garifuna people

garifuna of honduras
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The Garifuna Community

Welcome to the Garifuna World! You are about to experience the origin of the Garifuna community, their incorporating process to society, their resistance to English and French Colonization and their deporting to Honduran land.

caribs fishingThe Garifuna society, also known as the Black Caribs, was first originated in XVII in San Vicente, about a century after the conquering of Central America, South America, and the lower Antilles. The conquerors were not interested in San Vicente and Dominica at first because of its topographic features, lack of precious metals and grasslands for cattle raising, but the Caribs did become interested because of its magnificent areas for fishing.

Who were the Caribs? The Caribs were strong, robust men, of small stature, and mongoloid physical features. They had long, black, straight and thick hair, perfectly cut to their forehead and were generally dressed in a colorful christening skirt. Their original name was Callinagu and their place of origin was from the Orinoco Delta, which they abandoned for conquering the Lower Antilles. When they arrived to the Lower Antilles, they exterminated the Arahuaco men, but decided to keep the women for their convenience. The union of these two Indian groups gave origin to a new society called the Caliponan (also known as the Yellow Caribs, Red Caribs, and Amerindians).

Formation of the Garifuna Society

Garifunas in TelaThe beginning of the formation process was in 1635, and believed to have been caused by the sinking of two Spanish ships loaded with black slaves who were being delivered to their buyers. In those days it was common for the Caliponan to give misleading directions, which lead them to the riverbanks where they disposed the ships from their shipments (gold, wine, and slaves) and killed all of the crewmembers.

The Africans were anxious to establish friend links to avoid being sent back to their owners as slaves; therefore they soon adopted their customs and native garifuna language. Shortly after, they married the Caliponan women who gave birth to a whole new kind of siblings. Their descendents preserved the height and skin color of their father, who on the contrary of the Caliponan were tall and corpulent. This new society (Garifuna) centered their family life in the sexual division of work as a base for their economic activities.

Shortly after came the conquering of Barbados and Santa Lucia, and men, who could not accept the new rulers, accumulated goods and emigrated in canoes towards San Vicente (28 miles from Barbados). These men, along with the Caliponan, then became such powerful allies in their war against conquerors, that they were considered an allied and independent group.

In the XVII century, a drastic change occurred in the Vicentinian society. The black society had become the dominant group due to their geometric growth because of the immigration of refugees. The constant fighting for power and territorial disputes soon divided both sides. Garifunas forced the Caliponan to move to the Western part and they move to the Northwestern part of the island. Both groups tried to resolve their personal difficulties, because they were aware that an internal division would drive the conqueror's attention to them.

When news about their differences arrived to France, the French took part in this division by supporting the Caliponan. They soon inhabited Caliponan land, while Garifunas defended their land from any European colonization. The French made many intents, but they soon were convinced they had to stop interfering and had to maintain peace links with Garifunas.
Garifunas acquired the French taste for wine instead of rum, dominated French language, incorporated French words to their dialect, adopted the French currency as a mean for commercial trading, obtained French names and customs, and eventually became their allies against the English colonization.   >> Top

French and English Interference

The three coming decades, 1730-1762, were characterized by the constant disputes between France and Great Britain for the desire of gaining power over San Vicente, Dominica, and Santa Lucia. The occurrence of these acts can be described as follows:

1730: San Vicente, Dominica, and Santa Lucia are declared to be free from European inheritance.
1742: British colony is established in Rattan (Roatan).
1748: Aix-La Chapelle Treaty is signed in which San Vicente, Dominica, and Tobago are declared of exclusive possession of the Caliponan natives.
1750: Peace Treaty signed between Spain and Great Britain.
1756: War between France and England begins.
1759: English attack Martinica, and take over Guadalupe Island.
1761: English take over Dominica.
1762: Martinica is taken over by the English (February 4th). In that same date Granada, Tobago, San Vicente, and Santa Lucia were ceded to Great Britain.
1763: Paris Peace Treaty is signed. San Vicente, Grenada, and Dominica were ceded to Great Britain; Cuba was given to Spain; Guadalupe, Martinica, and Santa Lucia were ceded to France.

Great Britain then declared war against the French; the disputing possessions were Martinica, and Santa Lucia. These acts of treason infuriated the French, who in reprisal, responded by exporting their revolutionary ideals to the Caribbean Islands in possession of the English. However, Garifunas understood that these philanthropic manifestations were not to be taken seriously, because most French wanted desired that Garifuna and English would destroy each other and consequently be force to leave the island. Therefore, Garifunas demanded sufficient warlike material from the French as a guarantee of their noble intentions.   >> Top

The War of Exile

First Phase: the Garifunas led by Du Valleé were such a powerful group that they constantly defeated the English. This group gained power over Kingstown, Dorset shire Hill, and another group lead by Chatolier gained power over Chateaubelair. Both groups soon joined forces, along with men that they ha collected in their way, and became such a powerful group that many feared them.
Soon came the death of Chatolier, who was convinced of his paranormal powers and invincibility, who made the fatal mistake of asking Alexander Leith (English) to a duel that caused his death. Chatolier`s death evidently confused the Garifuna-French alliance who held the fighting back and carefully awaited for the next step.

Second Phase: In this stage, the hostility lasted a little more than a year, and was characterized for being a war of exhaustion. Set before the numerous losses of seven months of fighting, and finding no solution to solve their differences, the English governor accompanied by the military force of 4,000 men decided to attack the Garifuna-French alliance. Faced upon the military power force upon them, the Garifuna determined that it was convenient to stop the war and finally surrendered.

Garifuna Expatriation

The English began to worry about their future in the island in comparison to the unexpected number of Garifunas living in their new territory. Therefore, the search for new land where the Garifuna could settle began.

Finally in February 20th, 1797, a total of 2,248 Garifunas along with stored food supplies were set aboard ships and then headed toward the Honduran Coast and Bay Islands. In April 12th, 1797, the Garifunas first set foot in Honduran territory.
Although the English left them with enough food supplies, utensils, fishing chords, and seeds for planting, it became a little difficult to clean the terrain and to plant before the rainy season began.

Garifunas then asked the Spanish to take them to the Honduran Coast. The Spanish accepted gracefully because they knew, that by doing this, they would now own the Bay Islands, and they would also acquire an additional labor force. The Spanish kept their promise; Garifunas arrived in Trujillo, Colon (Honduras) on May 17th, 1797.

In the early 1900s more then 100 enterprises had been exporting bananas from the Central American coast and Garifunas were involved in this commercial trading by helping these companies with the sowing and loading of banana. These companies soon extended their trading circle along the coast f Honduras and concentrated their fruit shipping along Punta Castilla (Trujillo), Tela, La Ceiba, and Cortés in Honduras; and in Livingston and Puerto Barrios in Guatemala, and finally in Belize City. Garifunas mostly concentrated in nearby towns because working for these companies had become a good source of income. However, in the 1940s some of these companies were shut down because their banana plantations had been greatly affected by plagues; this caused the unemployment of many Garifunas. Garifunas then got involved in the seafaring business where they immigrated to other parts of Central and North America.   >> Top

Garifuna Society Today

Garifuna homeCulture: Their social and cultural characteristics are manifested in their archaic family and social structures, which have suffered very little changes. They still share their dialect, circular dances, religious practices, Punta dance, tales, banana cultivation, and rooster and pig sacrifices with the indigenous people of the Amazon.
Their ways of production are still based in subsistence farming. Among the different communities there is a great potential of production, and in most cases the land is very fertile for farming, however the only people involved are the elders because young people believe farming is not a great source of income. Youngsters are mostly dedicated to fishing, because most of the fish are set for sale and produce an immediate source of income. Youngsters show little or no interest in participating in social reunions with the rest of their community; elders and the women are usually the ones who interact with these reunions. It can be concluded that young Garifunas seem to be more interested in immigrating to North America.

Location: The Garifuna population that lives in the Atlantic Coast, between Belize and Nicaragua, is distributed in 43 towns and villages. Approximately 98,000 Garifunas live in Honduras, and they are mostly concentrated along the North coast from Masca, Cortés to Plaplaya, Gracias a Dios. Among other villages are: Santa Rosa de Aguan, Tornabé, Limón, Nueva Armenia, San Juán, Cosuna, Triunfo de la Cruz, and Baja Mar.

Health: Garifuna are subject to poor sanitary conditions throughout most of the area. The lack of clinical establishments, basic infrastructure projects, illness prevention programs, and nutrition programs greatly affect Garifunas. We can conclude that about 78% of the children under 12 years of age suffer from malnutrition, and that 3 out of 10 will die before they are 2 years old.

Housing: their housing consist of small huts with walls made of royal palm, sugar cane and of cement blocks. The ceiling is commonly made of hay, however they also use zinc as a ceiling too. There is a great tendency to replace their traditional style of housing for more modern types; however, these changes have helped improve their health conditions.

Politics: Garifunas do not believe in politics, they believe that they are too peaceful and that they can handle their personal problems without the intervention of any legal force; however, in some areas a governor is in charge of providing justice between the people. Only Garifunas that had the opportunity of being well educated are the ones that occupy government positions today.

Language: Most Garifunas not only speak Spanish, but also use the Igñeri dialect that is a combination of Arahuaco, French, Swahili, and Bantu.

Religion: Garifunas still maintain their own religious system that is a mixture of African and Amerindian traditions to which they have incorporated Catholic elements. Of great importance is the Garifuna religious system called Gubida that is the conception of the dreams and possession rituals as altered states of conscience considered, by the participants and believers, to be caused by the possession of a spiritual entity.

Education: 72% of the population is illiterate or semi-illiterate. Not enough schools are provided for them in he nearby areas; and villages that have schools, only have teachers to provide them with enough education to reach a 3rd grade level and sometimes a 6th grade level if they are lucky. Only 10% of the Garifunas who finish elementary school continue with their studies, another percentage immigrates to the United States, and the rest just integrate their community life and eventually become illiterates again because of the lack of practice.   >> Top

Organizations in Representation of Garifunas

· ONECA (Organizacion Negra Centroamericana/Central American Black Organization). The largest umbrella organization for Black communities in Central America and the Caribbean. President: Celeo Alvarez Casildo

· ODECO (Organización de Desarrollo Étnico Comunitario)

1. Development of Local Capacities.
2. Incidence and Empowerment of Afro-Honduran population.
3. Institutional Development, Fortification, and Efficiency.

Its Directive Board is composed of 15 members, nominated as follows:

President: Celio Álvarez Cabildo Secretary: Zulma Valencia
Vice-President: Luis Francisco Green Technical Affairs: Onelia Colon
Public Prosecutor: Bernard Martinez Discipline Affairs: Robustiana Castro
Secretary of Education: Delsy Alvarez Children Affairs: Gregorio Jimenez
Secretary of Promotion: Galata Arzú Secretary of Youth: Karen Bargas
Secretary of Cultural Affairs: Laura Alvarez Secretary of Sports: Candida Blanco
Secretary of Feminine Affairs: Miriam Tifet Treasurer: Felicia Lacayo
Legal and Human Rights Department: Norman A. Jimenez

Address: Bo. Potreritos, Avenida Júnior, ½ cuadra debajo de Escuela Copan Galel
La Ceiba Atlántida, Honduras, C.A.
Phone No.: (504) 2443-3651 Fax No.: (504) 2443-4642
(504) 2440-2498
Email: @

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· OFRANEH: (Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña).
1. Provide help to Garifuna Society.
2. Provide defense of Garifuna territory.
3. Defense of Garifuna's culture

Directive Board
General Coordinator: Gregoria Flores
Coordination Assistant: Miriam Miranda
Act Coordinator: Ana Lucy Bengoechea
Legal Affairs: Teófilo Lacayo

Address: Bo. Independencia, esquina opuesta Escuela Luis Landa.
La Ceiba, Atlántida, Honduras, C. A.
Phone No. : (504)-443-2492

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