CULTURES

So it will not go unnoticed in the cyber world, we wish to announce the bicentennial of the Garifuna culture's collective deportation from their Island St. Vincent by British troops. This anniversary is both a tribute to the courageous endurance of the Garifuna people and a reminder of the historic roots of racism in the New World. So by many it is remembered with both a shout and a sigh: a shout to celebrate their unquenchable spirit for freedom and a sigh because of perpetual poverty and racism.

Let me aquaint you a bit with this incredible culture and their very unique historic journey. Today Garifuna are found in Honduras, Balize, Guatemala and two villages in Nicaragua. Plus there are an estimated 20,000 on the East Coast of the United States. Honduras has by far the most with about 200,000.

Garifunas are recognized by the United Nations and Honduras in resolution 169 as indigenous people. They are both matrilocal and matrilineal. Women are very actively a part of Garifuna social culture and are known for their leadership ability and articulate speech. Women also are the farmers, growing cassava mostly, while the men fish.

Garifunas have always been known for their maritime skills and today many work on ships. Their collective history is very much tied to ships. For by ships they came to the Caribbean in the 1630's as slaves from Africa. A slave ship went aground off St. Vincent then and many people escaped to freedom. For the next 160 years they lived relatively undisturbed by colonial pursuits. During this time the local language of the Arawak Carib Indians was adopted. Early French missionaries passed on French for use in counting; and even today they count in French.

After the War for Independence, Britain had time to pursue its Caribbean desires, one of which was St. Vincent. For almost thirty years they fought with the Garifuna inhabitants and other escaped slaves, who found refuge there. Satuye, the famous Garifuna leader fought a guerrilla war for three decades until the British killed him in 1795. He supposedly used chemical warfare against the British invaders, by having his archers shoot smoking projectiles of cayenne pepper at their troops. But finally in 1795 the British prevailed and captured the entire Garifuna population. For two years over 6000 people were detained on a small island off St. Vincent. Then in 1797, after racially dividing people by skin color, they deported 4500 people by boat to Roatan, an island near Honduras. So twice in 160 years a people are captured and taken to a new location. But this time they were not taken for slaves; but instead dumped off to be a new problem for the Spanish, along Honduras's Caribbean Coast. This Coastline was sparsely inhabited, so the Garifunas ended up settling there. Today, the Garifuna Coast, as it is called, is the very remote area, which ends where the western border of the Moskito Coast begins. It is here where their culture remains most intact, where their Garifuna language is not dying out. Each village here for example has several women's dance groups, sometimes with several dozen dancers all singing in unison. Though their struggle for human rights continues their sounds of dance and drum are a tribute to their gentle love of freedom.