Aba Isini

History

    What do you know about Garifuna history?

The Garifuna have a long history that stems back to the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. The natives of the island, the Arawaks, were invaded by the Kalipunda tribe from the mainland. The Arawak men were killed and the women taken as wives by the Kalipunda warriors. Some time later in 1635, two Spanish slave ships were shipwrecked on the island. The Nigerian slaves escaped and eventually intermarried with the descendants of the Arawaks and Kalipundas, known as the Caribs. There is some speculation that the slaves may have caused the shipwrecks to make their escape.

In 1795 St. Vincent was under British control. Backed by the French, the Caribs tried, unsuccessfully, to establish independence but in 1796, surrendered to the British. Some sources say that the black skinned Caribs were expelled because the European slave owners on St Vincent did not like having free black men living amongst them. Others say that the black skinned Caribs were expelled because they fought harder against the British and were considered to be trouble makers. Regardless of the reasons, the black skinned Caribs were rounded up and many were killed. The survivors, numbered approximately 4,300, were shipped to Balliceaux, where half of them died after being exposed to new illnesses and poor conditions. The survivors became known as the Garifuna.

After further political instability in Balliceaux, the remaining Garifuna were shipped to the island of Roatan in Honduras. From there the story of how the Garifuna arrived in Guatemala is very sketchy, with many different accounts and no universally accepted theory that stands up to scrutiny. What is sure however, is that the average contemporary Guatemalan Garifuna does not know why their ancestors went to Guatemala. There is a general consensus that they come to Livingston by sea, as to this day the town is only reachable by boat.

Sometime after their arrival, some of the Garifuna went to the nearby port town of Puerto Barrios, probably in search of employment.

Puerto Barrios and Livingston are in the provence of Izabal in Guatemala. It is rare to find Garifuna living outside of this area. Ongoing racism and discrimination makes it hard for the Garifuna to prosper in other parts of the country. Due to their distinctive larger build the Garifuna stand out from the typical Guatemalans. Many Guatemalans believe that the Garifuna are to be feared and often accuse them of witch-craft and devil-worship.

The one place that the Garifuna are praised by Guatemalans is on the soccer field where they certainly hold their own. Many people believe that the Garifuna are only good for sport and can succeed academically. Although disadvantaged by poor schooling and a lack of resources, many young Garifuna are proving this stereotype to be incorrect.

The young Guatemalan Garifuna are assimilating into today’s Guatemalan society. This may however come at a great cost, as the Garifuna are moving into a world where they believe they must abandon their heritage to be accepted by the wider community. It is important now for young Garifuna to discover  their history, culture and language before they are lost, and to remain proud to be Garifuna.   Their history and ancestors can be seen as a power source, not a hindrance, and they can realize that the Garifuna can accomplish anything,


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