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Friday, January 22, 2021
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The Nineteenth

Dear editor,
“Can’t find you in the pic,” I observed wryly, liking the new FB profile of a family friend.

“It’s the Garifuna flag,” he responded confidently.

“Garifuna, or Garinagu?” I punted.

“Same, I suppose?” he commented, less certain than before.

But they’re not! Mr. Assad Shoman (author of Thirteen Chapters), and a Wikipedia page on the topic both maintain that “Garinagou” (I prefer this alternative spelling) is the plural form of “Garifuna.” Neither addresses the origin of the new word or the unusual parsing that ignores standard rules for plurals. The Wikipedia page’s phraseology gets awkward when the writer holds that “…they (the Garifunas), are also known as ‘Garinagou’…”

I asked a well-informed Garinagou colleague about the difference between “Garinagou” and “Garifuna.” According to this source, the difference is one of function: “Garinagou” is the person, and “Garifuna” the culture; the liv-er versus the life. The question of a parsing nexus did not arise. As I’m not au fait with the nuances of the language, and my colleague’s explanation is the only guidance I have, I will follow his leading here: in short, that there is likely no derivative relationship between “Garifuna” and “Garinagou.”

The question then becomes knowing when the context calls for the one or the other. As I’ve said earlier, we don’t have the etymology of “Garinagou” (questionably, the plural form?). Google offers no guidance, while my Thesaurus cannot find the word. Instinct tells me, however, that its origins lie firmly as an indigenous streak in Chatoyer’s people—a sinewy bred-in-the-bone ethnic pride.

Then my informant muddied the waters somewhat by adding that “Garifuna” has elements of both the person and the culture, meaning that there are times when the two words can be used interchangeably. Illustrative of this but clearly off-center is a declaration in BELIZE (a travel guide from Lonely Planet), that “Punta Gorda was founded by Garifuna settlers from Honduras.” Island Expedition.com stumbles similarly when it talks of “…the Garifuna people of Belize…,” even as the writer proceeds, on the hop, to gamely discuss “the Garifuna culture,” “Garifuna life,” and “the Garifuna language.” Lastly, in your headline story, (Amandala, November 20th, 2020), Marco Lopez is on the mark, referring to “…the arrival of the Garinagou people (sic) to Belize,” and to “…Garinagou communities (here).” But there’s some wobble when he later writes about the effects of the pandemic “…on Garifuna communities…” Being the astute writer that he is, I think this may have been a simple typo.

Given the prevalence of the two words, then, are there no rules on usage to guide us? Even a cursory perusal of the recent flood of 19th-o’-November congratulatory internet postings, reveals a lack of any appreciable differences in function between them. “Congrats on ‘Garifuna Settlement Day’” acknowledges intellectually, the occasion of the national holiday. Such wishes get nearer to being personal if directed to the “Garinagou on Garifuna Settlement Day.”

Information provided to a reporter last week by Mr. James Lino, president of the Peini (PG) Branch of the National Garifuna Council, may be of help. He revealed that in the Garifuna language some words are spelt and articulated differently depending on whether a male or female is talking. Could it be a gender difference only? Unfortunately, my informant didn’t mention that factor, and the reporter missed the chance to get some clarification from Mr. Lino, someone who sounded capable of putting the matter to rest.

A final note. In the prestigious Readings in Belizean History (1987), the annual journal of the Department of Belizean Studies (St. John’s College 6th Form), there are 4 chapters dedicated to the memory of the people of the 1802 “Disembarkment.” Each paper, written by professionals at the top of their academic heap, looked at different issues concerning the followers of Alejo Beni. None of them seemed aware of the word “Garinagou,” for it does not appear anywhere in their essays.

Nor did O. Nigel Bolland p, even with his fascination with Belizean history, use the word in his now widely acclaimed Struggles for Freedom (1996). In fact, the first mention of “Garinagou” I have seen was in Mr. Shoman’s book (supra), published in 1998. Am I wrong in thinking it was he who may have coined the word?

The name of the holiday was not always Garifuna Settlement Day. It is only the most recent. What hasn’t changed is the “Nineteenth.” So I say, belatedly, “Happy Nineteenth to the Garinagou who have enriched our lives by being true to their values and resolute as Belizean citizens!”

Hart Tillett
Belmopan

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