The Garifunas: From St. Vincent and the Grenadines to Central America

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As a follow-up to our earlier posts Santiago de Cuba’s Festival del Caribe “Fiesta del Fuego” and Cuba’s Caribbean Fest to honor Juan Bosch and Garifuna Culture, here is a little more on the Garifunas.

As descendants from shipwrecked Africans who sought refuge on St. Vincent and the Grenadines and intermarried with the Caribs and Arawaks, the Garifunas are part of the unique cultures and ethnicities that have their roots in the Caribbean. The Garifunas were also referred to as “Black Caribs” by the Europeans who sought to distinguish them from the “Red” or “Yellow” Caribs; however, they called themselves Kalinago.

As Junius Rodriguez explains in the Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance and Rebellion, “St. Vincent and the Grenadines was one of the last bastions of the sovereignty of the Kalinago people,” who “found themselves being displaced by the exigencies of the plantation system.” From as early as the 17th century, the Kalinago successfully defended their sovereignty from European colonization. In 1667, Kalinago leaders joined others from St. Lucia and Dominica to have peace talks with British officials in Barbados. Later, in 1670, they tried to unseat British forces in Antigua and Barbuda. A century of struggle followed, as the European rule in the region shifted between the French (who had agreed in 1793 to Kalinago independence in restricted, forested areas) and the British. However, two wars later, and two years after Chief Joseph Chatoyer was killed on March 14, 1795, the Kalinago people were exiled from their native land of St. Vincent [or Yurumein, the Garifuna name for St. Vincent and the Grenadines] to the island of Roatán, off the coast of Honduras from where they dispersed along the Atlantic coast of Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, and Nicaragua. [Also see Garifuna reunion in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.] The population on Roatán represented about 25% of the Kalinago people of St. Vincent; their descendants still call themselves Garifuna.

The Garifunas share a common culture, including language, rituals, music, and dance. Since the 20th century, there has been a renewal of interest in Garifuna culture in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where the Garifuna Heritage Foundation was established. The foundation has organized outreach visits of Garifuna contingents throughout the Caribbean and Central America [also see Garifuna reunion in St. Vincent and the Grenadines]. The Garifuna Folkloric Ballet Company has helped greatly in disseminating Garifuna music, dance, and traditions. This group will perform in Cuba at the Festival del Caribe (July 3-9, 2009).

Photo from http://www.voy.com/218069/

For a Garifuna performance, see http://vimeo.com/4551718

4 thoughts on “The Garifunas: From St. Vincent and the Grenadines to Central America

  1. Thanks for the info.I’m actually in the process of writing a paper on the Garifunas for school and found your info to be very interesting please keep me informed on any current events .
    Angela Torrealva

  2. I was born in HONDURAS in a “PUEBLO” called LIMON but came to the US when I was little but I have never forgotten my roots I still speak garifuna,my dream is one day go to where all kind of began for the garifunas,to ST VINCENT.thanks for this info,please keep me informed.

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