Papers preserved in British archives show that the idea of removing the Caribs from St. Vincent entirely had been seriously considered as early as 1772, even before any treaty had been signed and in spite of the fact that numerous military reports stated that the Caribs were quiet and had made no efforts to prepare themselves for their own defense (Authentic Papers 1773). In a letter dated April 18, 1772, the Earl of Hillsborough told the governor of St. Vincent, “ … if necessity demand the removal of the charibbs, you do take up such vessels as can be procured, to serve as transports for the conveyance of them to some unfrequented part of the coast of Africa, or to some desert island adjacent thereto, care being taken that they be treated on the voyage with every degree of humanity their situation will admit of; and whatsoever may be judged necessary to subsist them for a reasonable time, and with such tools and implements as may enable them to provide for their future subsistence.”
Twenty-five years later, almost to the day, similar instructions landed the Caribs on the island of Roatan, off the coast of Honduras. Thus, we see that the deportation of 1797 had been seriously considered for some time …
– pgs. 19, 20, SOJOURNERS OF THE CARIBBEAN, by Nancie L. Gonzalez, University of Illinois Press, 1988
Almost from the beginning the Caribs began to make themselves known, building a reputation for intelligence, independence, fierceness, and hard work. On May 14, 1799, some 100 Caribs, proclaiming their hatred of the British, helped defend Trujillo against two ships of that nation (Gaceta de Guatemala, June 18, 1799). By 1802, though perhaps as early as 1799, some Caribs were journeying to Belize to seek work in the British woodworks and to bring back contraband for sale in Honduras (Burdon 1933:57, 60). In 1804 some Caribs encountered off Trujillo by officers of the British sloop Snake Downs declared their hatred of the Spanish; at about the same time they were complaining to the Spanish that they disliked being sent against the British, who seemed friendly to them (CO 123/17). Instructions were sent from Jamaica to the superintendent at Belize to do all he could to further friendly relations between the Caribs and the Miskitos and to encourage the latter to attack Trujillo to “liberate the Charibs from their present situation” there (Burdon 1933:84).
– pg. 54, ibid.
This is a week, Settlement Day Week, when we reflect on the history of Belize’s Garifuna people, and that history is one which is both seriously tragic and massively triumphant, at the same time. In the late eighteenth century, the British made attempts to exterminate the Garifuna people on St. Vincent, in Balliceaux, and at Roatan. The ancestors of our present Garifuna Belizeans watched thousands of their brothers and sisters die two centuries ago of starvation, disease, and despair, especially on Balliceaux and Roatan, after the bloody wars on St. Vincent. With respect to the Garinagu, the supposedly civilized British had decided to commit genocide. Cold talk.
There are prominent, influential elements among the Creole people who swear by a historical narrative which featured the populations of the settlement of Belize around the same time, the late 1790s, when the Garifuna people were being deported by the British to die in Balliceaux and at Roatan. The masses of the Creole people were slaves owned by the British Baymen in the 1790’s, but there was a free colored and free black minority which mingled with the British Baymen. Such Creoles had an elitist mentality. The consolidated narrative of the settlement of Belize has it that the entire population, including slaves, collaborated with the British Baymen to turn back a Spanish naval invasion from the Yucatan in September of 1798. As our regular readers know, this newspaper has questions about that 1798 narrative. There are aspects of this narrative which do not make sense to us.
It is said that the first Garifuna people reached the settlement of Belize in 1802, but it was not until three decades later that the Garifuna were welcomed here, as a people, by the ruling British element and assigned to the lands south of the Sibun River, the same lands, if we think about it, which are the primary claim target of our aggressive, racist, Guatemalan neighbors to the west and south of us. The excruciating irony of Garifuna settlement here in 1832 is that the British in Belize were welcoming the same people whom the British had tried to exterminate on St. Vincent, in Balliceaux, and at Roatan.
You must understand that there is absolutely no way the British in Belize could have desired any kind of affection to develop between the majority African population of Belize and the Garifuna people, who were of visible African descent. In 1832, there was a free brown Creole element which was allied with the ruling British Baymen, and these brown Creole were heavily Eurocentric in their thinking and behavior. They were in denial where their personal elements of African ancestry were concerned; it was “understood” by these brown Creoles, in their Eurocentric fog, that these hungry, desperate new arrivals, so-called Caribs, were inferior to them, even as they viewed the black Creole masses as inferior.
The Garifuna people who reached Belize in 1832 had been through hell for decades. They went to the lands south of the Sibun, dutifully, and they began to make a life for themselves. Basically, the Caribs began to farm and they began to fish. They built homes and they created communities.
Between 1834 and 1838, the enslaved African masses of Belize were freed. The freed African masses continued to work in the dominant forestry industry in Belize and in activities related to timber and chicle extraction for export.
The British and their brown Creole allies did not have to do much to keep the freed African Creole masses and the growing black Carib population separated from each other culturally, because the two peoples were separated geographically – the Creoles resident in Belize Town and the Belize River Valley, and the Caribs resident in Stann Creek Town, Punta Gorda Town, and various villages in the Stann Creek and Toledo Districts.
After 1847 and the outbreak of the Caste War in the Yucatan, Maya and Mestizo refugees from that war slowly began to populate the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts. The importance of the arrival here of the Caste War refugees in the second half of the nineteenth century was that their arrival led directly to the growth and rise of the Roman Catholic Church in Belize. Previous to the Caste War, religion and rudimentary education in Belize had been controlled by the Anglicans, the Methodists, and the Baptists in the first half of the nineteenth century.
How did the Roman Catholic Church and the Carib people make a link in Belize, and how and when did the Carib people become so educated and produce so many scintillating teachers that they became the vanguard of the Roman Catholic Church’s educational initiatives throughout the colony of British Honduras? This vanguard educator initiative by Carib teachers apparently became a trend early in the twentieth century.
Around the time the Catholic Church began using Caribs as their primary school teachers, the British were increasingly using Creoles in their colonial administration, the so-called civil service. For all intents and purposes, Caribs were excluded from civil service opportunities, and so educated Caribs welcomed the teaching opportunities in the Catholic school system.
So then, where are we going with this editorial? Firstly, those Belizeans who came here as refugees in the nineteenth century, the Garinagu in the first half thereof and the Mayans and Mestizos in the second half, today are major players in independent, sovereign Belize. The Garinagu and the Maya provide a percentage of our security forces which is disproportionately larger than their population numbers: Garifuna and Maya/Mestizo people may now be considered warriors for Belize.
We are going somewhere else with this editorial. It is important that we understand that Belize has to be very, very careful when dealing with the British. In 1950, a nationalist movement began in Belize which sought to free Belizeans from British colonial rule. This was the People’s United Party (PUP), which led Belize to political, sovereign independence with all our territory intact in September of 1981. Our independence with our territory intact may now be seen as a monumental achievement by the PUP of the Right Hon. George Price, because the British, supported by the Americans, were pressuring Mr. Price’s PUP to cede land to Guatemala.
As this newspaper salutes the Garifuna people of Belize during Settlement Day Week, we remark on the fact that our Creole, Garifuna, Maya, and Mestizo peoples have historically decided to mingle with each other, and have often established families of mixed ethnicities. Intermingling is no longer even remarked upon in our society: this is just how it is in The Jewel. There was discrimination against the refugee minorities here during British colonial rule. Such discrimination no longer exists following Belize’s move to self-government in 1964 and independence in 1981. All a we da one.
Or are we? The time has come, as we prepare to confront the Guatemalan colossus, for us Belizeans to examine these foreign immigrant communities which have established segregated enclaves amongst us. These walls have to be broken down. If you come here and believe that you are better than us Belizeans, then either you don’t belong here, or it is we Belizeans who don’t. Think about it.
What a spectacularly gifted people the formerly refugee Garifuna have proven themselves to be. The Garifuna people are not inferior to anyone in Belize. Those Creoles who thought that in 1832 were very much mistaken. In this special week, we give thanks for the glory of our Belizean Garinagu; we understand and respect your history, Garifuna brothers and sisters.
Power to the people.