so I was lost as far as who was who.  I recognized Vernan Ramos, who has been a Nicaraguan Garifuna musician and overall promoter for Nicaraguan Garifuna identification and pride for years but that was it.

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Tourists were also interviewed about what it is they like about Nicaragua and Garifuna culture and Vernan Ramos talked about (and had a girl demonstrate)  the popular Garifuna dance, punta.

The report was informative and the report forced me to do some research on Nicaraguan Garifuna enabling me to learn a little more about our people there.  When you have the time, take a look at it and see if you learn as much as I did.  It is in Spanish.

Here is another short documentary on the Garifuna people of Guatemala.  It is in Spanish and English.

Here’s a Garifuna cultural presentation that took place in Bluefields, Nicaragua in March 2014.

Interestingly enough, retention of Garifuna Language and Culture has been an issue in Nicaragua for decades now.  In fact, it was a trip to Nicaragua teaching Nicaraguans how to read in the early 80s and witnessing how few Garifunas there spoke the language that inspired Garifuna Singer Musician Andy Palacio (from Belize) to use Garifuna music to revitalize Garifuna Language and culture amongst Garifunas in Central America. In fact, this issue of the loss of the Garifuna Language and Culture is apparently the theme of the new documentary Lubaraun, about Garifunas in Nicaragua.   Here is the trailer.  NOTE:  I have not seen this documentary as of yet.

Here’s a news report on the initial screening of Lubaraun in Bluefields, Nicaragua from Nicaraguan Journalist Neyda Dixon.

Below is a short news story on 2013 Garifuna Settlement Day festivities in Nicaragua.

I’ve been told there’s a small number of Nicaraguan Garifuna people in New York City.  I haven’t been able to find them, but I am told there are a few in the area.  I’ve also been told that a number of Nicaraguans can be found in Paterson, New Jersey area, however I do not know if they are Garifuna.  I do know of some Nicaraguan Garifuna people in Florida, but they are limited in number there.  I do not know of any Nicaraguan Garifuna enclaves in various cities in the United States.  If there are any, please write to me and let me know.

According to the 2005 Census in Nicaragua as provided by the National Institute of Statistics and Census.  The Garifuna numbered 3,271 (0.1% of the population) in Nicaragua.  There were 19,890 Nicaraguans that identified as Creole (0.4% of the population). NOTE: When polled, 47,473 marked “Don’t Know”.  13,740 identified themselves as “Other”, and 19,460 ignored the Census.   4

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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.  5

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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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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 6.

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.

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MARCH 28th is the EIGHTEENTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in NY.

MARCH 28th is the EIGHTEENTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in NY.

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. http://www.srs-pr.com/Articles/GarifunaofNicaragua.pdf
  2. http://www.srs-pr.com/Articles/GarifunaofNicaragua.pdf
  3. http://www.srs-pr.com/Articles/GarifunaofNicaragua.pdf
  4. http://www.inide.gob.ni/censos2005/ResumenCensal/Resumen2.pdf   Tabla 1.13
  5. Nancie L Gonzalez, “Sojourners of The Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garifuna” pgs 21-23
  6. Edna Negron, “Club Tragedy an Awakening for Garifuna”, New York Newsday, Sunday, August 18th 1991.

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