When the evangelical Christians in Belize can create a public division amongst the Garifuna people, you know that the evangelicals have become very powerful indeed. How widespread or deep that division is, no one can really say. All we know is that, in defence of Scott Stirm and his videotaped comments condemning core Garifuna ancestral beliefs and practices, the evangelicals were able to bring out at least three of their Garifuna followers, including at least one Garifuna evangelical pastor, to defend Stirm, a white American who is probably a naturalized Belizean. Evangelical Creole Belizean pastor, Louis Wade, has claimed on his Plus TV that they have more such Garifuna evangelicals lined up to testify on behalf of Stirm and against their own people’s traditional beliefs and practices.
Those of us who have interacted with the Garifuna people know that their loyalty to each other and to the Garifuna nation is serious and sustained. I have never seen anything so divisive happen before like what is happening today.
For the record, I have never spent time in Dangriga or Punta Gorda during an election campaign to assess how deep are the divisions among the Garifuna which are occasioned by the political campaigns when the two major political parties are firing at each other. But I am willing to wager that campaign emotions largely subside amongst the people once the elections have been decided. So I submit what we are seeing today, in the Stirm uproar, if it is not already unprecedented, definitely has the potential to become so. (NOTE: After I wrote the preceding paragraph, I remembered that I spent the five weekends before the March 2003 general election doing some work for the People’s United Party (PUP) Dangriga candidate, Ms. Sylvia Flores. I did not feel that there was any venom amongst the people because of party politics. Then I remembered that I spoke at a United Democratic Party (UDP) public meeting before a bye-election for two vacated Dangriga Town Board seats being held in early 1984. There was a little venom in that campaign because of the circumstances surrounding the change of UDP leadership from the Garifuna, Dr. Ted Aranda, to the Mestizo, Dr. Manuel Esquivel, which had taken place between late 1982 and early 1983.)
Over all the years I have been commenting on things Belizean, I have found that an outsider has to be extremely careful when discussing Garifuna matters. In this column I would prefer to consider an aspect of the controversy which has not yet come to the surface in as dramatic a way as it will likely do. And that is the fact that in attacking core Garifuna beliefs and practices, Scott Stirm was also attacking the Roman Catholic Church in Belize, which has essentially accepted those beliefs and practices.
Garifuna elders will tell you that as recently as the time of Pablo Lambey, an individual Catholic priest was still hostile to their ancestral faith system (check page 110 of Carol Roessingh’s The Belizean Garifuna), but overall the Roman Catholic establishment in this country and our Garifuna population, the large majority of whom are Roman Catholics, have been very close. The relationship has been a truly symbiotic one, and, of course, syncretic. The Garifuna people have been bulwarks of the Catholic Church and the Catholic educational system in Belize.
I think the course of my public life in Belize may have been defined, to a substantial extent, by an open conflict I had with the Catholic educational system. On entering public life here in early 1969, I began challenging the Catholic schools, the same ones which had educated me between 1952 and 1965, to begin the teaching of African and Indigenous (Maya) history. In 1969, the Church was dead set against such teachings, while I was absolutely sure that my position was correct. There was a battle between us, and I paid a huge price during the course of the conflict.I would say I lost almost all my Creole Catholic friends, but my Garifuna Catholic friends from St. John’s College days were more reasonable. In particular, I remember the late Greg Arana, Sr., who was on the teaching staff at Wesley College with his wife, Agnes, when I taught there between 1971 and 1972. I was close with this couple. And, never to forget, big up, Marion J. Paulino.
In any case, if I am forced to choose between the Roman Catholics and the evangelicals today, I will immediately favor the Catholics. The evangelical movement is diverse enough not to be monolithic, but it is for sure that there have been people leading their movement, such as Pat Roberson and Jerry Falwell, who were definitely racist. Surely the Catholic Church has committed its sins over the centuries, but in 2016 the Vatican, under Pope Francis, is in apology mode. It is my personal belief that the evangelicals are in bed with rapacious neoliberalism and the oil companies. In other words, their funding sources are unlimited, and their funding sources are, ultimately, enemies of the best interests of the independent, sovereign nation of Belize – The Jewel.
About three years ago I saw something which alarmed me, as a Belizean nationalist. I saw the evangelicals organize several thousand Toledo Maya to march against an issue having to do with the Government of Belize’s gender policy. That march, because it was taking place in faraway Toledo, basically flew beneath the Belize City media radar. That march was never properly investigated and analyzed. It appeared to represent a major, historic socio-religious phenomenon.
Belize has been in a state of rapid transformation over the last four decades. Those Belizeans who left here four decades ago and are just returning, find it hard to recognize the new realities. There are so many massive special interests which have come on the scene battling to shape the scene, to decide Belize’s future. This is a territory of great wealth and strategic value. Our population is not that well educated, and our population clearly has pressing material needs. The name of Jesus is a ticket into the homes and hearts of many Belizeans. But not everyone who cries “Lord, Lord” is real. In fact, some such have already been proven to be the real devils.
Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie. Honor Staff Sgt. Richard Lambey. Big up, Wil Maheia.