By Wellington C. Ramos
In going through the history of our people, the first European nation to attempt to colonize our nation was the Spanish with their explorer Columbus. We defended our nation and defeated him with his troops in order to avoid colonization. They were followed by the French in the island of Martinique, who waged an unjustifiable war against them and were successful. During their colonization, they moved many of our people to the neighbouring islands of Dominica, Yurumein now known as St Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Nevis, Grenada and other neighbouring islands.
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
The French treatment of the Garifuna people led to a mass revolt and erupted into a full scale war, which resulted in their defeat and subsequent removal from the island of St Vincent. They signed a treaty with our Garifuna people acknowledging our rights to our land and agreed to leave us to live in peace. However, the French did not abide by the terms of their treaty and continued to wage war against our people. They declared our territories to be theirs and acted as if they were granted title by God. Eventually, the British stepped in and came with brute force to take St Vincent by any means necessary.
The British and the French were competing for territories in the Caribbean and the Americas and were always at war with each other. It was acceptable for European nations to give each other territories that did not belong to them in the treaties they signed among themselves.
If anyone was to look at past treaties, they will see all the unlawful transfers of people and nations that took place among European nations up until about 1945. It was not until the United Nations came into being that international laws were drafted, courts established to deal with issues of sovereignty, citizenships, territorial integrity, boundaries, rights of sovereign nations and people that their attitudes began to change.
Our Garifuna people had a nation state, which was “Yurumein”, now known as St Vincent and the Grenadines that existed centuries before the Europeans found out that there were other people, nations and continents on this planet earth. They were not interested because they thought that the world was flat and not round.
When the Spanish, French, British and the Dutch came to this part of the world, they had one thing in mind and that was to use force to eradicate our people, along with the other indigenous people and take away their territories from them for themselves. They claimed that they were godly people but they were involved in satanic acts. Even the churches with their leaders endorsed all the sins they committed. Plus, granted them forgiveness for all the genocides they committed against innocent human beings.
Our people believed that it was better to fight and die for our territory than to give in to European subjugation and colonial rule. This war ended with the British defeating us and forcefully removing our people on March 11, 1796, to Baliceaux. Shortly thereafter they were placed on ships and sent to Roatan, where they landed on April 12, 1797. It is estimated that only about 3,000 of our people survived that painful journey.
Due to the horrible conditions on this island, our people asked that they be given land on the mainland of Honduras, which was granted. Many of their names were changed from their original and French names to Spanish names, which they carry up to this day.
Our people left Roatan and came to Belize in 1801. The British had intentions of taking more land in Central America so they colonized parts of present day Nicaragua called Bluefields. Some of my Garifuna people left Roatan and other parts of Honduras to go and live there. Wars in Honduras also forced many of our Garifuna people to flee Honduras and seek refuge in the neighbouring countries of Guatemala, Nicaragua and Belize. As time went by, our Garifuna people later migrated to the United States of America where many of us live today.
Even though our Garifuna people live in all these countries, they are still part of their nation state “Yurumein” now known as St Vincent and the Grenadines, their original homeland. To confirm our bond, I had a discussion with one of our “Buyeis”, meaning spiritual leaders, who was initiated by one of our ancestral spirits who came from St Vincent on one of those ships who was only 31-years-old at the time.
When the British took over “Yurumein”, they dismantled a legitimate nation state for no justifiable reason. The Spanish, French and the British all engaged in an unprovoked attack against our people and nation. After the British stole the nation state from us, they passed decrees forbidding us to practice our culture, religion, speak our language and removed us from our territory. They then embarked on building a colony of Britain and brought in slaves for free labour to exploit all of our nation’s natural resources to benefit their nation and themselves.
At this same time, our people were displaced, living in the countries of Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize and elsewhere as “squatters” on other people’s land. Citizenship and title to land was in limbo at the time and even up to today is still questionable because of the way our people are perceived by the citizens and governments of these countries.
The name St Vincent was a name given to our nation state “Yurumein” by Christopher Columbus, who was defeated by us. Why? Because he landed there on the feast day of Saint Vincent. How can a man from nowhere, who was defeated by a nation, change the name of that nation state? He was also the person to describe us as “Carib” when we knew ourselves as Kalinagu and Galinagu people.
The British gave independence to the people of St Vincent but in law if you steal something it still belongs to the rightful owner. So the British had no right to give any nation state to any other people but the Garifuna people. Also, under the St Vincent constitution there is a provision for “citizenship through descent”. All the Garifuna people are entitled to that citizenship because their descendants are from “Yurumein” now called St Vincent and the Grenadines.
These are the reasons why only the Garifuna nation, which lives in absentia from their native homeland “Yurumein”, are the people who have the right to file a case against the French and the British for the genocide committed against their people. The countries of Dominica, St Vincent and Belize are members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) but Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua are not part of this regional body and have a significant amount of our people who are not being represented by this body. In the countries where the Garifuna people live who make up part of Caricom, their living conditions need improvements so their record is poor.