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Author Topic: Garifunas Celebrate Slave Ancestry in Guatemala  (Read 7906 times)
Senior Member
Posts: 605

« on: December 06, 2004, 05:18:53 PM »

Black Caribs Celebrate Slave Ancestry in Guatemala
Fri Nov 26, 2004 04:48 PM ET

Garifunas play traditional drums during a festival in Livingston, Guatemala November 26, 2004. From the streets of the Bronx and the beaches of Honduras, members of Central America's Black Carib Garifuna culture flocked to Guatemala this week to celebrate the founding of the tiny port town of Livingston, one of their key settlements. The three-day festival is a relatively new event reflecting resurgent Garifuna pride. Photo by Daniel Leclair/Reuters

A Garifuna woman dances through the streets in Livingston, Guatemala November 26, 2004. From the streets of the Bronx and the beaches of Honduras, members of Central America's Black Carib Garifuna culture flocked to Guatemala this week to celebrate the founding of the tiny port town of Livingston, one of their key settlements. The three-day festival is a relatively new event reflecting resurgent Garifuna pride. Photo by Daniel Leclair/Reuters

By Frank Jack Daniel

LIVINGSTON, Guatemala (Reuters) - Coming from as far away as New York, hundreds of people celebrated the Black Carib Garifuna culture in this tiny Guatemalan port town on Friday, dancing in an annual tribute to the courage of escaped slaves.

After an all night party, a three-day festival peaked on Friday with a dawn reenactment of the Garifuna's arrival in Guatemala by dugout canoe.

People danced through the streets to rapid drum rhythms, drinking homemade liquor and singing call-and-answer songs about the hardships of their forefathers.

The Garifuna are descendants of escaped slaves who mingled with Carib Indians on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent.

They speak a language which blends words and grammar from West Africa with the Caribbean's Arauak as well as French, English and Spanish.

"For me this symbolizes the problems that my ancestors went through and every year I remember those that spearheaded our migration," said Alvin Laredo, 38, who came by boat from Belize for the celebration, accompanied by his two sisters, who wore traditional gingham cotton dresses.

Fearful of this hybrid people's alliances with their French colonial rivals, in 1797 the British deported them to an uninhabited island near Honduras.

They rapidly spread out along the Atlantic coast of Central America, settling in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Belize. The port town of Livingston is one of their strongholds.

Now almost half of the estimated 200,000 Garifuna live in the United States, mostly in New York City but also in Miami and Los Angeles.

Many older Garifuna say their lifestyle -- based on their language, food, fishing and farming traditions -- is being lost although younger members see the festivals in Livingston and Belize, which began just a few years back, as a way of connecting with their roots.

Prudence Miranda, 23, moved from Belize to Los Angeles three years ago and joined the U.S. Navy. She has served in Pakistan and the Persian Gulf but says she comes home every year to celebrate the festivals.

"It helps us stay in touch because they celebrate it nowadays -- it reminds us," Miranda said.


Forward to a united Africa!
Senior Member
Posts: 605

« Reply #1 on: December 07, 2004, 07:40:46 AM »

The African Legacy in Guatemala: Black Guatemalans?

Several years ago, someone showed me a photograph of a Black woman walking along the beach. I asked him where it was taken and he replied, "Livingston, Guatemala." I wondered to myself, 'Black Guatemalans?' Through my studies at Howard University, I knew that the African diaspora was widespread but hearing about Blacks in Guatemala still took me by surprise.

Livingston, Guatemala, is home to over 6,000 Black Guatemalans, also known as Garifuna. During the 1700's, the Europeans brought Africans to the Americas as slaves. It is believed that this particular group of Africans was brought over from Ghana. In 1795, the African slaves on the island of St. Vincent revolted. Led by Marcos Sanchez Diaz, they fled to the island of Rotan in Honduras. From there, the Garifuna spread out along the Caribbean to Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.

Having a Garifuna Heart...
The man with a Garifuna heart - Hervan Marogan
Hervan Morgan is an active member of "Peini," the Garifuna Community in Punta Gorda, Belize. He owns the local computer store in the town. Punta Gorda is the largest town in southern Belize. The majority of the residents are Garifuna. Talking to Morgan gave me insight into what it means to be Garifuna.

There are many people in the town who are still waiting for the government to deliver on its promise to provide over 15,000 new jobs. Although jobs can be scare and the average pay per day is only $5.00 Belize dollars ($2.50 USD), a strong sense of pride and unity make the Garifuna people rich in other ways. The warmth that the Garifuna people possess comes from what Morgan calls having a "Garifuna Heart." The Garifuna heart is open and loving in every aspect of the Garifuna culture. When I stepped off the bus in Punta Gorda, I knew exactly what Morgan was talking about. Everyone was kind and friendly; I didn't pass a single person who didn't greet me in some way.

As a proud Garifuna, Morgan spends a great deal of time and energy working for the progress of his people. He wants to create economic independence among his people so that they can remain self-sufficient. One of the major problems in Belize is the number of foreigners that comes in offering financial assistance, but leaving many communities dependent on aid. Morgan is currently working on several initiatives to help Peini gain the economic independence it needs to prosper on its own.


The Guatemalan Garifuna, descendants of the African slaves and the Maya of Guatemala, have a distinct culture. They live mainly along the coast of the eastern tip of the country. They make up less than one percent of Guatemala's population. They language they speak is also called Garifuna. It is a mixture of French, indigenous languages, Creole, Bambu, and Patua.

Welcome to ONEGUA

As I walked down the streets of Livingston, I was surrounded by people speaking the Garifuna language. It was a strange experience for me because it was the first time since the beginning of our journey that I didn't understand anything that was being said. Luckily, I was able to get by because everyone is bilingual (Garifuna & Spanish). So, if I had a question, all I had to do was to ask it in Spanish. I was curious to know more about the Garifuna culture, so I started to ask the people around me if they could tell me more about it. A man on the beach told me that the best place for me to find out would be ONEGUA--he was afraid to tell me himself because he didn't want to give me any false information!

ONEGUA volunteers, perserving Garifuna culture

I took his advice and looked up ONEGUA. I learned that it is an acronym that stands for The Organization of Black Guatemalans. The organization is a community group that provides educational and cultural support for Black Guatemalans in Livingston. ONEGUA receives no financial support from the Guatemalan government. This lack of support is not surprising considering the fact that the Garifuna were not recognized as an ethnic group until the signing of the Guatemalan peace agreement three years ago. ONEGUA was founded because the elders of the community were concerned that the younger generation would lose their Garifuna culture and traditions. The elders wanted to provide their youth with educational support to enable them to deepen their cultural understanding. In addition, the elders began providing after-school tutoring to students who sought extra help.

Two of the problems facing the Garifuna community today are poverty and drugs. Drugs are of special concern since there has been an increase in drug abuse among teenagers over the past couple of years. However, the problem here is not nearly as bad as it is in many major U.S. cities. On a more positive note, ONEGUA has succeeded in bringing together a supportive group of youth that are active in making positive change for the community.

One of the major efforts that ONEGUA is pushing for is national educational reform in school curriculum. It has been proven that students perform better when their culture is validated through their curriculum. Currently, Garifuna language, culture and history are not taught in Guatemalan schools. ONEGUA is fighting to have these subjects included in the curriculum. ONEGUA would also like to see more teachers come out of the Garifuna community to serve as role models for Garifuna students.

Meet the band - Grupo Bahia Azula

ONEGUA coordinates traditional celebrations and events relating to Garifuna culture. The most important festival celebrated is "Garifuna Settlement Day" on November 19. Garifuna music is based on traditional African rhythms. Drums are an essential part of the music, and there are different drums for different songs. Certain drums are sacred and are only used for rituals and religious ceremonies. The other day, I saw the group Bahia Azul perform at the local restaurant. They were great - music to my ears! To make these magical sounds, the band used two tambores, two maracas, par de tortuga (turtle shell), and caracoles (they make a cool sound when you blow into them).

After I departed Livingston for Guatemala City, I began to understand why people never want to leave the town. Livingston is only accessible by boat, and, as a result, air pollution is almost non-existent. The only cars in town belong to the police, and those are few in number. To get around, most people ride a bicycle or walk. With the beach only a few steps away from almost any part of town, life here is wonderfully laid-back. No one is in a hurry to do anything.

Being in Livingston made me feel at home. As an African-American, I find it amazing that I can travel anywhere in the world, yet I continually find people who share many of my cultural values and traditions. I feel that we connect because we have a shared history that began in Africa.


Forward to a united Africa!
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