Features — 18 November 2008 — by Adele Ramos
Tonight at the Epworth Methodist Church in Dangriga Town, Stann Creek, the 52nd annual tribute to Thomas Vincent Ramos, founder of Garifuna Settlement Day, was held in celebration of his life’s work as a patriot of Belize and progressive social activist.
In 1941, Ramos initiated the celebration of Garifuna Settlement Day (then Carib Disembarkation Day), in recognition of the mass arrival of the Garinagu from Honduras in 1823 (not 1832).
Ramos had written in his correspondences at the time that it had been 118 years since his forebears had set foot on Belizean soil, to settle southern Belize, after Honduras and four other Central American nations had broken the fetters of the Spanish Crown.
The Garinagu were seeking a haven from prosecution. They came to Belize via doreys in a group of about 500, landing on Belize’s shores on a Wednesday, according to the late Garifuna historian, Abraham Ramos. Most of them settled in Dangriga, then Stann Creek Town.
In 1802, 150 Garinagu had settled at Yarborough, Belize City, and by 1823, their numbers had exceeded 300, Mr. Ramos also wrote.
Like the Garinagu who came in 1823, T.V. Ramos was originally from Honduras, born in Tulian, Puerto Cortez, to Cecilio Ramos of Honduras and Miss Santurlina Rhys of Stann Creek.
Reflective on the life of T.V. Ramos at tonight’s tribute was his grandson, Ivan “Maca” Ramos, who recognized him as a leader before his time.
T.V. Ramos died on November 13, 1955. Every year since his passing, the Garifuna community has honored his memory with a memorial service, a candlelight procession, and a wreath laying at his tomb at Garden of Gethsemane Cemetery in Dangriga.
Ramos was a staunch Methodist and a local preacher. He wrote several Garifuna hymns, some of which are sung each year at his memorial, as a special tribute to his lyrical genius.
The book Thomas Vincent Ramos: The Man and His Writings (authored by Adele Ramos and published by the National Garifuna Council) says the following about him: He was a grocer, farmer, newspaper correspondent, seller, candy maker, Carib historian, entertainment producer, public speaker, boxing promoter, agent for soft drinks, agent for Lyons bread and bun, railway train conductor, ice cream vendor, peanuts vendor, banana checker, Carib hymn writer, owner of a few horses, voluntary social worker and founder of the Independent Manhood and Exodus Uplift Society, the Colonial Industrial Instruction Association and Carib Settlement Day.
As a candy maker, he made molasses (poor man sweet), peanuts cake (toffee), “wangle” cake (toffee), caramel, butterscotch, and man face (a hand-sucker candy).
The games and sports he loved were draughts (checkers), boxing, cycle races, which he sponsored, football, and cricket.
While many Garinagu were today remembering Mr. Ramos for fighting for the recognition of the Garifuna as positive contributors to Belize’s progress, they were also honoring their heritage on what is also known as Garifuna Awareness Day.
Today, Garinagu were asked to dress in cultural attire, or to wear the symbolic colors – yellow, white and black.
Festivities commemorating the mass arrival of the Garinagu to Belize 185 years ago continue up to November 19, with the annual re-enactment of that journey to Belize’s shores.
After much lobbying by T.V. Ramos, Garifuna Settlement Day was first given as an official holiday in Stann Creek in 1943, two years after he began organizing celebrations. The occasion became a national celebration in 1977.
This year, the focus is on continuing the heritage education of Garifuna youth. The theme is Iúnrahówa meme hamá isanigu lidoun garifunaduáü lau pantaü: Continuing to proudly empower our children in their Garifuna language.