News: The history of the Garifunas in Belize


In 2001, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) declared the Garifuna culture a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” – in much the same way as various local marine areas (including several ranges of Cayes) were latterly classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Here goes a very brief history of the Garifunas….
The story of the Gariganu (plural of Garifuna) begins almost 400 years ago, when South American Carib Indians migrated to the Caribbean island of St. Vincent in order to subdue and discipline the native Arawak Indian islanders.

The Garífuna history has been one of constant migration and intermarriage. Oral history records that the Garífuna ancestors, the Arawak Indians, migrated from Guyana, Suriname and Venezuela around long before the arrival of the Europeans to the New World and settled in the Greater Antilles Islands in the Caribbean. A second ancestor, the Carib Indians, also migrated from their settlements in the Orinoco Delta in 1220 A.D. and seized the Lesser Antilles. The Carib and Arawak then intermarried and engendered the Island Carib, who settled predominantly on Saint Vincent Island.

Then in 1635, when two Spanish ships shipwrecked in the area, carrying hundreds of indentured Nigerians, many of the surviving slaves were able to seek refuge on the island among the Carib-Arawak population. This event further added to the genetic mergence of St. Vincent’s ethnic population.

Anthropologists recognize the Garifuna as a product of ‘voluntary assimilation’, which indicates the peaceful creation of this new ethnic group, but the ensuing years of searching for a homeland saw very little peace for the Garifuna.

In 1660, a British peace treaty guaranteed the “perpetual possession” of the island to the Garifuna, but less than a decade later, the British broke the treaty and re-claimed the island as a colonial possession. However, by the mid 1700s (following several generations of prolific reproducing by the Garifuna), it became increasingly aware that the Garifuna were such a demographic force on St. Vincent, that they threatened to jeopardize the inherent success of a colonial mission, and the British sent more and more representatives to the island to subdue the native Garifuna.

In 1796 as the Garifuna desperately sought a solution to their imminent enslavement, an intended raid became a defeat for the Garifuna, and the minority of survivors were deported to the Honduran island of Roatán.

The Garifuna flourished and multiplied, and thus when they were again forced to flee following republican revolt in Honduras, they continued their epic exodus in even greater numbers. In 1832, led by the charismatic and ambitious Alejo Beni, a group of Garifuna arrived on the southern Belizean coastline. It is this miraculous marine arrival that is celebrated every November in various Garifuna areas, including Dangriga, Seine Bight, Hopkins and Punta Gorda in southern Belize.

It must be shared that 19 of November is Celebrated almost countrywide.

What should be remembered of this era is that, for centuries, the Garifuna people had faced persecution, injustice and demoralization, and yet they still arrived in Belize with an optimistic ambition to serve their ‘new’ homeland and to develop their ‘new’ nation.


Written by Sharon Palacio

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