Who Are the Garifuna People?

The flag of the Garifuna people.
The flag of the Garifuna people.

Origin Of The Garifuna People

In 1935, two ships ferrying slaves stolen from West Africa wrecked near the present day St. Vincent in the West Indies. The slaves escaped and sought refuge among the Amerindians, the Caribbean people of the Island. The Slaves adapted to the local culture in a bid to avoid slavery - they were also protected by the Carib community who also resisted the European encroachment on the Islands. The West Africans and the Caribs began intermarrying, resulting in the Garifuna people. In 1795, the French drove the Garifuna People out of St. Vincent to the nearby Bequia Island. Together with other people in the neighboring islands, the Garifuna fled to Honduras. By 1802, they migrated to Belize. Led by Thomas Vincent Ramos, they spread across several locations between the Atlantic Coast of Belize and Nicaragua.

Languages Spoken By The Garifuna People

The Garifuna people speak the Garifuna language which developed due to the interaction of West African, Arawak and Carib ancestries. The language is an Arawakan language that has a Spanish, French, and English influence due to the long history of interaction with the colonialists. Men or women can use only particular vocabularies, a practice that is derived from an ancient Carib practice during the colonial era. Although it spoke to a large number of people, the Garifuna language is not regarded as a real language and has no written component. The lack of the written component makes the language hard to learn unless it is early childhood. Most children learn Garifuna as a cultural language and either Spanish, English or both as the official language.

Distribution Of The Garifuna People

The Honduras Garifuna relocated from Roatan to mainland Honduras with the aid of the Spanish. Today, approximately 100,000 Garifuna live in towns and modern villages along the coast of Masca, Plaplaya, and Gracias a Dios. In Guatemala, the Garifunas inhabit Livingston, a small remote town of the Caribbean coast. The town served as the country’s main port before the construction of Puerto Barrios. Livingston is only reachable by boat and is a major tourist attraction. A population of about 8,000 reside on Corn Island, Nicaragua. They first made their way to the country in 1912. A large number also reside in the US in search of better opportunities. Around 100,000 inhabit the city of New York, while other cities including New Orleans, Miami, and Los Angeles.

Culture Of The Garifuna People

The Garifuna culture is a blend of the Caribbean marine culture and the ancient African farming culture. The language, dance, and music of the Garifuna have been declared “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. The Garifuna’s music style combines the use of instruments, particularly drums made of hollowed-out hardwoods. The Garifuna drinks and food consist of native Central American crops, bananas, cassava, and coconut milk soup. The local food is made from crops, and the Garifuna rarely consume modern, refrigerated or preserved food.

Threats To The Garifuna People

Disease and war ravaged the Caribs to near extinction. Today, the Garifunas are regarded as the last remaining descendants of the Caribs. They are referred to as the Black Caribs and the only people who reflect the culture of the original Amerindians who inhabited the Caribbean islands. Modernization of their ancient homes in Belize and Honduras, and the pressure to communicate in Spanish or English, is leading to the death of their language.


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