MARCH 29th, The NINETEENTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York (Original Garifuna / Black Carib Villages on St Vincent Island)

 

Marker in Village in Owia on St. Vincent Island that depicts National Hero Joseph Chatoyer.  Photo by James Sweeney.

Marker in Village in Owia on St. Vincent Island that depicts National Hero Joseph Chatoyer. Photo by James Sweeney.

 

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St. Vincent Island, Eastern Caribbean: MARCH 29th is the NINETEENTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York.  This posting will feature original Garifuna / Black Carib Towns on St. Vincent Island.

As far as I have been able to determine, Original Black Carib / Garifuna Villages on St. Vincent Island include:

Sandy Bay

Fancy

Owia

Greiggs

Rose Bank

Rose Hall

NOTE: ‘Petit Bordel’ is also included in this link.  It is also known as ‘Petit Bordel Bay’.

At the time the Black Caribs (Garifuna) people were on St. Vincent Island, for the most part, their territory consisted of villages on the northern part and northeast and upper eastern edge of St. Vincent Island.  The center of St. Vincent Island consists of a heavily wooden and mountainous area (including a volcano).  After the Treaty of 1773 with the British, borders were moved and Black Carib or Carib territories shifted slightly.

Map of St. Vincent Island highlighting villages said to be original Black Carib / Garifuna Villages.  Map courtesy of Ezilion.com

Map of St. Vincent Island highlighting (red arrows) villages said to be original Black Carib / Garifuna Villages. Map courtesy of Ezilion.com

Upon being defeated by the British in war in 1796, most Black Caribs were rounded up and shipped to Baliceaux Island where they were held in internment until March of 1797.  However, on St. Vincent Island some were never recovered and it’s said, sought refuge in the mountains and wooded interior of St. Vincent Island.  45 Caribs eventually surrendered in 1805.   1

It should be noted that when the majority of the Garifunas were forcibly removed from St. Vincent Island, they took their Garifuna Language and Culture with them.  In fact, it’s safe to say that most  descendants of original Garifunas from St. Vincent Island do not speak the language, let alone know the culture.  The Garifuna Heritage Foundation of St. Vincent as well as the Yugucure Revitalization Summer Program headed by Vincentian Trish St. Hill and Belize Garifuna Singer Musician James Lovell have done significant work in attempting to bring Garifuna language and culture back to St. Vincent.

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When reading about that era in history (1600-1800s), part of the confusion in interpreting the information about history in both the Caribbean and in Central America is the general or sweeping  use of the term “Carib”.  Unfortunately, in many instances, the term is used somewhat broadly and it can be hard to tell just who the term refers to.  Is it to ‘Black’ Caribs, ‘Yellow’ Caribs, ‘Red’ Caribs, etc?  Anthropologist William Davidson makes a similar point when writing about the Garifuna migration to Nicaragua in Central America. He notes,

“Evidence of the entry (of the Garifuna to Nicaragua) is clouded primarily by the indiscriminant use of the term Carib to refer to the Garifuna (Black Caribs) as well as to the Nicaraguan Indians as a ‘Carib’.  Although the misnomer continued in use into the 19th century, it also became attached to the Garifuna when they arrived; Garifuna had been known as Caribs since their arrival in the western Caribbean (1797) by the British in Belize and elsewhere…A careful reading is required of all literature from the period to distinguish Garifuna from others also called ‘Caribs’. ” — William Davidson  2

In my reading of historical material about the time, it’s something (the broad use of the term ‘Carib’) I come across time and time again and it makes for headache-inducing reading.  When reading about the conflict between the British and the ‘Carib’ Indian people on St. Vincent Island and the surrounding Caribbean Islands, there are accounts of the ‘Black’ Caribs intimidating ‘Yellow’ Caribs, for example and causing them to flee to nearby islands like Dominica and St. Lucia.  When Caribs are referred to as ‘Yellow’ Caribs do they mean Carib Indians?  Are references being made to ‘light-skinned’ blacks?  Questions, questions.

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For example by the 1770s, apparently they were only approximately 40 ‘Yellow’ Caribs remaining on St. Vincent Island as tension between the British and ‘Black Caribs’ increased.  3

Confusing matters even more is the fact that slavery existed on St. Vincent Island in the 1700s.  Apparently, the ‘Black Caribs’ were treated as a sovereign nation and a separate group of blacks were used as slaves on St. Vincent Island and throughout the Caribbean.

Apparently, relations between ‘Yellow’ Caribs and ‘Black’ Caribs were strained and complicated–despite their shared culture.  On December 3rd 1719, Yellow Caribs agreed to terms of a treaty with the French at Calliaqua, where they

“sought the ‘powerful protection’ of the French to prevent them from ‘falling under the domination of perfidious negroes who we have allowed to establish themselves in our island to our great misfortune. ”  Writer Christopher Taylor noted that while that treaty between Yellow Caribs and the French allowed for a greater French presence on St. Vincent Island and left open the option for the Yellow Caribs leaving St. Vincent Island altogether–their (Yellow Caribs) fortunes did NOT improve.  4

Approximately 50 years later, while recalling their victory over the French at the time, Black Carib Chiefs said, “After the departure of the French we defeated the Red Caribs.  The island of St. Vincent remained with us”.   5

NOTE: After the eruption of the Soufriere Volcano in 1812, many ‘Yellow’ Caribs asked for help to be shipped to Trinidad.  The British paid 300 pounds for about 120 men, women and children, led by a Captain Baptiste to be shipped to Trinidad for good.  6

Below is video from 2014 National Hero’s Day Celebrations in Fancy on St. Vincent Island.

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.  7

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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.

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.

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 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.

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.

MARCH 29th is the NINETEENTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York.  Map from Ezilon.com

MARCH 29th is the NINETEENTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York. Map from Ezilon.com

Notes:

  1. Christopher Taylor, “The Black Carib Wars: Freedom, Survival, and the Making Of The Garifuna” (pg. 151)
  2. http://www.srs-pr.com/Articles/GarifunaofNicaragua.pdf
  3. Christopher Taylor, “The Black Carib Wars: Freedom, Survival, and the Making of The Garifuna”. pg. 84
  4. Christopher Taylor, “The Black Carib Wars: Freedom, Survival, and the Making of The Garifuna” pg. 43
  5. Christopher Taylor, “The Black Carib Wars: Freedom, Survival, and the Making of The Garifuna” pg. 44
  6. Christopher Taylor, “The Black Carib Wars: Freedom, Survival, and the Making of The Garifuna” pg. 152
  7. Nancie L Gonzalez, “Sojourners of The Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garifuna” pgs 21-23
  8. Edna Negron, “Club Tragedy an Awakening for Garifuna”, New York Newsday, Sunday, August 18th 1991.

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