Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Garifuna History update

While working on my research today for the article on San Pedro child abuse prevention, I came across an interesting research article about the Garifuna "leaving and joining Africanness."  It was an extensive history of the Garifuna, which is--to be expected--significantly more detailed than the sketchy lesson I got while in San Pedro.  The particular research was addressing the cultural transformation of the Garifuna who have migrated to New York City from Central America, and how they are embracing their African roots where those remaining in Central America have not.

It is generally accepted, based on documentations of British, French, and Spanish explorers and missionaries that enslaved Africans who had been captured by Spanish slavers were destined for Caribbean labor and were shipwrecked off the coast of St. Vincent island in the Caribbean in 1635.  However, there is much subsequent documentation that suggests that the shipwreck story is insufficient to account for the large numbers of Africans and rapid black population growth that occurred on the island.  Other accounts support that the Island Caribs captured other African slaves and integrated them into the culture.  The island gained reputation as a "free island" as the Black Caribs surpassed the numbers of Island Caribs and essentially had control of the island.

There was actually a plurality of African cultures on the island, but even though they were free, there was the threat of enslavement and thus, the Garifuna "became Carib" and adopted the language, religion, and culture of the Island Caribs.  In 1797, they were captured by the British and forcibly deported to an island off the coast of the Honduras, near Trujillo.  They were saved from dire circumstances (probable starvation and death) by Spanish rescuing them and taking them to the mainland at Trujillo.  Already present at that site were the Miskito Indians and Afro-Indian 'Sambos' who were also reported to be slave shipwreck survivors, thus echoing the history of the Garifunas on St. Vincent.

The Garifunas began to migrate to other areas, and there is indication from oral histories conducted in the 1960s that many of them intermarried with non-Garifuna blacks.  The singer Andy Palacio (referenced in an earlier post) was credited with saving the Garifuna language through his music.  He died at the age of 47, and survivors listed include his sister, his children, and one brother.

Due to expanding fruit trade, many Garifuna began to leave the Honduras and what is known as Belize today for work in the United States.  The largest Garifuna community in the world is now in the Bronx area of New York City, with a population of about 100,000 people.  It is this group who--upon arriving in the US and "suddenly becoming black" began to embrace their African roots, explore those roots and connect with their origins in Africa as opposed to seeing St. Vincent as their home and Carib as their ethnicity.

This story reminded me of some of the dialogue going on in the Unalaska blogs about locals, loyalties, and how we see community.  Those Garifuna who have 'rejoined' the African diaspora after 'leaving' it back in 1635 when they "became" Carib want to re-educate the Central American Garifuna about the true origins of their people--which is Africa by numerous documented accounts, and frankly, since that is true for all of us at some point, rather a point against which one cannot successfully argue.  Some of the Garifuna remaining in Central America ask: "Who are you to try to change our memory of who we are?"  The Garifuna remaining are fiercely loyal to the culture as they have lived it--at least since the 1600s and 1700s when it was "invented."  They see themselves as quite distinct from the "Latin American" culture, even though they are all part of the Central American country, and in particular, Honduras and Belize where most of them live in small villages.

It is just another interesting story to me of the ways in which we define ourselves, with whom or what we identify, and--at least sometimes--wondering why we need to do what we do.  And on that way too serious note, I am going to struggle out of bed and go feed my 5 dogs and 1 cat, and hopefully, find something with which to nourish my self before crawling back in bed again and hoping I can make it through a research proposal, a faculty meeting, and a class tomorrow before coming home to hopefully get right back in this bed until I am well.

Notice how much "hope" I have in that last sentence.  Proof that I mastered the developmental stage of infancy and trust vs. mistrust, as I continue to have hope that my needs will be met and the world is a safe place. :)


coachk said...

This is a great post! I have wanted this information on this for some time now. It is amazing to know how we define ourselves. Even to the point that two people can live close to the same life and have a completly different perception of their history. Outside of the Macro level here, It amazes me on a micro level, for instance my sister and I. Also the point of resistance when you tell someone what they believe or have been taught is wrong. The wall of denial that people master up. We this everyday in adultry, child abuse and crazy religions.

Gigi said...

There seems to be a lot of talk lately about the meaning of history and culture and "our stories" as they have been passed down. Very interesting to me, of course!

Hope you are back to feeling good and getting the semester underway.

olemisskim said...

I had an interesting discussion yesterday that echoes this. Ernesto introduces me to a couple of his friends who are Garifuna. Of course we began talking about their lives. Mark began to tell me of his history. He was talking about his grandparents and mom and dad. His dad was Garifuna and his mom was a mix of spanish and mestizo (sp.?). The controversy with the others around was that he called the spanish grandmother "white" because she had straight hair. the others argue with this and said the spanish are not white. Of course I had to weigh in and said it is his story - not yours and let him tell it as he wants to tell it. Stories are important and we own them so let him have his story. When all was said and done - one asked him - so what are you? He said "a black man". And everyone was satisfied. It is all about how we identify ourselves and we do own our stories - factual or not - they are what we believe aobut ourselves. When you ask about the Garifuna history here - you get a lot of variations with some of the same thread. the most important thing I think is that they cherish the fact that they were never enslaved. That is important to them and keeps them strong and proud of who they are. they are proud that they have a culture of their own and their own language. This was passed down in stories and they have not had access to ways to learn about where they came from in Africa. I can see why their ancestors did not tell about the African roots for long - I am sure it was painful to remember their past lives and what they were missing. They just moved on until the history was lost. I find this group of people to be the most welcoming and they are such giving and loving people. One older man yesterday talked to me and then when we were leaving he promised me that if I want to live in Hopkins (one of my favorite places) he would build me a house! then he said - I think you are an angel for real. The others kept asking me and
Ernesto if we were fighting when we were arguing about a point or discussing something - we just both looked at them and said no - we are not fighting...I think they are are not used to women taking another view and speaking up. that was interesting as Ernesto loves to get into these deep discussions and argue with me. He doesn't get mad when he can't convince me.