by Oscar Ramjeet
BELMOPAN, Belize – Friday, September 19, is a public holiday in Belize to mark the 213th anniversary of the arrival of the first Garinagu. In fact, the Garifuna Settlement Day is celebrated for a whole week, including parades, live music, drumming, dancing, prayers, and even to elect Miss Garifuna.
Since 1943, November 19 has been a public holiday in the Stan Creek and Toledo districts, called Garifuna Settlement Day, and, from 1977, November 19 has been a country-wide public holiday.
About 8 percent of the country’s 330,000 population are Garifuna, and some of them are attorneys, medical doctors, university professors, and senior public servants It was on November 19, 1797, that the first set of Garifuna arrived from St Vincent after they were forcibly removed by the British.
Though this relocation of their entire culture by the British was meant to circumscribe the Garifuna, they have survived — like their ancestors did when they were enslaved and brought from Africa during the trans-Atlantic slave trade of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
Today, the Garifuna population can be found in Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and many have migrated to the United States. The Garifuna, also known as Garinago, are direct descendants of the "Island Caribs" and a group of African slaves who escaped two ship-wrecked Spanish slave ships near St Vincent in 1635 (Garinagu Early History, 1).
The Island Caribs were descendants of South American Indians known as Arawaka and another group, the Caribs, who migrated from South America to the Caribbean at a later date.
Through the admixture of these cultures, as well as the influence of European settlers in the Americas, the Garifuna obtained a diverse culture that incorporates African traditions of music, dance, religious rites and ceremonies; Native American cultivation, hunting and fishing techniques, and a French- and Arawak-influenced language.
Celebrations are being held at Punta Gorda, Dangriga, Belize City and a few rural towns and villages in the country.
There are scores of Caribs in St Vincent and Grenadines who have similar ancestors as that of the Garifuna in Belize but most of them are mixed because of inter-marriage.
Guyana has a relatively large number of Amerindians: Caribe, Arawak and Warao tribes and they live mainly in the hinterland of Guyana. The government is trying to encourage them to move into the villages, towns or cities. In fact, a Bill is now being debated in Parliament, which would be beneficial to the Amerindians, who are sometimes called in Guyana "children of the forest".
In Dominica, there is a settlement for the indigenous people known as Caribs, but reports from Roseau on Wednesday stated that the Caribs do not want to be called Caribs, but Kalinago instead.
The Carib Council wants the change because the term "Carib" has its roots in colonial times, first utilized to refer to the indigenous people of Dominica as cannibals and is laden with derogatory connotations.
They have asked the Ministry of Legal Affairs and the Ministry of Carib Affairs to officially effect the change.