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Commentary: Garifuna ethnicity vs. nationalism
Published on August 23, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Wellington C. Ramos

In most countries in the world people are accustomed to identifying themselves based on the country where they were born to display their national pride. This is despite the fact that, even though many people were born in a country, they are seen as different and discriminated against by other fellow citizens because of their ethnicity.

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
When I was growing up in Belize, I knew that I was a Garifuna person living in the country of British Honduras, now known as Belize. At that time our people were known as “Black Caribs” in most history books, even though we called ourselves Garifuna.

My parents told me about our history and where we came from but they did not go into too much detail. Later on in school I began to study history and loved the subject so I did more reading on the history of my people. I was proud of the fact that we fought against the French and the British to resist slavery and the taking over of our land. If our people did not fight against these two countries to avoid enslavement, our Garifuna culture would be extinct today.

Despite our resistance, we were subsequently defeated after years of fighting and were forced to surrender to the British in 1795. Our people were then assembled and removed from St Vincent to Baliceaux to be left to perish and die. The British later forcefully removed them again to the island of Roatan, where they landed on April 12, 1797.

In Roatan, Honduras, almost all the Garifuna people’s names were changed from French names to Spanish names. This was done deliberately by the British and the Spanish to make it difficult for them to trace their origins in their motherland St Vincent. Little did the French and British realize that you cannot sever a Garifuna person’s ties from their family because their religion is based on ancestral rites and they are always protected by their ancestral spirits. Some Garifuna people who have become Christians have tried to stay away from their ethnic religion but had to return when their ancestors call upon them to grant them offerings.

When the Garifuna people were forcefully removed from St Vincent to Roatan, they still identified themselves as “Garifuna”. Subsequent migrations to Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize did not change their names either. The name Garifuna is here to stay, which they brought from their motherland St Vincent despite the efforts of the British to insist on calling them “Black Caribs”.

Other people have called the Garifuna other names such as “Kerobee”, Sal Head Kerobee, etc. but the Garifuna people refuse to pay them any mind. Why? Because the Garifuna people know who they are, where they came from, what they have fought for and why it is important to fight to retain their culture. We are in sympathy with all the people of the world who have lost their cultures and will provide them with support to regain it.

The Garifuna people know that their nation is “Yurumein” now known as St Vincent and the Grenadines, the land that was taken away from their ancestors by the British. Our intention has never been and will never be to remove the citizens of St Vincent from our motherland. Yet, we all must admit that the British committed an act of genocide against our people that have unhealed wounds in us to this current day. Our people will never stop to organize themselves to correct this wrong and seek justice for ourselves.

Also, our ethnic identity means more to us than our national identities because we are still being looked upon in our countries as different people despite our birth citizenship.

I compare the country of a person’s birth to that of a mother and a child. Our ancestors’ homeland was “Yurumein”. If the French and the British did not wage war and remove us from there, we would have never ended up in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, the United States and the other countries where we live today. We are citizens of these countries and are qualified for citizens of other countries through descent and without any doubt “Yurumein” now known as St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Since most of our countries treat us like second class citizens, Yurumein should treat us like first class citizens because we were first. The Garifuna is a cultural and nationalistic identification for our people and when a person hears it they think about “Yurumein” immediately. I appeal to all of my Garifuna brothers to be conscious of the ramifications of their cultural vs. their national identification.

Let us not forget the pain and sufferings our ancestors endured when they crossed the high seas on their forced journey to a strange land. The use of national identities is a divisive tactic used by the same people who committed atrocities against us and want us to remain divided forever.
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