Garifuna Memorial Mass for Garifuna Leader THOMAS VINCENT RAMOS To Take Place on SUNDAY November 2nd 2014 in Brooklyn

 

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Brooklyn, New York — There will be a Garifuna memorial service for Garifuna Civil Rights Leader (and co-founder of Garifuna Settlement Day in Belize) THOMAS VINCENT RAMOS in Brooklyn on SUNDAY, November 2nd 2014 at 3pm.

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Pastor of Garifuna Descent, Andrew Nunez.   Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Pastor of Garifuna Descent, Andrew Nunez. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

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The Thomas Vincent Ramos Memorial Service will be presided over by Pastor Andrew Nunez (from Dangriga, Belize) of the Believers Mennonite Garifuna Ministries Church.  This church is located on 36 Malcolm X Blvd (at Kosciuszko Street) in Brooklyn.  Present at many public Garifuna events, Pastor Andrew Nunez resigned as President of The Evangelical Garifuna Association in October 2012 to focus on building his Believers Mennonite Garifuna Ministries Church in Brooklyn.   The entire Garifuna Community in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut is invited to attend this special event.

Believers Mennonite Garifuna Ministries Church
36 Malcolm X Boulevard (at Kosciuszko Street)
Brooklyn, New York 11221
J Train to Kosciusko Subway Stop
B46 Bus to Kosciusko Stop
B38 Bus to Malcolm X Boulevard

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This particular Garifuna Memorial Service for Thomas Vincent Ramos is also an attempt to unite the different denominations of Christian Garifuna faith.  While most Garifuna are raised Catholic there has been spread of Evangelicalism amongst the Garifuna people over the years.  I am aware of the divide amongst different denominations (Catholic, Protestant, Pentacostal, Anabaptist, etc) of Christianity over the years but never really understood the reason for the divide.  I often thought to myself, “Don’t you all worship the same Jesus?”.  I have since  learned that the main issue revolves around how some Evangelists view Garifuna spirituality, in particular the practice of the sacred Dügü ceremony.  Apparently, Evangelists view and teach that the practice of the Dügü ceremony is a form of devil worship or witchcraft and therefore, inappropriate to those of the Christian faith.

Believers Mennonite Garifuna Ministries Church.  Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr.  All Rights Reserved.

Believers Mennonite Garifuna Ministries Church. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.


Let’s not forget that Catholic authorities were also hesitant to embrace Garifuna spirituality.  While I do not have the specifics at the moment, I understand that for many years Catholic officials refused to allow the playing Garifuna drums in the church for the purpose of worship.  I do not know why other than to speculate  that the use of Garifuna drums was considered secular and therefore not worthy of use for the expressed purpose of worshiping God.

I am not a theologian nor do I know much about the Dügü ceremony, so I am not prepared to fully explore that perspective of the sacred Garifuna Dügü ceremony other than to mention the divide amongst the Garifuna people of the Christian faith.  Hopefully, this Garifuna Memorial service is a sign that Garinagu of various Christian faiths are prepared to come together despite their differences.

ABOUT Thomas Vincent Ramos

Visionary Garifuna Civil Rights Leader 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 (now known as Dangriga, Belize) and Belize City.  He eventually permanently 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.

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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!


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.


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.


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.”


“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”


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.


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.  In New York City, there will be a memorial service for Thomas Vincent Ramos on SUNDAY November 2nd 2014 and a Belize Garifuna Settlement Day Mass on SUNDAY, November 9th 2014 in Brooklyn.

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.   1

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, the Garifunas settled many towns and villages along the Caribean coast of Honduras.  They also migrated to the neighboring countries of Guatemala, Belize (then known as British Honduras) and Nicaragua over the years.

If you find the BEING GARIFUNA Website helpful and useful, please DONATE. Every dollar donated helps keep this website in operation.  Donations are accepted through the PAYPAL website, so potential donations are SAFE and SECURE. 


Notes:

  1. Nancie L. Gonzalez, “Sojourners of the Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garifuna” pg. 21

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