“In 1937 there was a massacre in the village of San Juán, Honduras. An arms cache, presumably brought there by Black Caribs, was uncovered on the beach or in the nearby bush. Government forces, constantly fearing revolution, rounded up all the adult men in the village and shot them in cold blood as both punishment and warning. This incident is sometimes cited today to suggest that the Caribs themselves were intent upon revolution for social reasons. While in Trujillo in 1984 I was told by a Garifuna elder who had been in the area at the time that the arms had been smuggled in as a business deal by Caribs who were awaiting payment before turning them over to a revolutionary party. In the meantime, however, a Carib office worker, loyal to the government and the fruit company, reported the existence of the cache to the authorities , with the results just described. The story was told to me as an illustration of how internal disagreements had drastic results.”
– pg. 193, Sojourners of the Caribbean, Nancie L. Gonzales, University of Illinois Press, 1988
“Writers, artists, musicians, intellectuals, and workers in ideas are the keepers of memory of a community.”
– pg. 114, Something Torn and New, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, BasicCivitas Books, 2009
The Garifuna people experienced traumatic events of a genocidal nature in St. Vincent, Balliceaux, and Roatan. They also experienced traumas in Honduras, but I don’t know of any traumas having been experienced in British Honduras/Belize by the Garinagu. For sure they experienced hard core discrimination in this country, and they have retained the memory of same.
When the Garinagu began to come here in numbers in 1802, 1823, or 1832, Belize was the only black territory in Central America, and the Garinagu were known as “Black Caribs,” to differentiate them from the “Yellow Caribs” of St. Vincent. We say that Belize was a black territory because the majority of the population were African or of African descent, and the white Baymen bosses here had come to realize that they required some kind of goodwill from that majority black population in order to remain in control of the settlement.
The black population of the settlement of Belize were known as “Creoles,” but there was a buffer population of browns in the settlement who were also known as “Creoles.” The browns were generally closer to the white Baymen in family, religion, and culture than were the black masses of Belize, and they were generally closer to the white Baymen than they were to the black masses. Overall, the buffer population of brown Creoles became Anglican and Methodist in religion beginning in the first half of the nineteenth century.
Roman Catholicism became a force in the settlement/colony in the second half of the nineteenth century when thousands of refugees from the Caste War of the Yucatán poured into the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts. Roman Catholicism became allied with the intellectual leadership of the Garifuna people in the first part of the twentieth century when the Catholic priests began to hire said Garifuna intellectuals to teach in rural Catholic schools. These Garifuna academics were being locked out of Belize’s administrative public service because of ethnic discrimination.
When I was born in 1947, to be a Creole and a Roman Catholic, as I was, was to make you a minority. Most Creoles were Anglican and Methodist. Meanwhile, most Garifuna were Roman Catholic. At St. John’s College between 1959 and 1965, I made Garifuna friends. At the time, I did not know much of that history, beginning in St. Vincent, which caused Garifuna people to have a unique, almost separatist, perspective on the Belizean reality.
Since those days, Belize has become a sovereign, independent nation, at least in theory. The Garinagu are our third largest ethnic grouping, and they are prestigious in their various accomplishments. Either in 1978 or 1981, the Garifuna people formed a National Garifuna Council (NGC), which I understand to be the supreme authority of the Garifuna people when the NGC meets in their annual general assembly. Such an assembly took place recently.
The purpose of this column is to remark that, to the best of my knowledge, the 2014 NGC general assembly made no pronouncements and passed no resolutions where four major issues of Belizean controversy are presently concerned. These are rosewood, the Sarstoon/Temash, the Elvin Penner case, and the Harmonyville/BGYEA matter.
Belize has entered an era of increased domestic volatility, primarily because of oil exploration. But there are also passionate debates involving giant tourism investments which threaten the eco-systems of Belize and, therefore, our traditional way of life. In a recent issue of this newspaper, we published an article which discussed the fact that the militarization of certain cay systems in Honduras has created hardships for those Garifuna Hondurans who, like many of their counterparts in Belize, have a fishing-based way of life. In Honduras, the Garifuna people, although much more numerous than they are in Belize, are not politically powerful enough to raise and sustain an issue at the national level. But in Belize, the Garifuna people are powerful. That is my thesis. And, it appears to me that their supreme decision-making body should be addressing the nation of Belize, at least on issues which threaten the Garifuna way of life.
For sure, this is only a personal opinion.