Afro Latino Culture - Garifuna
Garifuna people are descendants of West Africans who escaped slavery and the indigenous Carib people. The captured West Africans were of the
Ibo, and Yoruba tribes. In 1635, two Spanish slave ships wrecked near St. Vincent and the Africans swam to the island and
escape the Spanish. Eventually the Africans mixed with the Carib people. The
Carib people are a mixture of the Arawak Indians and Venezuelan Caribs.
Garifuna is a combination of all three races: West African, Carib, and Arawak
Although the Garifuna along with indigenous people relatively lived in peace, Europeans were struggling for control of
St. Vincent. The British were
fighting the French for control of St. Vincent.
The French and Garifuna had a trading relationship and a peace pact therefore
the Garifuna sided with the French against the British. Trading with the French
also encouraged Garifuna to learn the language and adopt French names.
Eventually, Garifuna people engaged in the battle with the French. Their leader
was a “…flamboyant Black Carib (Garifuna) chief…” named Joseph Chatoyer
according to St. Vincent and
the Grenadines by Lesley Sutty. Chatoyer was
able to lead the Garifuna and the French to victory against the British once
however disputes over land led Chatoyer to unsuccessful revolt; Chatoyer met
his demise at the hands of the British on March 14, 1795 when he died. The war
continued until 1796 when the French surrendered. After the British seized
control they separated the light skin and dark skin Garifunas and 4,338 people
were shipped to “…Roatan, one of Honduras's
” as stated by everyculture.com.
“The war and imprisonment left the Black Caribs weakened and undernourished.
Only 2,026 people reached Roatan on April 12, 1797. The majority left the
island and sailed to Bay Islands Honduras.
Those who stayed on Roatan established Punta Gorda, the oldest town where
Garinagu (Garifuna) have lived continuously.”, stated by everyculture.com.
The Garifuna, who left
settled in villages in Nicaragua,
Belize and Guatemala. In
1821, Honduras and Guatemala joined the United Provinces of Central America union. This alliance sparked the major
export of fruit, mainly bananas to the United States. Companies such as Cuyamel
Fruit Company founded in 1911 and the United Fruit Company founded in 1913
which employed many Garifuna people. The fruit companies were the main source
of employment Garifuna who worked in the fields and also transported cargo on
to ships. In the 1930s, the Great Depression greatly reduced the demand for
bananas which crippled banana export and led to the closing processing plants.
With the onslaught of World War II, Garifuna men were able to find jobs with
the merchant marines for the United States
and Great Britain.
Some Garifuna were able to migrate to the U.S. through the merchant marines,
“The employed men remembered their jobless friends. ’These merchant marines
surreptitiously allowed their friends and relatives to stow away and many found
their way to the U.S.
through that illegal modus operandi,’ said Clifford Palacio.”, stated in
World War II had allowed the Garifuna merchant marines to settle in port cities:
New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles and London.
Garifuna who were not in the military also migrated to the U.S., Immigration and Naturalization Service
admissions records indicate that 191 Belizeans, 939 Guatemalans, 1,154
Hondurans, and 1,083 Nicaraguans admitted in to the U.S. in 1962. The following
settlement numbers are “According to Father Bonillo, an estimated 100,000
Garinagu lived in the United
States in 1999. Belizean Garinagu usually
settled in Los Angeles.
Garinagu from Honduras
settled primarily on the East Coast, particularly in New York. Other communities are found in Houston and San
Francisco. Palacio estimated Los Angeles's 1999 Garifuna population as
between 12,000 and 15,000 people. That year an estimated 60,000 Garinagu lived
in New York City, according to Rejil Solis,
coordinator of Garifuna Coalition USA. According to Rhodel Castillo,
a poet/musician interviewed for this essay, approximately 5,000 to 10,000 live
stated on everyculture.com.
Many Garifuna were shocked by the technology in the cities which they had no previous experience with in their lives. Since Garifuna had settled in many places, they knew several languages which made them excellent teachers. Garifuna men still continued to enlist in the military and armed forces because it sped up the citizenship process. Garifuna still continued to practice Chugu. Chugu is an offering involving candles, food and dance that usually start off with someone having a dream the night before. A Buyei is the spiritual leader (similar to a priest) who conducted the rituals. Garifuna dance and song carried over to the
with dances such as the Punta where hips are rocked back and forth and swayed
rapidly. Another dance is the wanaragua also known as Jon Canoe where dancers
wore white masks to imitate the oppressive slave holders. Garifuna also observe
Christian holidays and they celebrate Garifuna Arrival Day which is April 12
and “The November 19 Belize
Settlement Day is observed with a daylong celebration on the closest weekend.
The observance in Los Angeles
starts with a Garifuna language Catholic Mass. The Garifuna Choir sings and
dancers perform sacred dances. The celebration in cities including Chicago and New
York features speeches, dancing, music, and food.”,
Garifuna language consists of 45 % Arawak, 30 % Carib, 10% French, 10% English and 5% Spanish. Words in Garifuna identify the gender of the speaker which dates back to the Arawak men who had a different language from Carib women. Garifuna word pronunciation is similar to English
New York City mainly live in the South Bronx. The Bronx
has a large Puerto Rican population and a growing Dominican population
therefore it is predominantly a Spanish speaking community. Many young
Garifunas speak Spanish, so they try to blend in with the Puerto Ricans and
Dominicans. Young Garifunas are ashamed to speak Garifuna because they think it
sounds like an African language. Older Garifunas still speak Garifuna and
continue traditions. Although older Garifunas still embrace the culture, the
younger generation has to carry on the language and tradition to keep it
It is difficult to accurately count the population of Garifunas in the
because many of them claim that they are Hispanic. This is an emergent problem
amongst Garifuna people because they are denying their heritage. Many Garifuna
people don’t know about their history, because they speak Spanish, they put
Hispanic as their race when they should put Black or other depending on the
options given. There are a few reasons why some Garifuna claim they are
Hispanic. Since being Black and having African decent is looked at negatively,
some Garifunas don’t want to associate themselves with their African roots.
Here is a lot of pressure to want to be Hispanic especially in the Bronx, where Garifunas wouldn’t want to be outcaste.
Another important explanation is that several Garifunas lack knowledge of their
The education of the younger Garifuna generation is critical which has to be handed down from the elder Garifunas. Randy Nunez-Nery recalls when he was younger, he had moved to the Bronx from Livingston that school taught Puerto Rican history and had celebrations or events dedicated to Puerto Rico. He felt ostracized because he was the only Black person in the class and Garifuna and African history was not mentioned at all. That is a real life example of what many Garifuna children deal with at school and in the neighborhood. That is why they choose to identify with Puerto Rican and Dominican culture.
Garifunas maintain their unity even though they are in the
U.S. Many Garifunas still practice
Chugu which always involves a significant social gathering. Garifuna parties
are observed for holidays such as “Jon Canoe”. Guatemalan festivals are also
popular as well as in November 26 are when they celebrate Garifuna arrival.
Garifuna bands and singers such as “GNG”-Garifuna New Generation perform in
Garifuna and continue to expand their presence in the U.S. and Caribbean.
Making a trip back home to Guatemala
to see and support their family is another way Garifuna unity remains largely
St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sutty, Lesley, Macmillan Education LTD., 1997
Garifuna Settlement in
New York: A New Frontier, Gonzalez, Nancie
L., International Migration Review, Vol. 13, No. 2, Special Issue:
International Migration in Latin America
The First Primer On The People Called Garifuni, Palacio, Myrtle, Glessima Research
& Services, 1993.
Internet Web sites
IndexPage 1- History- Arrival in
Page 2- History- Garifuna Economy in
Page 3- History- Arrival in Untied States
Page 4- Garifuna in New York City-Assimilation
Page 5- Garifuna in New York City-Culture