By Wellington C. Ramos
In March 1797, after our people lost the war to the British Crown and surrendered, about 5,000 of our people were rounded up, unlawfully imprisoned on the isolated island of Balliceaux, tortured, killed and those who survived subsequently forcefully removed to the distant island of Roatan, now a part of the Bay Islands in Honduras.
Born in Dangriga Town, the cultural capital of Belize, Wellington Ramos has BAs in Political Science and History from Hunter College, NY, and an MA in Urban Studies from Long Island University. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science and History
They landed there on April 12 of that same year but were not happy with the conditions on the island. The soil was not fertile for them to grow their food and the lack of enough water was a major concern of theirs. Immediately, some of the Garifuna leaders were looking for other places to migrate.
Discussions between the British and the Spanish Crown, led to some of our Garifuna people being given permission to migrate to Trujillo and other coastal areas. However, during that transition most of their names were changed from native and French names to Spanish names, which a majority of them have up to this day. There are a few Garifuna original names remaining such as Parchue, Elijio, Sabio, Avaloy, Sambola, Chatoyer, Satulle, Franzua, etc.
Others left Roatan to go to Belize in 1802 and established a settlement in the southern part of Belize now known as Dangriga Town. Due to the British control of Roatan, the Bay Islands, Belize and the Mosquito Coast in Nicaragua, Garifuna people moved from all these territories back and forth with their permission.
As Honduras nationalism grew to seek its independence from Spain, fighting emerged between factional groups which led to a full scale civil war. The Garifuna people were involved in these wars and became victims of some of these factions. Many of them were slaughtered and those who survived had to flee to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize. Many of them sent for their relatives to join them in these countries where they live up to this day.
Despite the fact that the Garifuna people live in different countries they see themselves as one people and that is “Garifuna” as individuals and “Garinagu” as one nation totaling about 600,000 people worldwide. They did not come together in the past to confront the British Crown about the genocide committed against them in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Three years ago, a group of Garifuna individuals established the “Garifuna Nation”, the primary goal of which is to address this and all the other issues affecting their people in the countries of Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, the United States of America and elsewhere. They believe that the British Crown committed genocide against their people and that this issue must be addressed by them and no other group, nation or regional organization.
They have also examined the social, economic and political conditions of their people in the countries where they reside today and see a continued pattern of racism, discrimination, land encroachment, economic deprivation, violation of their basic human rights and many other infractions. Some of these countries are also receiving funds to address the issues affecting the Garifuna people but the funds are not being spent in their communities to improve their living conditions.
Only through the internationalizing of the Garinagu plight in the countries where we reside as representatives of the Garifuna nation, will our people see fundamental changes with their lives and in their communities. We have had many of our leaders killed in the past and our Garifuna organizations infiltrated to cause chaos, disunity and friction among ourselves.
Some of us have become so selfish that our individual goals and objectives are being championed over the collective goals and objectives of all of our people. A few even think that they are the change and changes cannot occur without them. Fundamental changes will occur when all of us come to the realization that we must come together and contribute to the Garifuna Nation as one people.
Some of us want change to come but refuse to do anything on our part to bring about the changes we so desperately need. My fellow Garifuna brothers and sisters, if you are proud of the fact that you are a Garifuna, you are not happy with the current state of affairs with our people and you want to bring about positive and fundamental changes, please get involved in this struggle and become a part of the change.
Some 218 years have passed and we cannot wait another year to seek justice on behalf of our people and ancestors, who gave up their lives so that we can still retain our beloved culture.