BELIZE CITY, Mon. Nov. 21, 2016–Garifuna communities across Belize as well as those overseas marked a milestone on Saturday, November 19th in celebrating an enduring movement that has grown from a local celebration birthed in Dangriga in 1941 led by Garifuna icon Thomas Vincent Ramos to a cross-border celebration which serves to connect people even outside the Garifuna culture.
The focal point for the celebration is still the culture capital of Dangriga, but local celebrations were also held in places such as Belize City and Orange Walk, and overseas communities like New York.
Perhaps the most notable shift that is now clearly evident in 2016 is the mixture of the traditional with the contemporary; paddles are replaced by outboard motors and traditional Garifuna drummers are showcased alongside marching bands, depicting how the rich Garifuna culture continues to find an unparalleled place in a changing world, echoing the UNESCO declaration celebrating the culture as “a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.”
In this year’s Dangriga parade, young people featured prominently. National security forces such as the police and the military are often staffed by Garinagu, and members of the police and Belize Defence Force marched alongside children of the Pomono Police Cadet, who showcased the cultural colors of yellow, white and black.
The annual reenactment of the Yurumein in celebration of Garifuna Settlement Day in Belize and the attendant festivities are not just significant to the Garifuna nation and the diaspora, but also to the nation of Belize, since it cements the fact that the British—and not the Spanish rulers of this sub-region—were the ones administering the lands now known as Belize even before the 1859 treaty between Britain and Guatemala, despite controversy in Guatemala over that age-old accord.
When the Garinagu migrated in waves to Belize’s shores in the 19th century, they were seeking refuge from Spanish rule, and there was an explicit acknowledgement that they were seeking succor from persecution, marginalization and attempted genocide when they voluntarily came under the flag of the British, despite the 1797 exile by the British from Yurumein/St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
What had happened in the interim was an unsuccessful attempt by the British to get the Garinagu to fight in the Battle of St. George’s Caye, suggesting that an alliance began to be formed a few years after the St. Vincent exile of 2,248 Garinagu. It is against this backdrop that the move to what is now known as Belize came.
The first historical milestone was 1801, when seafaring Garinagu who were living in Honduras, and who traveled the coast back and forth to Mexico, were offered temporary stays of two days at Yarborough in Belize City. In 1802, the first wave of migration was allowed by the British, and 150 were allowed to stay at Yarborough that year.
In speaking at official ceremonies on Saturday, November 19, 2016, in Dangriga marking the 193rd anniversary of the arrival of Garinagu to the town revered as the country’s culture capital, Opposition Leader Johnny Briceño said: “For us in Belize, one of the most profound occurrences in our nation’s history occurred in 1802, with the arrival of the first Garinagu who came here tired from their travels, having been cast out from their homeland…”
Briceño added that, “…three decades later, a second and larger group would join them on these shores on a bright November day – a day we all celebrate now as Garifuna Settlement Day. In the many days since that historic day – many trumped up the courage of their ancestors to fulfill their dreams to build Belize not only for themselves but for all of us.”
The second and more notable wave came in 1823, when it is reported that 300 settled in Dangriga, 125 in Punta Gorda, 28 in Seine Bight, and the rest elsewhere in southern Belize. At the time, the Yarborough Garifuna population had reportedly grown to 375, bringing the total population to about 875. Major-General Edward Codd (1823-1829), gave permission for the Garinagu (then called Caribs) to settle southern Belize. This development was pre-1859.
The 1786 Treaty had only established Belize’s southern boundary as the Sibun River, and the only formal treaty to acknowledge the Sarstoon as Belize’s southern border came in 1859; however, that very treaty acknowledged that border areas spelt out in the document had existed on and before January 1850.
E. Roy Cayetano, Garifuna historian, noted on the occasion of Garifuna Survival Day (on April 12 this year) that “all the Garifuna communities, traditional Garifuna communities are established south of the Sibun River.”
“In case you don’t know why, I expect you know by now,” Cayetano said, adding that, “There are implications for our rights in this country.”
Although much has been written and said about Garifuna culture and history, not much has been said about the implications of this milestone in solidifying sovereignty over the southern portion of Belize, another cause for Belizeans to pay tribute.
Last year, Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced Government funding to pay for the T.V. Ramos bust that was sculpted by Steven Okeke, as well as funding for the cultural retrieval work of the Gulisi Community Primary School in Dangriga.
On Saturday, he announced in his Settlement Day remarks that this year, after a visit with the National Garifuna Council (NGC), the lead organizer for Garifuna Settlement Day events as well as Garifuna cultural retrieval, he has committed to an increased government subvention to the NGC to help embark on full-time service to the Garifuna community. He also announced support for the acquisition of a lot in Belmopan for an office for the NGC’s Belmopan branch and publicly reiterated his promise to Cynthia Cayetano of the Belize City branch of the NGO to fund an extension of the Gulisi teaching project to the old commercial capital of Belize City. Finally, he announced the reinstatement next year of the post-ceremony, post- parade school children’s treat for Garifuna Settlement Day.
“Of all the multiple strands that make up the national Belizean culture, none is more dynamic, none is more vital, none is more vibrant, none is richer, none is more life-affirming than the Garifuna culture,” Barrow said.
“Inspired by their ancestors, the Belizean Garifuna refused to be victims of a cruel colonialism and today we find the success and achievements of our Garinagu in every walk of Belizean life,” Briceño said.