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Awu le wuguri

(Continued from page 22 of the Fri. Nov. 3, 2017 Issue No. 3129 of the Amandala)

The Caribs lived on the Island of St. Vincent. Numerous attempts to enslave them by the English, French and Spaniards had failed because the Caribs resisted so fiercely. Columbus first encountered the Carib Indians on his second voyage to the West Indies on November 3, 1493. After discovering Dominica, and other islands, he landed at Santa Maria de Guadeloupe, where he found twelve Indian women and two young boys, who said they were prisoners of a man eating tribe of Indians. Columbus immediately dispatched Alfonso Flores, a soldier who had experience in fighting the Moors in Spain, to investigative their claim. Alfonso set ashore with fifteen men and he was immediately set upon by the fierce Indians and slaughtered.

After this incident, Spanish writers waged a terrible war of words against the Caribs, who were described as, “marauders on the mainland, corsairs on the high seas, and cannibals.” The word, “cannibal,” being derived from a variation of the word “Carib.” The Caribs were described as, outstanding physically and somewhat above average in height. They had long shiny black hair and a deep tan complexion. They were a fierce and warlike people who regarded all strangers as their enemy. Between them and the English and French, neither quarter nor mercy was offered.

In spite of the Caribs’ hostility toward all strangers, they formed a strong bond of friendship with Sabigi and his people. It is possible that this alliance occurred because both the Caribs and the Africans had a common enemy, the Europeans. The Caribs resisted any form of control by the Europeans. One story tells of the endeavor of Governor Parquet, who in 1650 attempted to colonize them. Although he already “owned” the island, he arrived with two hundred men, and deemed it prudent to also purchase it from the resident Caribs with knives, hatchets, glass beads, and two bottles of brandy for the chief.

Hostility soon mounted as the Caribs realized they had made a bad bargain. At Sauteurs, the colonists plus three hundred reinforcements surrounded the Caribs on a cliff above the northern coast. As the fighting intensified, the natives recognized their hopeless position. In a last act of defiance, they threw their women and children onto the rocks below, and then leapt to their own death. Today, St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church stands on the site of the tragic, “Carib’s Leap.”

The Caribs and Africans lived together harmoniously sharing each other’s culture. They intermarried and formed the first phase of the Garinagu race. (The term “intermarried” is used loosely here since there was no actual marriage, but this is the terminology used in many of the material I researched. It is more than likely that there was some cohabitation between the two races, the extent of which is dubious. Some Garifuna scholars suggest that the cohabitation was so pervasive that a new race of black Caribs emerged. The genetic make-up of the Garinagu today corroborates this). The Caribs engaged in farming, fishing, basket, and pottery making. They were considered strong swimmers, and expert sailors in their canoes, on which they sometimes used sails, made of palm leaves. They were so capable of handling giant canoes in rough seas that today people in the islands still say, “A Carib can never drown.” They were experts within the limits of their simple technology, capable of falling huge trees and making canoes by hollowing them out with makeshift tools.

The Caribs made durable baskets and serviceable pottery, which had a rough and distinctive beauty and were often decorated with incised patterns. They made dwellings of thatched roofs, and lived in settled villages. They slept in hammocks, made either of woven cotton or of string open work. Fishing was more important to them than hunting. Consequently, they rarely settled far from the sea. Their villages were often marked by mounds of conch shells, which was a major source of their diet. Their only breadstuff was cassava; the discovery of leaching out the poisonous juice of this root was an economic event of great importance. The Caribs were able to travel for weeks surviving on cassava bread and dried fish, a distinct advantage when traveling great distances to raid neighboring islands. Although the Carib villages were on the coast, they cultivated the yucca and cassava and other roots many miles inland hidden in the forests and mountains. The purpose of this was to conceal their source of food from raiding parties.

All these customs, and economic systems were passed on to Sabigi and his people, and the Garifunas today still grow their cassava and other foodstuff far inland in the jungle away from their village. Only a few trusted elders knew the location of the gardens. The Africans who were fast learners were able to adopt the culture of the Caribs. Today, many of these practices are still followed by the Garinagu everywhere. The Africans too, contributed to this interchange.

Sabigi and his people were a warrior tribe. In Africa, they sometimes obtained their food by raiding other villages. They were military strategists. They were able to plan many counter attacks against the Europeans and set up an elaborate defense system for the Carib villages. Observation posts were set up over the island. At each post a warrior was stationed, with a conch shell designed to sound similar to a horn when blown. Through this elaborate system, messages were passed from village to village.

The Africans also contributed their ceremonial feasts, and dress made of feathers of various colors. One of their greatest contributions was the garawo (drums). Every true Garifuna today enjoys listening and dancing to the sound of a well-played garawo. The drums are a connection to all Garifunas in Diaspora, and the beat awakens their inner souls.

Religious rituals were also one of their great contributions. The Garifuna believe in ancestor worship and that the connection to the spiritual world can only be made through dead relatives. Copious offerings of food and spirits are offered to the dead in this regard. Each Garifuna community has a shaman (buyai) who orchestrates the ceremonies called a dugu. After a long night of dancing, eating, and drinking, the sprits enter the body of the buyai and pass messages to their loved ones through him.

Even though the Caribs acknowledged a certain amount of allegiance to Charles II in 1668, tensions remained high between planters and natives. Pitched battles were common throughout the following century. To make matters worse, St. Vincent became a center for runaway slaves. Downwind from Barbados, it was an easy sail for Africans in makeshift boats. The island was not intensively cultivated and no great plantations existed. At first the Caribs welcomed the Africans as a part of their nation, but the Africans soon outnumbered the Indians. They took their women and started treating them poorly. Actually, the natives came to fear servitude under the former slaves whom they had befriended, and repeatedly they asked the European settlers to send the Africans off the island. By this time, the Carib population was undergoing its second phase, with the additional mixture of the new runaway slaves. The Carib race had now taken on an African complexion. Moreover, European disease had killed many of the original Caribs, which contributed to the racial imbalance. The British called them Black Caribs to differentiate them from the original Yellow Caribs.

In 1748, the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle reiterated the English-French resolve relative to St. Vincent’s neutrality. But, soon again open warfare erupted between settlers and Indians. Only the use of British battle troops overcame them. Survivors were banished to the underdeveloped northeast corner of the island in a tract known today as “Carib Country.” On the slopes of La Soufriere, they were forced to pledge a new allegiance to the English monarch.

By 1795, Carib tensions had once again exploded in revolt. Cane fields were set ablaze, and planters were afraid to leave their homes. Order was not restored until 1796, when Sir Ralph Abercrombie, Commander of the British Forces in the Caribbean, led a battle that defeated the Caribs, and killed Chief Chatoyer, and his African ally Sabigi.

Additional uprisings caused the British to round up most of the remaining Caribs and deport them to Honduras. What was meant as punishment became a lifesaving act. Ironically, the Indians who were left on the slopes of La Soufriere were virtually decimated in an eruption of 1812. It is said that only ten families of pure Caribs remained on St. Vincent through the 1920’s. The third and final phase of the Garinagu was complete. The African race had obliterated the Caribs; the result is the Garifuna race as it is today. Five thousand Garinagu were removed from St. Vincent and marooned on the Bay Islands off Honduras. Many of them settled in Trujillo, La Ceiba, and Roatan in Honduras; while others, depending on their family leaders settled on the Mosquito Coast extending from Nicaragua in the south to Livingston (Labuga), Guatemala, and what is today Dangriga in Belize, in the north.

In 1850, the British annexed the Bay Islands, The United States saw this as a violation of the Monroe Doctrine and pressured the British into relinquishing authority of the island to Honduras in 1859. Fearing reprisals from the Spaniards, many more Garifunas left for Belize where they would remain under British rule.

Today, the Garinagu people remain much the same as when they were deported from St. Vincent. The African heritage remains dominant; whatever Indian gene retained is minimal. Today, their largest population is in Honduras with 200,000 and it is here that their culture is most intact. There are 15,000 living in Belize, and 6,000 in Guatemala, and an additional few thousand scattered in Nicaragua and the Windward Islands. They have continued to be the victims of discrimination, politically, economically, and socially. (Pamela Conley, The Garifuna: A Changing Future.)

Ironically, the exception to the discrimination is in the United States where many Garinagu have entered the mainstream and excelled in education, many of whom have become doctors and lawyers and activists. In Belize, the Garinagu have fared politically better than their brothers in other Central American countries. Garifunas in Belize have at one time or the other held positions such as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Police Commissioner, Education officers, policemen, lawyers, and teachers. Presently in Belize, a Garinagu is one of the Supreme Court Justices, the Roman Catholic Bishop of the country is Garinagu, and some have held political offices.

Their ambition has lately become threatening to some. The music continues to rock and is a unifier of all Belizeans.

I have attempted to paint a concise synopsis of the origin of the Garinagu, by all means which have been available to me. I hope that my endeavor will contribute to the understanding of who the Garinagu people are. For those who cannot make up their minds who the Garinagu are, I can only hope to make to make it easier for them to understand, by giving an old illustration and urge them to research their genealogy.

If black coffee is added to a pitcher of milk, the milk will gradually get darker. The more coffee added, the darker the milk will get until eventually there will be no trace of milk. I reference my DNA results, which I previously presented in this article. I am 17% Carib Indian and 83% West Coast and hunter/gatherer African.
This is exactly what happened to the Carib Indians. They were the weaker race and were outnumbered by the Africans and decimated by European diseases. This is one of the many ways that nature works as espoused by Darwin’s theory of evolution, survival of the fittest.

As for the claim of many Garinagu that the Africans “spoiled” their race, this is not true. Any such claim is a result of Afro-phobia instituted by the Europeans. If anything, the Garinagu are the Africans who “spoiled” the Carib Indian race.

The Caribs of St. Vincent were joined by other Caribs fleeing the Europeans on other islands, and also by shipwrecked and runaway African slaves. News of the free men on St. Vincent spread throughout the islands. By 1676, 30 % of the population of St. Vincent consisted of former slaves. Women were scarce and the African men were fierce competitors for the affection of Indigenous women.

A new mix of Africans and Caribs morphed and were given the name “Black Carib” by the British. The Black Caribs quickly began to outnumber the indigenous inhabitants, the “Yellow Caribs”. (Visions of Paradise-Introduction to the Islands-St. Vincent and the Grenadines)

For many Garifunas this evidence is not compelling enough and no matter what amount of evidence is produced, they will remain unconvinced that they are primarily the descendants of Africans. This is the result of the strong Afro-phobic sentiment fueled by the Europeans. I strongly urge a DNA test. This attitude goes back to the legacy of slavery and the stigma of being African. I spent two hours explaining my point of view to an elderly Garinagu woman, who finally grudgingly admitted that the Garinagu are indeed primarily Africans. In a last act of desperation, she turned to me and said, “Mahabaya Garinagu lu le” (The Garinagu people will find it difficult to admit this fact). Fortunately, the technology exists today to trace one’s ancestry for generations.


1. This is a very good work. However, in a historical paper like this, your dates, facts and figures must, of essence, be accurate – since it can be quoted.
2. There is need for a summary of the imagination. The various chapter or content of the book must be summarized as the prologue.
3. This is the U.S. of A. Otherwise, some works in the British language are not authorized. The swear words, etc.

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