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Commentary: Our Garifuna people exiled from their native homeland in search for the truth
Published on March 14, 2017Email To Friend    Print Version

By Wellington C. Ramos

How many Garinagu arrived in Honduras? Let us analyze first the number of Garinagu who were displaced from the big island, as they were placed into the small barren island of Balliceaux, later to Bequia until they finally arrived to Roatán, Bay Islands. How many Garinagu were captured in St Vincent and the Grenadines? A lot has been written about the number of Garinagu who were captured in Yurumein as a prelude to their deportation to Honduran shores; let me present you some facts:

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
War Office reports 22 June 1796 that there were 5,000 Caribs (Garinagu) captured which included men, women, and children. General Hunter reported that 4,633 Caribs (Garinagu) had surrendered or had been captured between 4 July and 18 October 1796. Shephard established that by 26 October 1796, a total of 5,080 Caribs (Garinagu) had surrendered and that only 4,044 were shipped to Balliceaux an island off the coast of St Vincent.

Nancie González stated that by 2 February 1797, 4,195 Black Caribs now known as Garifuna people (Dark skin tone Garinagu) had been captured, 41 were slaves who belonged to them, and 102 were known as "Yellow Caribs" (Fair skin tone Garinagu), yielding a total of 4,338 prisoners, who were exiled to Balliceaux; version confirmed by Cornelius Baptiste Sam that "a Vincentian Garifuna confided to me that, after many years from the expatriation to Honduras, several skeletons were found in the barren island of Balliceaux in a fetal position laid inside small baskets – gaunwere" (this conversation took place in Los Angeles, California during the celebration of the First Garifuna Symposium in 1992).

It seems as if Nancie González’s account in the number of Garinagu are definite and accurate, when she attests to the number of people reported by the War Office being ten percent higher than the actual number; in addition, it has been the same numbers used by several historians. This fact could have been the result of poor arithmetic skills or the need to exaggerate the numbers to suit their own interest. I had access to the official list of delivery, of which, when adding them day by day, it yielded the number of men, women, and children who had surrendered; therefore, the total number tabulated officially is ten percent fewer than the totals reported.

Immediately after they were sent to Balliceaux [pronounced Bahlizó], and while they were in prison in this small island with no fresh water and food, crowded, and in unsanitary conditions, many were victims of mistreatment, torture, and assassination. On 5th February 1797, the order came to remove the survivors from Balliceaux and exile them to the Roatan Bay Islands under the leadership of Captain John Barret.

Barret transported Garinagu to Honduras: take on your convoy the necessary transportation and move forward towards St Vincent utilizing with extreme caution the shipping of Caribs (Garinagu). As soon as the vessels are prepared and ready to sail, you can proceed with your cargo Honduras Bay bound. You can take them to Roatan or any other island located within the Honduran Bay coast that you see fit and appropriate for the settlement making sure that all provisions and tools are provided for the relocated Caribs.

On 20th February that same year, John Barret sailed from Martinica bound for St Vincent, and five days later he arrived to Balliceaux where from the prisoners were taken to the Port of Bequia [pronounced Behcua], and where the vessels were anchored ready for the repatriation. Vengeance was to be expected and it was justified due to, among other things, the high cost of the displacement of the Black Caribs and the excessive number of prisoners which exceeded the capacity of the vessels.

Prisoners were embarked into a convoy of 11 vessels made up of: HMS Experiment (war ship with 20 cannons), Ganges (ship with 16 cannons), Boyton (military supplies ship), Fortitude (transport ship), Britannia (transport ship), Sovereign (transport ship), John and Mary (transport ship), Sea Nymph (food supply ship), Hospital Ship (no name), Prince William Henry (transport ship), and a Pilot Ship (from the Jamaican Navy). (González, Nancie L.)

Garinagu on board, provisions loaded for their survival, the squadron sailed towards the Bay of Honduras. They left Bequia on a Saturday 11 March 1797. How many Garinagu were sent from Bequia to Roatan? On 18th January 1797, it was reported that there were approximately 2,500 Caribs including men, women, and children; however, the British admiral on board reported on the same date that only 2,300 Caribs had been embarked. González, attributes 11th March 1797 with a different number, 2,248 prisoners on board a float made up of several vessels. Two months before -- 18th January 1797 – an official registry accounted for 2,500 Caribs. This appears to be the final, official count.

During the journey, the convoy made a stop in Jamaica that lasted about two weeks (21 March – 3 April) in order to repair the John and Mary ship which had water seeping problems. After the vessel was repaired, the convoy continued its course towards the Honduran coast.

As the convoy was positioned at a close distance from the Island of Guanaja, Bay Islands, the Prince William Henry transport vessels with 289 Garinagu and 29 guards on board, changed course and it sailed away from the escort ship HMS Experiment and was captured by a Spanish ship and was taken to the mainland Honduras in the fort town of Trujillo along with its crew. It was a coincidence that Capitán Saenz from the Spanish vessel, met up with the Prince William Henry vessel since its mission was to supply the Real Hacienda de Trujillo from Havana, Cuba.

During the journey, there were 806 women on board. The mortality rate during the five weeks of the journey was at 10.7 percent for the entire contingent, and I estimate [wrote González] that out of the 806 women, only 720 survived along with 643 children among whom disembarked in Port Royal, Roatan on 12 April 1797 (González 1983:148).

Meanwhile, the English convoy was approaching Roatan Islands where they landed at Port Royal, southeast side of the island, on a Wednesday afternoon 12 April 1797. Port Royal was the designated end of the journey. It was a well-known English port facing the Western Caribbean Sea. The Bay Islands area had been the focus of frequent territorial disputes between the English and the Spaniards since 1638.

As a matter of fact, seven port maps a greater scale had been drawn by British officials between 1742 and 1785. The strategic importance of this port was due to the fact that it was well protected away from the strong Western Caribbean winds. Its deep ocean waters close to the coast, had cayes which were ideal for heeling of boats and sufficient enough to anchor a float of considerable size.

Located at only 65 kilometers (40 miles) from the coast, the port was fit for anchoring to attack or protect the main ports located along the Central American coast such as Omoa and Trujillo. Port Royal happened to be the biggest port in the Bay Islands where 20 to 30 vessels could anchor at the same time. Its entrance is narrow and its coastal land is abundant with the Santa Maria trees which were used as masts for ships. During the night, the British crew started disembarking all the Garinagu.

For the very first time, 2,026 Vincentians made up of men, women, and children had touched firm Honduran land. A new cultural group had begun its life’s journey in Honduras. Nancie Gonzalez reported 2,026 as the number of Garinagu who disembarked in Port Royal, Roatan on 12 April 1797. In the first days of April, the British had occupied Roatan and left 2,000 blacks to guard the island.

On 18 May 1797, Jose Rossi and Rubí estimated that around 2,000 Caribs (Garínagu) were left on the island by the British. A British report dated 3 July 1797 registered approximately 2,000 Caribs (Garinagu) which included men, women, and children.

The year 1797, registered 2,000 blacks having been exiled by the British in Roatan and during the same year, many were taken to the mainland Honduras in the port of Trujillo which is located in the vicinity. Others expressed that at the time of the arrival of Garinagu, there were plenty of provisions left with them to last at least six months consisting of: food, seeds, tools, fishing equipment, rum, tobacco, including rifles, munitions, and military uniforms.

The foregoing was prepared by Garifuna Professor Salvador Suazo based on historical documents obtained from the British, Honduran and other archives, translated by Ronnie Figueroa Garifuna activist and obtained from Maurice Avila’s daily news email distribution.

We might be able to gather additional information about what our people endured from the British after they were captured in 1796. This information is vital for our people to search for the truth, to find out what really took place before and while their people were being exiled from their native homeland St Vincent and the Grenadines to Roatan, Honduras.
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