I have discovered that the axiom “haste makes waste” is true and definitely applies in my case. In my haste and enthusiasm to open the window of the Garifuna culture and its history, I erred grievously, and grievously have I suffered the inadequacy of my feeble attempt in my publication of, “Garifuna, The Facts and Myths”. I have read paragraph after paragraph over and over again, and I wince at some of the things I wrote and the many facts that I omitted. The reason for this was I was trying to say so much in a very short time and space. The lack of funding for an in-depth research was lacking and, of course, inexperience played a great part in my endeavor. My intentions, however, were sincere. It has been some time now since I have attempted to do anything to correct and improve what I had attempted to do. I have just now recovered from a malady of writer’s blues.
During my years in hiatus, I have tossed around many ideas of how best to relate what Garifuna really means to me. Of course, the best way to know about something is to study its history. Therefore, I will spend more time in describing the events which led to the arrival of the Garifuna people from Africa to the West Indies, and eventually to the Central American shores.
Some scholars claim that the Garifuna people’s journey began in South America by way of the Orinoco River. This, however, is confused with the history of the Carib Indians with whom the Garifuna people lived for a time in the West Indies. The two peoples have, for many years, been confused as being of the same race; they are neither. Obvious physical characteristics of the Garifuna clearly indicate that they are descendants of Africans. I intend to deal with this subject in detail in the forthcoming new book “GARIFUNA”. The reason for my endeavor is to finally put to rest the myth that has confused the Garinagu of whom we really are and where we came from. Another reason is to tell the history of the only Africans who came to the New World and escaped slavery. These proud and courageous people were able, against tremendous odds, to the present day, retain their own language and culture.
While all other Black races succumbed to the might of the European colonialists, the Garinagu did not. History books today make no mention of the history of the Garinagu. A few dedicated Garifuna scholars are tenaciously fighting to preserve and teach the Garifuna history. For this, I am greatly appreciative. However, my only caution to them is not to fall into the trap of anti-African propaganda left over from the European colonial era.
One of my heroes in life is Belizean Black activist Evan X Hyde. The reason for this is because he has consistently and tenaciously espoused the teaching of African and Indigenous history in Belize. X Hyde is of the opinion that the teaching of African and Indigenous history will instill self-esteem and pride in Belizeans and counter the hundreds of years of European colonialism that destroyed the souls of African descendants and Indigenous peoples in all of Latin America and the Caribbean. I concur with X Hyde. Unless we know and accept our history, we are nothing. The colonial masters destroyed our souls and our psyche. Indigenous peoples in Latin America have claimed or assimilated European or North American culture for political, economic, and social reasons.
Governments in Central American countries have sought to suppress all non-European customs. Power and wealth are held by a small white minority, the oligarchy, in all of Central America. The black American writer James Baldwin said that the color of one’s skin is not only a factual reality, but also a social and political reality. The distribution of wealth in Latin America attests to this fact. Latin America is one of the most racist regions of the world, more so than North America where Afro-Americans have achieved high political and economic status. Similar achievement is a long way from happening in Central America. Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, and Guatemala have a substantial black population that has been suppressed politically and socially by the white oligarchy.
At the risk of being branded a communist sympathizer, I must point out that Cuba is one of the few exceptions to this phenomenon. Fidel Castro exiled the Cuban oligarchy to Miami and opened the door for Cubans of all classes in Cuba.
As X Hyde has said, that royal creoles are clinging to whatever European bloodline they can and are denying or de-emphasizing their African mothers’ bloodline. In doing research for my book, I discovered that this “white thing” affects the entire world. I was perplexed to learn that even the Chinese have a hierarchy among themselves which gives preference to those of lighter complexion and European features. My study showed that Indians from India spend billions of dollars a year on skin whitening products.
I recently read a short history of the Dominican Republic, which is the most mixed race in all of Latin America and the Hispanic Caribbean, and is made up of 73% mulatto, 16% white and 11% Black. Yet, the Dominican Republic is the most Afro-phobic country in the Western Hemisphere. Here is an excerpt from a book “A Short History of Santo Domingo”, written by Erin L. Foley: “President Rafael Leonides Trujillo was the president of the Dominican Republic between 1930 and 1938, and 1942-1945. During his dictatorship, he rewrote the Dominican history and racial identities in order to deny African elements in both population and its culture. He developed an ideology to define Dominicans as the most ‘Spanish people of the Americas’. As a result, lighter skinned Dominicans define themselves as white and dark skinned Dominicans define themselves as Indians. Indio claro for white Dominicans and Indio oscuro for the dark skinned Dominicans. The term ‘black’ is derogatory and reserved for Haitians. The dictator Trujillo, himself a mulatto, went as far as to wear makeup in public to lighten his skin. He directed racism at the Haitians claiming that their immigration into the Dominican Republic would darken the country. In this regard, Trujillo was responsible for the massacre of 20,000 Haitians. As a result of many years of European domination, many Dominicans do not acknowledge their African roots and claim that their dark skin comes from the Taino Indians, notwithstanding that the Tainos died out in the 1500s”. The black phobia is so great that the government has passed legislation to deport all Haitians whether they were born in the Dominican Republic or not. It is only recently that Afro Dominican baseball players like Big Papi, who is blacker that me, are acknowledging Afro roots.
The evil legacy of slavery is deep rooted. Thus, I have undertaken, on my own, to set things straight, once and for all to find answers. Do the Garinagu show a preference towards their Carib ancestry over their African roots because of this phenomenon? “Who am I?” I recently had a DNA testing for genealogy purposes from Ancestry.com. The results showed, not surprisingly, that I am 31% Cameroon/Congo, 24% Mali, 19% native American (Caribbean Indian), 12% Nigerian, 10% Benin/Togo, 4% other. My DNA results were compared to all the people who have had the test done. It showed that most of my matches are in Belize, Honduras, and St. Vincent. Surprisingly, there were many so-called Creole matches and many in the U.S.
I am a Garinagu living in upstate, New York. I tell people that I am a Garifuna, and of course they are curious and want to know more about the Garinagu. I give the answer that I have been taught since I was a toddler. The Garinagu are Africans mixed with Carib Indians. Some people even say that Garifunas at one time had blue eyes. But on further research and forensic genealogy investigation, taking into consideration the political and sociological influences, my answer has changed. Regarding the blue eyes, (chuckle), I inquired of some elderly Garinagu about the origin of this story. It was related to me that in the early 1900s, a beautiful Garifuna woman of light complexion and blue eyes visited Punta Gorda from Livingston, Guatemala. A group of Belize Creole men happened to be visiting Punta Gorda at the time and her beauty dazzled them. On their return to Belize, they related the story of the beautiful Garifuna woman with blue eyes, and the story took on a life of its own. What they did not know was that the woman was a product of a Garifuna mixed mother and German father.
There are many stories about who the Garinagu are. The truth is that the Garinagu are decedents of shipwrecked Africans who escaped the indignity of slavery and were given sanctuary on the island of St. Vincent by the Carib Indians. Throughout their time together, as it is today when two cultures live side by side, they assimilated each other’s culture; there were some mixed relationships between the Garifunas and the Caribs, but not to the extent that we are led to believe. Forensic investigation of the Garifuna DNA proves that the Garinagu are predominantly Africans of the Ibo tribe. The claim of many Garifuna scholars that the Garinagu are a mixture of Carib Indian and African is somewhat exaggerated. This claim, I suspect, is the result of one of the evil legacies of slavery and colonialism, which espoused the obliteration of all things African and black. The great reggae singer Peter Tosh sings, “No matter where you come from, as long as you are a black man, you are an African”. This is for real.
The Dark Passage
by Moses X Benguche
In 1650, approximately five hundred slaves were loaded onto a ship, the Spanish galleon, Las Flores, off the coast of West Africa. During this time there were many similar trips made by the English, French, and Portuguese, but this special cargo that was being loaded on the Las Flores had great significance, for the five hundred slaves aboard were to become the basis of the present Garinagu race. This particular cargo of slaves was from a small village led by an Ibo warrior called Sabigi. He was betrayed by one of his jealous wives, who turned him over to a rival chief while he slept. He, too, was loaded on the Las Flores. The Africans were led to the hold of the ship in very cramped quarters. The ship was designed to hold two hundred and fifty people, but on this trip, five hundred were squeezed into the small space below deck. The temperature below deck was usually very warm, and because of this; men, women and children were naked. The ship’s crew could only stand being in the slave quarters for fifteen minutes at a time. One can imagine the agony the Africans suffered as they rolled from side to side, groaning and vomiting on each other, but Sabigi and his people survived the dark passage.
To obtain their slaves, the Spaniards depended greatly on the Portuguese; who virtually had a monopoly on the slave trade. At first the Portuguese would raid villages and capture the Africans, but it had become difficult because of the scarcity of Africans in the coastal towns. Thus, the Portuguese created a system where they instigated tribal wars between the Africans. The losers were sold as slaves. Before the slaves were loaded on the ship, they were baptized and given the Spanish surnames of sailors who represented them in baptisms. The effect of this is still evident, in that all Garinagu today have Spanish surnames. The Spaniards were forbidden to board any slaves who were not baptized. Christianity played a great role in Spain, and it was the duty of the king, as mandated by the Pope, to ensure that all slaves under Spain’s rule were Christians. The Spaniards considered it a sin to have slaves who were infidels.
A month later, following a tumultuous crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, the Las Flores arrived in the Caribbean. It was early autumn, and the very familiar hurricane season that plagues the Caribbean during this time of year had arrived. The clouds were grey, rolling, low and heavy, and the wind was at a standstill, the sign of an ominous tempest. Captain Nicolas Ovando declared a state of emergency. In an act of mercy, Sabigi and his people were brought on deck as the Las Flores was run aground. When the storm cleared, the ship was set upon by Carib Indians and the captives, who immediately slaughtered the Spaniards and set the chained Africans free. The Caribs befriended the Africans and took them into their homes. This act was very uncharacteristic of the Caribs, who were considered to be very hostile by the Europeans. The wretched condition of the Africans no doubt opened the hearts of the Indians. For a long time, St. Vincent was considered a neutral island and a haven for runaway slaves. Chief Ayoto, the leader of the Caribs was impressed by the bravery and fighting skills demonstrated by the Africans in the scrimmage and proposed an alliance of defense against the Europeans.
(To be continued in the next issue of the Amandala)