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Commentary: Cultural preservation and economic development for Garifuna, not celebrations
Published on November 24, 2012 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Wellington C. Ramos

I was born and raised in Dangriga Town, like my mother Josephine Sampson and father Finley Sylvester Ramos. My maternal grandmother Andelecia Petillo-Sampson was born in Livingston, Guatemala, and my maternal grandfather Simeon Sampson Sr. was born in Dangriga Town, Belize. My paternal grandmother Claudina Lewis-Ramos was born in Dangriga Town and my paternal grandfather Zacharus Ramos was born in Bluefield, Nicaragua. We all have relatives that we can trace to Saint Vincent (“Yuremei” -- our original homeland), Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize.

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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
No matter where the Garifuna people live, land problems, lots, housing, education, medical, unemployment, discrimination, racism, loss of language, culture, religion, unequal distribution of their nation’s wealth, political victimization, poverty and other social problems plague their communities. Yet, they do not have Garifuna organizations that are equipped with many transformational leaders that are honest, sincere and dedicated to uplift their people out of the dilemma they face daily. Many of the so-called Garifuna leaders are more concerned about promoting their self-interest over the interest of the majority of the Garifuna people.

Some choose to affiliate with politicians and political parties that have no intention of addressing the needs and concerns of our people. Several celebrations have passed with mottos and themes that sound good and well written but our people’s lives are not improving. Instead, in my honest opinion, it has gone from bad to worse. These problems are not just going to go away unless we admit that they exist and develop plans and programs to eradicate them.

This year, like most years, I have heard all the speeches and have seen the dancing and the punta rock but when we all get up tomorrow, our problems will still be there for us to deal with. We cannot continue to engage in this type of fantasy behaviour any more, if we seriously want to preserve our culture and improve the lives of our people.

In the past, our ancestors had little but they were able to work hard and provide for their children and themselves. Farming and fishing played a major role in their lives, which our young children despise today. I remember going to our farm with my family when I was a child growing up to engage in slash and burn farming at Bagasrugu, three miles out of Dangriga Town early in the mornings. Those days were hard but we learnt and developed a good work ethic, discipline, pride and had food in abundance for our family to eat. Money that was made from farming was used to purchase the other items we need at home.

Why didn’t the Garifuna people advance from slash and burn farming to industrial and mechanical farming when they had the land, crops and expertise? Was this a decision they made on their own or they were not given the opportunity by the governments in the countries where they live?

I think that the answers for these two questions should be researched because, from the time we stopped farming, our dependency increased tremendously. In Stann Creek District there are jobs in the citrus and banana industries but our youths do not want to work these jobs. They are either not looking for work or want jobs that do not exist. We were removed from Saint Vincent to Roatan. From there we moved to Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize and the United States. Where we are going next no one knows. If we keep moving from place to place and we are still having the same problems, then maybe we would have been better off staying in the same place to build on what we had.

We are citizens of all the countries where we were born and as such we should be entitled to all rights and privileges like every other citizen, despite our race. If we are not satisfied with the way we are treated in our countries, then we should bring a constitutional case against the governments that are mistreating us. If we fail in our national courts then we must not be afraid to take the cases to the International courts to seek redress. Countries that violate human rights are not popular and they lose face in world opinion when it comes to international diplomacy.

Sitting down complaining to ourselves about how the people and governments of these countries treat us will not solve our problems. Simultaneous economic development and cultural preservation is a way forward.
 
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Comments:

Amory Lashley:

My brother, I feel your pain and concern for your people and I wish I had the solution to the Garifuna people problems. However, I just want you to know that the same conditions exists in St. Vincent and the Grenadines the original homeland of the Garifuna people.

In St. Vincent and the Grenadines there is a growing dependency on the government - which I call a "Dependency Syndrome" throughout the society. The same situation exists where the young people are not interested in farming partly because farming still consist of the cutlass, hoe and fork. Agriculture is not mechanized in St. Vincent, so young people are not attracted to back breaking methods of farming.

You mentioned in your article: "We were removed from Saint Vincent to Roatan. From there we moved to Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize and the United States...If we keep on moving from place to place and we are still having the same problems, then maybe we would have been better off staying in the same place to build on what we had."

What I believe you are saying is that the problems follow your people wherever they go. It appears to me that the problem may not be in the places where they go, but the problem is within. When the problem is within, it doesn't matter where you are it will always manifest itself in some way. In this case it is socioeconomic, but could also be spiritual.

As Marcus Garvey said, and Bob Marley sang: "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, because none but ourselves can free our minds." As a race we have been physically set free from slavery but our minds are still not free. The good book says: "As a man thinketh so is he!"

Finally, you are absolutely right, "Sitting down and complaining to ourselves about how the people and government of these countries treat us will not solve our problem." We need to find the root of the problem and not get stuck looking at the symptoms.

Love you my brother and the rest of my Garifuna brothers and sisters.

I am your Vincentian sister.

Joseph Guerrero:

Brother Wellington, as always you have shared some good thoughts with your readership. Please allow me to share mine as well. As I see the problem, and I'm sure there are many schools of thought, Garinagu everywhere are lacking severly in leadership and direction as a nation or people. For instance, we are completely distinct as a people, in the lands where we find ourselves, from the dominant culture. This lays ground for discrimination by the dominant culture. Discrimination lays the ground work for us as a nation to be completely self reliable. Many of our self reliant talents such as farming and fishing and hunting and trade have been abandoned by many of us.

So then we are left with a culture still very strong but weakening quickly and no plan or leadership to plot a course to survival in the fast homogenizing world of technology.

We are the same culture no matter where you go in Central America. If one goes to Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize The US, Canada, Europe and we are seen practicing our culture, it will be basically the same.

All of us then as a comprehensive Diaspora should organize ourselves as a nation in exile. We need to self determine our destiny in one central and comprehensive idea and or plan. This will take extraordinary cooperation by Garifuna intellectuals who can't seem to be able to recognize that our birth borders and influence of the dominant culture seem to compel us discriminate against one another. With those in Spaniard/latino dominant cultures versus those in English or former british colonies seeing themselves as some how as one better than the other. Or, due to the birth borders see ourselves in competition thus, lack of cooperation among ourselves to come up with a comprehensive plan of self determination.

We must organize as a nation and demand, collectively that the Governments in the lands in which we live, recognize our right to self determination and to accord us the political and legal right to do so. For us to leave anything for our children as a culture, it will take an international solution spearheaded by ourselves. The best and the brightest within our midst who are busy living their lives in Diaspora must awaken and take their place as our leaders and begin to work on a comprehensive plan to demand the rights of Garinagu no matter where they are and to assist the average garifuna to maintain such rights. There must be among us an international and coordinated effort in order to ensure this. I and some friends have been discussing this issue and I just read a similar idea in the amandala newspaper in Belize touched upon by the author I believe Jeremy or Jerome Enriquez with regards to Garifuna Settlement Day activities in Belize.

Our first step, and I am calling now upon Garifuna intellectuals from any and everywhere to be a part, is to effect a symposium with the view to define who we are as a nation. To effect a definitive description of who we are as a people and to apply to all Garinagu internationally.

Secondly, I call upon Garifuna lawyers anywhere and everywhere to take up the responsibility to come up with an incorporation plan to incorporate us as a Diaspora. This umbrella Diasporic organization could act as a centralized or federalized organization. Here would be concentrated our collective effort so seek international assistance for our communities no matter where they are. Such assistance can then be directed to where it is needed. This international body will be comprised of leadership from all the Garinagu communites internationally. Such a plan already exists on paper by a certain organization of which I am aware. Dr. Thodore Aranda tried this successfully but due to infighting it seems his effort was thwarted, by other Garifuna. This to me spells self destruction character. We are better off without this characteristic.

Thirdly, I call upon Garifuna Social scientists with training to draft a comprehensive description of all the Garifuna cultural institutions. I call upon the lawyers to protect our Traditional Knowledge rights and other intellectual property rights. I call upon the Garinagu everywhere to respond to the call of their leaders and to cooperate with one another in any way possible. Leadership of the embezzling type need not apply. Those with the Moses complex need not apply also but rather those willing to work with one another for the greater goal of serving our people, your nation calls upon you.

Hopefully in our current bliss of ignoring the collective to satisfy the self, some will be called to action to set forth meaningful work which will result in our ultimate aim of preserving, protecting and promoting our beautiful culture..."that this great nation, shall not perish from the earth". To paraphrase the greatest american president Abraham Lincoln.

Wake up Garinagu! We've been asleep too long!

Emilio Thomas:

I don't have much to say, for much truth has been said. The Garifuna leaders of most Garifuna communities are not doing what they need in order for our people and ways to significantly live on. How can the generations yet to come, find meaning in their cultures and ways, when there is no mature and true examples on the higher hand?

I'm not more than 25 years of age, but I've been watching the same sickness grow year by year, the cure has always been in our reach but it's not in our total interest to receive it and cure our people. We are talented, rich in culture and know how to get things done, but what are we doing to really make all these things truly meaningful. Garifuna Brother for Change!


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