A Brief History of the Garifuna
The Caribs and Arawaks were indigenous inhabitants of South America, (specifically in the Amazon basin of Orinoco in Guyana) and the Caribbean. These people were also hunters, fishing and farming society. After raiding the Arawak villages, the Carib men would take Arawak women as wives. Over a period of time, a bilingual society emerged, where both the Carib husband and Arawak women would understand each other.
In the early 1300s (take note this is before Christopher Columbus discover the New World). Abubakari, brother of Mansa Musa of Mali ventured on an expedition that brought them to the new world. These West Africans were the first who made contact with the Caribs and Arawaks. It was the blending of these three peoples through marriage, African music, dance and spirituality that would be known as the Black Caribs or the Garifuna.
The Garifuna were skilled sailors, who would travel to trade among themselves in the Caribbean. Tensions arose when the European Colonists began to demand land to cultivate sugar. Those tensions grew and eventually turned to war. On many occasions French and British troops waged war on the Garifuna. On many occasions they were defeated. Eventually, after the death of the Paramount Chief of Chiefs Joseph Chatoyer, the Garifuna lost the war and surrendered in 1796. Subsequently, children, women and men were gathered and left on the island/prison of Baliceaux.
The British not knowing what to do with the Garifuna left them on Baliceaux, a barren island that had no shelter or running water for eight months. As a result of being imprisoned under those deplorable conditions, more than half of them died. Eventually they were shipped to Roatan Island off the coast of Honduras. Some Garifuna traveled and settled in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Belize.
After the loss of St. Vincent to the British, the Garifuna Nation is currently in a state of refuge. One would ask why? In Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Belize, the Garifuna are treated as second-class citizens. They are discriminated upon and have no political clout. The government is taking away their land. The Garifuna language is not implemented in the educational curriculum. The police and the military are murdering the Garifuna people in the streets of Guatemala.
According to James Lovell, a Garifuna Punta Rock Artist, “That is the reason why I sing, to let the world know about the accomplishments and struggles of my people and to put pride back into the disenfranchised Garifuna. I will sing our sadness and I will sing our joy.”
On May 18th, 2001, UNESCO for the first time awarded the title of “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangibles Heritage of Humanity”, to 19 outstanding cultural spaces of forms of expression from the different regions of the world. The Garifuna Language, Dance and Music of Belize were among those nominated.
The oral and intangible heritage has gained international recognition as in cultural identity, promotion of creativity and the preservation of culture. It plays an essential role in national and international development, to promote harmonious interaction between cultures.
In an era of globalization, many forms of this culture are disappearing, threatened by cultural standardization, armed conflict, industrialization, rural exodus, migration and environmental deterioration.
One of the proclamation’s main objectives is to raise the awareness and recognize the importance of oral and intangibles and the need to safeguard and revitalize it.