Garifuna of Roatan
To travel to Honduras is to walk into the richness of Africa.
There is a saying by the Kikuyu people of Kenya: " Indo ni kurimithanio" -- which means, "riches are found in cultivating together." In the ennobling land of Roatan, Honduras, this African expression of harmony, solidarity and traditional growth survives among the unique perennial landscape, and radiates from the cultural lifestyle of the people.
The significance of African culture in Honduras dates back to the 16th century. The fusion of African migrants, the indigenous Indians and the nearby Caribbean influence, birthed the Afro-Honduran people -- also known as "Garifuna" or "Black Caribs." The aesthetic remnants of their African heritage is identified in the locking of the hair, the "meztico" or "mixed" languages, the donning of cowry shells, the masked 'Mascaro' dances, the colorful and flowing whimsical garbs and ancestral drumming, the creation of natural musical instruments, the vivacious art, the respect for the land and the solidarity among one other.
There's no doubt that the drumbeat of the land are blissfully mimicked by the hearts of the Afro-Honduran people...see photo-blog of the Roatan Garifuna here.
Teofilo Colon Jr.'s family emigrated from Honduras — but the flag the Brooklyn blogger flies isn't blue and white. It's the yellow, black and white banner of the Garifuna people.
"My family insisted, telling all of the children: 'You are Garifuna'" said Colon, 37. "I rarely heard 'Hondureño' growing up. It was always 'Garifuna.'"
Colon's ethnic group is descended from native Carib and Arawak peoples and West Africans said to have escaped slavery in a 1600s shipwreck off St. Vincent. The British later forced the Garifuna from the island and they settled along the coasts of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
Local leaders believe there are more than 100,000 Garinagu (plural for Garifuna) in New York — largely in the South Bronx but also in Brooklyn's East New York and Brownsville. Many of the 87 victims in the horrific 1990 Happy Land social club fire in East Tremont were Honduran immigrants of Garifuna descent.
Every November, local Garinagu celebrate Garifuna Settlement Day — which marks their arrival in Belize — with a Yellow White and Black gala in the Bronx.
Colon — a community fixture in his signature bright yellow glasses — started a blog last year called "Being Garifuna" where he documents local cultural events, starts debates and champions successful Garinagu...continue Garifuna article here.
Afro-Descendants Deserve to Be Counted
Last month, La Ceiba, Honduras, hosted the first ever World Summit of Afro-Descendants—a gathering of over 1,000 people from 44 countries in the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia. The Organización de Desarrollo Étnico Comunitario and the International Civil Society Committee organized the event to commemorate the United Nations and Organization of American States’ International Year for People of African Descent.
Throughout the city, summit posters and signs were everywhere. It seemed as if the gathering was finally affording Afro-Hondurans overdue recognition. Opening ceremony speakers included Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom, government representatives, and the mayor of La Ceiba, among others. They spoke out against discrimination and stressed the need to work collaboratively to promote greater inclusion.
But a counter assembly outside of the summit grounds led by the Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña painted a different picture. Organizers argued that despite the rhetoric of inclusion, many members in the Afro-Honduran community felt excluded from the summit and that participation had been limited to international delegations and select Hondurans.
The summit raised a fundamental question: how can we bring together participants from the region to discuss issues of representation for Afro-Descendants, while at the same time fail to address the issues faced by local Garifuna communities, such as the impact of Model Cities? Were the organizers perpetuating the very problem they were seeking to tackle? Continue America's Quarterly News Article here.
Celebrating Garifuna History
Trujillo, Honduras: The celebration coincided with their African Heritage Month, marking the arrival of the Garifunas to the coast of Honduras in April 1797.
The Garifuna people form a distinct ethnic, linguistic and cultural group – they are the descendants of African slaves and Carib and Arawak Indigenous people who were living together on the islands of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the 17th century. Expelled from Saint Vincent to the Honduran island of Roatan in the 1790s, the Garifunas now live along the Atlantic Coast of Central America.
In 2001, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) proclaimed the Garifuna language, music and dance a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Despite this official recognition, the vast majority of Garifuna people continue to live in abject poverty with very high unemployment levels and inadequate education, housing and health care. Today, the survival of the Garifuna culture is threatened by their lack of economic prospects, urbanization, discriminatory land measures, and the failure of the national education system to acknowledge Garifuna language and culture...[continue Garifuna article here].
February 24, 2011
In Honduras, hundreds of Indigenous people and Garifuna - who are descendants of Carib, Arawak and West Africans - have been meeting in a constitutional assembly. Today, they're putting the finishing touches on proposals for a new Honduran Constitution which calls for recognition of Indigenous and Garifuna peoples. The assembly has emphasized issues fundamental to indigenous and Garifuna autonomy, education and health care for marginalized communities.
Garífuna Promote Cassava Consumption
February 15, 2011
Canadian “Porn King” Randy Jorgensen’s tourism “development” projects are stirring up conflict and destroying afro-descendant Garifuna communities in Trujillo on the north coast of Honduras
Jorgensen, president of the Canadian pornographic video store chain Adults Only Video, through his real estate development company Life Vision Properties (based in Trujillo, Honduras), plans to convert a beautiful coastal area of Trujillo into a large scale tourism project that includes a series of vacation home developments and a cruise ship dock, displacing and destroying indigenous Garifuna communities...continue article here.
December 17, 2010
More than fifteen Garifuna communities are producing cassava and producers say they are looking for more sustainable new markets for export.
Lina Martínez, director of microenterprise Wabagari Distribution, said the majority of producers are in the village of Río Esteban, where there are more than 150 manufacturers, and in Iriona, whose product is shipped to different parts of the United States. Martinez said that to expand to new markets they intend to create an entire advertising campaign.
"To promote and market we have been testing other countries such as Mexico, Japan and Italy. We are also are looking at countries closer to Honduras, namely in Central America, to present the food of the Garifuna culture."
The Garifuna leader also explained that "We are linking the cassava to healthy food because it contains Vitamin C and also has fiber. We are starting our campaign with the presentation of cassava as a natural food for those who want to eat healthy."
Cassava distributors took advantage of the December 10th "Terra Madre Day" (Mother Earth Day) to present their product. The day inclues a global celebration of local food. The day was aimed to defend, cherish and promote food from small farmers and producers.
Written By Marlen Avila
HIV Epidemic in Honduran Garífuna
December 2, 2010
The relatively well-studied case of the Garífuna in Honduras represents another important exception to the trend of an epidemic ignored. Numerous researchers have undertaken projects with Garífuna ICs, calling attention to the specific dangers they face. However, one should not interpret the attention garnered by this particular IC as evidence that HIV/AIDS is being adequately addressed in indigenous populations. Rather, this case stands as a testament to the need for further development of IC-targeted HIV/AIDS policies. For instance, an article in the Honduran news-source El Heraldo agreed that the Garífuna HIV/AIDS situation is well known, but only because the Garífuna is one of the very few ICs “subjected (sometidos) to evaluations and studies related to the virus.” The author went on to point out that “there exists no material about HIV in indigenous languages” and that, specifically in Guatemala, only 55 percent of infected indigenous peoples had access to retrovirals.8
A 1998 survey of 310 Garífuna by the Honduran Ministry of Health found 16 percent of those aged 16-20 to be HIV positive, compared to only 5 percent of the same age group among the general population.9 A more recent study10 showed a slightly lower HIV rate in this IC, 4.5 percent, but it does not contradict previous data since the median age of participants was 30. 12 percent of the male participants reported having received money for sex in the past year. This finding is interesting, in that it is rare for such a high percentage of men to be involved in sex work.
Miriam Sabin reported in 2008 on a project her team had organized to analyze Garífuna risk behaviors.11 They found that many Garífuna associated condoms with HIV, but in a way that stigmatized their use rather than encouraging it, even though condoms were readily available. For example, the study found that most condom purchasers are “foreigners or men from Honduran cities going to Garífuna communities to have sexual relations with local Garífuna women,” negatively characterizing those who use condoms and making their use less likely among the general IC. In addition, it revealed an alarming number of formidable misconceptions held by the community when it came to HIV/AIDS, such as: “persons who look healthy do not have HIV/AIDS” and “youth are too young to have HIV/AIDS (and thus are sought out as sexual partners).” Finally, the report recommended that future HIV/AIDS policies for Garífuna focus on educating traditional healers, as it explained that they “may be sharing incorrect HIV prevention messages” such as selling ‘cures’ for HIV/AIDS...
Excerpt from Scoop - HIV/AIDS in Indigenous Communities.
Corozal Hometown Association Honored
New York The Board of Directors of the Garifuna Coalition USA, Inc. a, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization is pleased to announce that the Corozal Hometown Association. (ASUNCOR) by its Spanish acronym) will be presented a Garifuna Coalition Award during its Annual Yellow, White, Black Gunchei 2010 Fundraising Gala, scheduled for Saturday November 20th, 2010 at The Eastwood Manor located at 3371 Eastchester Rd Bronx, NY 10469.
ASUNCOR was founded in 1969 by Mr. Natividad Mena when he saw the need to organize his people to have better representation before the Honduran authorities. Subsequently, it consolidated by forming chapters in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, and New York.
One of the most significant actors of transnational relations among the Central American countries is the Hometown Association (HTA). These organizations are voluntary partnerships with a broad base of members. Generally, they are intended to provide a space to bring together a migrant community, usually bringing together people from the same place of origin to celebrate various events that are also simultaneously held in their hometown; while at the same time promote initiatives to support specific projects at the hometown.
The new York chapter of ASUNCOR, is a Hometown Association of natives from the Garifuna community of Corozal in Honduras, as such, they identify the needs in their community and help in the finding of solutions. ASUNCOR raises funds from various activities carried out during the year. Among these activities is the celebration of the Patron Saint of Corozal Esquipulas in January. They also have raised funds for the construction of the Mariano Garca Institute, the Natividad Mena Public Library, the Dominga Amador Padilla Kinder Garden, the health centre and the Catholic Church . "We are very proud of our Organization and the examples that we have forged not only other Garifuna communities but also future generations with our hard work". Said Milton Guity, President of ASUNCOR in New York.
According to the report The U.S. Honduras Remittance Corridor, published by the World Bank world, "the Garifunas maintain the largest and most effective Diaspora network of all Honduran immigrants in the United States." "They also have a proven history of supporting hometown development through collective remittances" .
The Board of Directors of the Garifuna Coalition USA, Inc. is proud to recognize the Corozal Hometown Association. (ASUNCOR) for supporting development of the Garifuna Community of Corozal for over four decades and invites the community to join us in recognizing them.
For more information about the Gala, visit www.garifunacoaliti on.org ( http://e2ma. net/go/1790773/ 208328762/ 215633433/ 1404321/goto: http://www. garifunacoalitio n.org/ ) or Call the Garifuna Coalition at (718) 402-7700
Garifuna Pride - Our Voice - Our Vision
President of ASUNCOR in New York
GARIFUNA AMERICAN HERITAGE AWARDS
Anita Lambey Martinez is a recipient of the Garifuna American Heritage Award. The ceremony will be held September 25, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. Ms. Martinez has been a community activist for nearly thirty years. She started her service to the community after she immigrated to the United
States in 1978. In 1981, she joined the Preservation of the Garifuna Culture
Society (PGCS). She served as President of the group and organized Garifuna
participation in the Opening Ceremonies of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
During this time, she also directed the Walagante Garifuna Youth Group and was
co-editor of "Luganute Garifuna" newsletter.
Mrs. Martinez has always had a passion for motivating youth. This motivation
extends beyond the Garifuna community, as she has served on the El Camino Youth
Motivation task force and is a mentor to first-year college students at El
Camino College. As Co-Director of the Wagiameme Performing Troupe, she has had
the opportunity to educate numerous Garifuna and non-Garifuna youth about
Garifuna language and culture. Mrs. Martinez also established a monthly
Garifuna forum, to discuss and learn about current issues affecting the
community and to teach basic Garifuna language and history.
Mrs. Martinez has made presentations on various aspects of Garifuna culture at
universities, cultural events and on the radio. Mrs. Martinez served as a
Community Liaison to the Garifuna population for the UCLA Community & Education
Project and continues to serve her community on various projects.
Mrs. Martinez got her B.A. in Cultural Anthropology with a minor in Sociology
from California State University, Dominguez Hills. She is currently preparing
to pursue graduate studies.
Garifuna Woman Being Honored
The Garifuna Coalition USA, Inc. a nonprofit, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization in New York, NY, announces that Board member, Aquina Valentin, will be the recipient of a Barauda Award from Hondurans Against AIDS, Inc. on Saturday September 11, 2010.
Ms. Valentin holds a Masters in Social Work and is secretary of the Organizacin de Damas Limoneas en Nueva York and volunteers at the Garifuna Advocacy Center. She is employed by The New York Foundling which has been saving children, preserving families and building communities since 1869. The Foundlings diverse network of programs works interactively to provide care for families with multiple social, economic, medical, and psychological needs. As a volunteer at the Garifuna Coalition USA, Inc.
Ms. Valentin has supervised the Garifuna Coalitions Summer Employment for Youth Community Organizing program and the Garifuna Voter Education and Registration Project. We are very proud of the selection of MS Valentin as the recipient of a Barauda Award, her commitment, community involvement, work experience and dedication to the Garifuna cause are deserving of the recognition said Jose Francisco Avila, president of the Garifuna Coalition USA, Inc.
Named after the wife of the Paramount Garifuna Chief Joseph Chatoyer and Presented by Hondurans Against AIDS, Inc. and the Central American Black Organization, the Barauda Awards Ceremony pays tribute to women leaders who have made extraordinary contributions in their professions or their communities. The award winners are leaders in their fields, innovators of unique programs and services, and prime examples of lifelong commitments to promoting equity for women and girls everywhere. The Barauda Awards Ceremony not only honors excellence, but also ingenuity and the ability to overcome barriers that still exist for women. Women selected for this honor represent a number of different fields and the diversity of personal characteristics and life experiences of women.
The Barauda Awards will be presented on September 11th 2010, 7:00 PM at the SEIU 1199 Conference Center, 310 West 43 Street, New York, NY. For Information call (718) 991-2233
NY Garifuna Meet with Government Representatiaves
July 17, 2010
Commissioners from all the various city departments, and President of the United Garifuna Association, Mr. Alfonso Cayetano, as well as the oldest Garifuna association in New York City, welcomed a distinguished guest from Honduras.
Mrs. Rosita Alvarez, the counsel for the Honduran government in New York City, addressed the auditorium, packed to capacity - some people had to stand at the back of the auditorium.
The welcome address was given by Mrs. Mirtha Colon, She started off by thanking Mayor Bloomberg for taking the time out to come with his commissioners to hear out the concerns of her people. She also encouraged her people to take the opportunity to address all the issues that are of major concern to them in the Garifuna community. After her welcome address, she introduced the president of the Garifuna Coalition in the U.S.A.
Mr. Jose Avila, the designated master of ceremonies for the event,introduced the mayor . Mayor Bloomberg stepped to the podium after he was introduced, and was welcomed with great applause by the audience.
The mayor thanked the associations for inviting him to the event and he said thank you in the Spanish and Garifuna languages. He joked about his problem learning Spanish and stated that Garifuna would be much more difficult for him to learn. Most Garifuna people speak two to three languages in addition to their native tongue because of their interactions with people from various cultures in the countries where theyoriginally came from in Saint Vincent andCentral America.
Mayor Bloomberg went on by thanking the Garifuna community for playing a vital an integral part in the daily growth of New York City which is known for its richness in cultural diversity. He also spoke about the hard economic times facing the city. However, he reminded the audience that New York City residents are tough and fighting people and if they could have rebounded from the attack of 911, they will be able to recover from this economic crisis we are currently experiencing.
He outlined some of the programs that his administration has embarked on to: create jobs, reduce crime, lower taxes and other areas to make life easier for New York City residents. After his speech the floor was opened for questions and the audience took full advantage of the questioning.
The questions had to do with issues concerningeducation, housing, immigration, crime, rent, HIV AIDS, employment, a cultural center for the Garifuna people through the mayor's office, the declaration of 19th of November as Garifuna Settlement Day, business assistance, telemarketing and collection harassment from businesses and promises made to the Garifuna community by the Dinkins Administration.
The mayor answered most of the questions and for those he had little or know knowledge about, hedirected the questions to the commissioners that dealt with the respective areas. The mayor pledged that he will do something as soon as he returns to his office to make sure that his administrationput in motion all the issues that are of concern to the Garifuna community here in New York City.
The last Town Hall meeting that was held with the Garifuna community was in 1991 when Mayor Dinkins the first Black mayor was in office 19 years ago, shortly after the Happyland fire that took many Garinagu people’s lives.
The Garifuna community was thankful to Mayor Bloomberg for coming to the meeting and gave him a Garifuna drum as a gift. The mayor happily played the Garifuna drum and waved the audience goodbye.
It is now left to these two associations who sponsored this event, to seekout all the other Garifuna associations in New York City and work with them hand in hand as brothers and sisters to accomplish all their goals and ensure that the mayor's promises are fulfilled.
March 31, 2010
New York – The Board of Directors of the Garifuna Coalition USA, Inc. a, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization is pleased to invite the Garifuna Community and friends to The Garifuna Day Street Festival to be held at 344 Brook Ave (between 141 & 142 St), Bronx, NY 10454, from 10:00 AM to 6:30 PM.
Its objective is to commemorate the 213th anniversary of the exile of the Garifuna people from St Vincent on March 11th, 1797 and their settlement in Central America on April 12th, 1797 during Garifuna Day in New York City and it’s an integral part of the Garifuna Heritage Month in New York. The goal is to educate and create awareness and appreciation of the Garifuna culture and its contribution to the culture and society of New York.
The Garifuna Coalition Inc., in partnership with the Evangelical Garifuna Council of Churches Inc, presents Garifuna Day to promote cross-cultural understanding and celebrate our history, culture and religion, and their importance in shaping and enriching New York City.
On May 18th, 2001 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared The Garifuna Culture a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangibles Heritage of Humanity."
The celebration will feature Garifuna music, entertainment, food, special guests including Assemblyman Michael Benjamin from Assembly District 79, sponsor of Legislative Resolution K1120, memorializing Governor David A. Paterson to declare March 11 - April 12, 2010, as Garifuna-American Heritage Month in the State of New York. Assemblyman Benjamin will present the resolution during the Garifuna Day activities.
Garifuna Pride - Our Voice - Our Vision
Preservation of the Garifuna Culture Cause
Garifuna Ethnic Group Seeks Voice In New York City
November 15, 2009
For centuries, home has been a transient notion for the ethnic community known as the Garifuna. Pushed around the Caribbean region by various colonial powers, many sought safe haven in New York beginning in the 1940s. They've kept coming in small waves, but have maintained a low profile until now. On the cusp of the 2010 census, community leaders are asking Garifuna residents to stand up and be counted.
Ruben Gwaite sounds like a typical East Coaster.
"For a living I dispatch limos," he said. "But 'm also a musician. I was born and raised in Boston. I've been in the Bronx 16 or 17 years by now." You'd never know it from the accent, but English is actually Gwaite's third language. A native of Honduras, he also speaks Spanish, and is currently re-learning a language that shares its name with his ethnic group, Garifuna. When Gwaite walks down the street in the South Bronx, people probably assume he's black because of his skin color, or Latino, because he can speak Spanish. Officially, he's neither. Like all Garifuna, Gwaite is a descendent of shipwrecked slaves who landed ashore in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the 1600s. They intermarried with Caribbean indigenous groups and spawned an entirely new and distinct ethnic group, with its own language, beliefs and practices. Gwaite's people have been trying to hold onto their unique culture ever since.
Embracing The Garifuna Culture
The Saturday morning scene at Casa Yurumein, a converted old convent in the South Bronx, suggests they've done just that. Gwaite, and a dozen other teens and adults, take a weekly Garifuna language class there. Casa Yurumein is a community haven full of old ancestral photos and cultural artifacts, like wood utensils. Not only does it look and sound like a Garifuna revival, but it smells like one, too. Mirtha Colon cooks up some of the typical dishes from her native Honduran village there.
"We're cooking hoodootoo, one of the main Garifuna dishes," she said. "Mashed plantains and fish soup."
The Garifuna historically were punished for expressing their culture and language back in their countries of origin a list that includes Belize, Guatemala, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Nicaragua and Honduras.
Bronx resident Maria Elena Baltazar says because of that, not everybody born Garifuna stays in the community.
"We've always lived among other people," Baltazar said. "In Guatemala, in Honduras, we live among the majority, and so you're trying to be like this person, to be in this class of people, so you have to negate what you are, in order to fit in."
Baltazar admits in the past she and her Garifuna friends have tended to assimilate outside the home, passing as black or Latino, and when they get home and close the doors, they are Garifuna again. But community leader Jose Avila says they should be Garifuna all the time. In the past year, he has organized cultural gatherings, award ceremonies and even Garifuna Month in the Bronx.
Avila is convinced that more than 100,000 Garifuna live in New York City, and he's trying to use the upcoming 2010 census to prove it.
"It's not just about being counted," Avila said. "It's about resource allocation. It's about housing. It's about transportation, education Ñ which translates into schools."
Avila is busy giving talks and presentations, explaining how easy it is to be counted and why it's important. He says in the last census, hundreds of thousands of Bronx residents marked "other" for their ethnicity. In order for the Garifuna to get an accurate tally, they simply need to write in the name of their group.
Every third Sunday of the month, the Garifuna celebrate their culture with a traditional mass at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church. Women in colorful blue and pink traditional dresses and head scarves dance down the aisle, accompanied by men with drums and tambourines. After a recent mass, 47-year-old Raul Melendez leaned against the church, trying to stay warm in a driving rain. Melendez said he loves the U.S., but being Garifuna is more important to him.
"The Garifuna person who doesn't speak Garifuna has no identity," he said. "The person who has no identity, who has no origin, is buried."
Two years from now, when the new census results are released, Melendez will find out for the first time just how many of his fellow Garifuna living in the United States agree with him.
by Jesse Hardman
Celebrating 211 Years of Garifuna Presence
October 27, 2009
During the last decade of the 17th century, the island of Saint Vincent changed drastically. The new "Black Carib" society grew quite rapidly, giving birth to what has been called the "Golden Age" of Garifuna history. Nostalgia for these times still lives in many Garifuna songs and ritual traditions. It was also during this period that legendary personalities emerged for the Garinagu, such as Chatoyer, the commander and chief of Yurumein, who fought with such braveness to defend his people against European hostilities. By the early 18th century, although conflict had increased between Garinagu and colonists, quite friendly relations were established between the Garifuna and French Christian missionaries. Many traces of their exchanges still remain, such as many French words incorporated into the Garifuna language. -- Excerpt. Read the entire informative article from the Bay Islands Voice.
La Ceiba, Honduras Artist Receives Award
Saturday, October 10 2009
The Sunshine Awards organization was founded in 1989 to recognise and pay tribute to the creators, producers and performers of the various Caribbean art forms. Over the years, the program has expanded in scope and depth, extending the canopy of awards to Central America, South America and Africa.
In 2009, the 21st Annual Sunshine Awards is dedicated to the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). Co-founder of the Sunshine Awards Hall of Fame and Chairman of the Nomination Committee, Dr Hollis Liverpool, said: "It is important to note that the process used to determine the nominees for awards is a very extensive one. The network of institutions, like the University of Trinidad and Tobago, cultural organizations, and individuals engaged or participated in the process which spans the Caribbean, the Americas and Africa."
One of the Nominees for the 2009 Sunshine Awards for Contribution to the Performing Arts is Garifuna Armando Savaranga Crisanto. Mr. Crisanto is from La Ceiba Atlantida, in Honduras. A director, choreographer and dance teacher, the Sunshine Awards organization will recognise this talented man for his more than 40 years of artistic work, dance and music. Since 1971, Mr. Crisanto has been the Director of the Garifuna Ballet Dancers of Honduras.
Garifuna work to keep their traditions alive
August 17, 2009
The rhythm of the beating of handmade drums and singing in a hybrid language that blends French, English, Spanish and Arawak Indian can often be heard in Houston, Texas' Fifth Ward. Almost daily, Honduran parishioners gather inside a two-story wooden church to worship and teach their U.S.-born children the Garifuna language using a colorful workbook. In between
"hallelujahs" and "amens" and reading from their Spanish-language Bibles, the more than 50 churchgoers respond to Pastor Erick Suazo's sermons with Garifuna words. In a shotgun house a few blocks away from the Mercy of God Church, Honduran immigrant Santos Sambula and his group rehearse their African-inspired dances and music. This Afro Latino immigrant community known as Garifunas, or Black Caribs, is trying to retain its identity in a new home.
"We don't want to lose our culture," said Sambula, who organized Ballet Garifuna, a dance and music group seven years ago. The troupe, with its female dancers clad in colorful batiks, was set to perform last week at the Talento Bilingue de Houston annual gala.
"Some people say it's hard to learn Garifuna. It's not hard. Our children have to speak Garifuna," said Suazo, who started the Pentecostal church more than six years ago.
"Sometimes our children are born here, and they cannot go back to Honduras and speak to their grandmothers."
It's a language their ancestors developed centuries ago during their journey from West Africa to islands off the coast of Venezuela where their slaves ships were shipwrecked in 1635. After losing a war against the British, Garifunas were forced to move to Central America. Today, Garifuna communities exist in Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua, with the largest group in Honduras.
"It's quite a colorful history and a very, very interesting one," said Edmund T. Gordon, a University of Texas anthropology professor who has studied Garifunas in Central America. "Garifuna are an amazing set of people. They're extraordinarily adaptable."
It's difficult to keep tabs on the Garifuna population because some move often, but about 250,000 live in Honduras, said Victor Virgilio Lopez Garcia, who penned eight books about Garifunas.
"Garifunas are spread across the world," said Lopez, a resident of the Honduran village of Tornabe.
In the past few decades, Garifunas emigrated to U.S. cities including Houston, where about 4,000 from Honduras live, Sambula estimates. Garifunas originally settled in Houston's Fifth Ward where they could blend in with the area's black residents, said Nestor Rodriguez, a University of Texas sociology professor who formerly worked at the University of Houston and studied the Garifuna. He said many Garifunas were merchant marines who arrived in Houston aboard ships in the 1980s and stayed here.
Suazo worked as a ship machinist in New York until he moved to Houston.
Celania Ramirez, 29, was born in Honduras and moved to Houston as a child with her father, who still works as a ship engineer. Ramirez describes herself as both black and Hispanic and tries to immerse herself in the culture by cooking traditional dishes like machuca Ñ mashed green plantains with coconut milk soup and fried fish. She lives in the Heights area and visits the Fifth Ward enclave when Garifunas play soccer there.
"I love to be around the culture," Ramirez said.
Garifunas born in the U.S., such as Emily Lino, 18, also respect their heritage by dancing with the Ballet Garifuna troupe. She said people are surprised when they hear the African-American speaking Spanish and Garifuna. Alex Suazo, 18, Erick Suazo's son, sings and records Garifuna music in his Suazo Recordz studio and wants to learn as much Garifuna as possible so he can visit Honduras and teach people about getting ahead. But even with these youngsters so interested in the culture, it's hard to retain after several generations live outside of Central America, Rodriguez said.
"People are actively working to keep it alive," he said.
Part of the challenge is that community members who live in neighborhoods across Houston have trouble organizing.
"We haven't been able to unite more because we don't have our own center," said Sambula, as he sat in his living room stuffed with drums, Garifuna dictionaries and paintings depicting his people's history.
By JENALIA MORENO
Juggernaut of international tourism is radically altering life for the impoverished Garifuna of Honduras, whose white-sand beaches are becoming hot property for big-money developers
The Star PhoenixPublished: Saturday, April 04, 2009
There is a spindly wooden lookout tower on the north coast of Honduras from which you can see everything. Standing on the fourth-storey platform, Alfredo Lopez surveys the Caribbean Sea, sparkling and hazy in the late-afternoon sunlight. Waves crash against the coastline, which, in either direction in this expansive bay, is a tangle of jungle dotted only with a few far-off buildings.
But Lopez has come for a different view. Below him, dusty swatches of road have been cut into the forest. Dump trucks, young men in reflective vests and a blue porta-potty stand among the palm trees.
"I can't believe it," Lopez says, squinting into the sun from beneath his ball cap. "I've been coming here for years and years and years . . . Everything's going to change."
The view represents all that Lopez has feared, and everything he's been fighting against, for more than a decade. It's the beginnings of the Tela Bay Project, the biggest tourism development Honduras has ever seen.
"Here, we believe they're going to build a couple of hotels. And then the golf field is going to be half a kilometre from here," he says, motioning into the jungle.
The $190-million project, slated to be open for business in 2011, is touted as a developmental milestone for the impoverished Central American country. But for Lopez, it is a threat to the environment and his way of life. Lopez is Garifuna, an ethnically distinct people descended from escaped African slaves, who many worry are now threatened by Honduras's tourism boom.
The Garifuna have always been outsiders. Their ancestors are thought to have been shipwrecked from African slave boats centuries ago, settled on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and mixed with the indigenous Arawak and Carib people. But in 1797, the so-called "black Caribs" were pegged as troublemakers and deported by the British to the Honduran island of Roatan. From there, they made their way to the mainland, establishing coastal villages from Belize to Nicaragua. For years, life for the Garifuna was all about fishing, farming and work on international fruit plantations.
But change is afoot in these sleepy seaside villages. The Tela Bay Project (also called the Los Micos resort) is just the most extreme example of how the juggernaut of international tourism is radically altering life for the Garifuna. Their white-sand beaches are becoming hot property. Poverty, which has already driven many Garifuna to seek work in the U.S., is compelling families and towns to sell off land to private investors. Garifuna language, music and dance, proclaimed by UNESCO as a "masterpiece of the intangible heritage of humanity," are now deemed threatened.
"We're fighting for survival," is how Lopez puts it. The stocky, serious man is at the forefront of a Garifuna-led struggle against the development of Honduras' coast. A member of the Garifuna rights group OFRANEH and involved in a grassroots activist radio station, Lopez was imprisoned for years for what he says are groundless drug charges trumped up to silence his activism. In Garifuna villages, stories abound of anti-development activists being murdered or intimidated. Amnesty International has documented allegations such as a protester being abducted and beaten by private security guards, and a local leader threatened at gunpoint to sign over community land. Lopez calls it a war.
Lopez climbs down the tower, jumps into his Toyota pickup truck, and takes a drive down the coast. Before long, the narrowa road spills into the tiny community of Barra Vieja. The homes here are built the Garifuna way: thatched from palm leaves and just metres from the sea. In the shade, a family swings in a hammock. Chickens and horses and scrawny dogs line the side of the road.
If a war is underway, this mellow idyll is the front lines. Barra Vieja, Lopez says, is one of several Garifuna communities within the planned resort development. But, unlike in other communities along the coast, he says residents here have dug in their heels and refused to allow development on their traditional land. "We're really worried, because this is the last resistance, Barra Vieja," he says.
Guillermo Albarez, a diminutive 71-year-old, pauses from chopping firewood to chat. He has lived here all his life, he says, and has no plans to leave. "We're going to continue to fight . . . The project is a mess to us, because they don't leave us to live our life like it was."
But the options, even Lopez admits, are limited. Crews have already begun work on either side of Barra Vieja, on the main construction site and by the next town down the beach, the Garifuna village of Miami. Further down the beach, it's obvious where Barra Vieja ends and Miami begins. The tiny dirt road widens and work crews reappear, piling rocks. Tall pillars, probably for street lights, suddenly dot the roadside.
Miami itself looks much like Barra Vieja; as the sun sets on this tiny strip of beach and toddlers play with fishing nets, it's difficult to imagine a place more tranquil.
But unlike its neighbour, this community is an official "partner" on the Tela Bay Project.
The future of both towns is unclear. Lopez says much of the land in Miami has been split and sold to developers. Land ownership is a complicated and contentious matter in Garifuna communities. Though most have communal titles, multiple ownership claims exist and land is sometimes bought and sold illegally.
Now, with land sold and the resort coming, Lopez holds out little hope for Miami. "Nobody is going to be able to stay there, in the middle of hotels," he says. "They don't want to be having people, fishermen, in the middle of a big hotel. There's no way. It's already gone, we've already lost it."
For Ricardo Martinez, the Tela Bay Project is the culmination of a life's work. Even before he was Honduras' tourism minister, he was planning the resort, which has been 40 years is the making and is financed as a public-private partnership. Now, sitting in his fifth-floor office in his country's capital, Martinez minces no words about those who would thwart the project.
He claims that Barra Vieja is not a Garifuna village at all. Rather, he calls its inhabitants "a band of criminals" who only recently settled on the beach in hopes of obtaining title of the land and then selling it for profit.
OFRANEH denies this, saying the community goes back at least to the 1940s.
Martinez says he's seeking a court order for the military to remove the residents of Barra Vieja. "Some people are going to get hurt, but they're not going to be Garifuna," he said. "The Garifunas are the most peaceful people I ever met in my life."
As for Miami, Martinez insists no one will be displaced. Rather, he says it will become a showcase of Garifuna culture for tourists from nearby hotels. "Miami is going to be a beautiful village with a lot of Garifuna taste, with a lot of Garifuna restaurants," he says. "There are going to be small piers where the Garifuna people will give boat rides to the tourists around the park."
Many worry that the resort and golf course will do harm to the lagoon and jungles of the surrounding Jeanette Kawas park, which, ironically, was named for an environmental activist mysteriously killed more than a decade ago. Martinez concedes that 310 hectares of parkland are slated for development, but says that this sacrifice will allow the rest of the park, 70,000 hectares, to be protected.
He argues, too, that the resort will help the Garifuna. Pointing out that many communities live off remittances sent from relatives in the U.S., he says the project will provide good jobs and allow Garifuna people to stay in their hometowns.
Martinez accuses people like Lopez of being stuck in the past. "It is inevitable that the children will no longer speak the language because they're not interested," he said. "They're more interested in speaking English to get better job opportunities. They're more interested in understanding Bruce Springsteen songs than their Garifuna singers. And this is a brutal reality."
Lopez won't accept this kind of argument. For him, communal land ownership and decision-making are essential to being Garifuna. So is the beach. Once it's split up into private parcels, he fears, fences and armed guards will follow and the Garifuna will slowly be forced out.
"Garifuna people without the beach (are) not Garifuna," he said in an interview at his mother's house in his home community of Triunfo de la Cruz. "If we become a private person, we (are) going to lose the sense of community. That's why we fight."
When Lopez drives through town, greeting every second person he passes with a wave and a "buenas," the sense of community is evident. So is the poverty.
The town, bigger and more modern than Barra Vieja and Miami, is full of cinder-block houses, some half-built, some apparently abandoned in the process years ago. The roads in Triunfo de la Cruz are terribly rutted and potholed, and the main road into the village is far worse: only a raised centre strip is paved, meaning oncoming traffic must play chicken until one driver relents and rolls off into the dirt. A volunteer crew of townspeople is working to fix up the road with dump trucks full of rocks, but the task is gruelling.
This kind of hardship is prevalent across Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere, with more than half the population living in poverty. Martinez hopes the Tela Bay Project will provide some relief. "You need the big developments," he says. "Of course I would love to see my country develop by small businesses and medium-sized businesses, OK, but that doesn't pay for the roads or for the hospitals or for the education, unfortunately."
Lopez isn't the only one worried that megaprojects will only benefit rich investors and marginalize locals. But, Lopez says, there's a middle road. Down the beach from his hometown is a cluster of cabins, rundown and overgrown. He says a group of local women is trying to start up a cooperative community tourism project here.
"We aren't going to stop the tourism. We know that," Lopez says. "We think development, it's not necessarily (to) have a big hotel in our land. A small business, if we own it, we're on the road to develop ourselves."
About 100 km down the coast from Tela Bay, the beaches are just as beautiful and the Garifuna communities just as vulnerable to privatization and development. "I am worried," says local conservationist Adoni Cubas, standing on a dock near the city of La Ceiba. "In my opinion, this area is in danger of being another Bahia de Tela."
Instead, Cubas wants to help nearby Garifuna communities develop in the opposite way from Tela Bay -- by harnessing tourist dollars on their own terms. "(Tourism) is exploding," he says. "In my opinion, if the community doesn't feel they can do business with (tourists), they will sell the land."
Cubas, who works for the Cayos Cochinos Foundation, collaborates with other conservation groups to create small-scale, locally owned tourism ventures in Garifuna communities.
On this sunny morning, he's working with Nanzi Duarte of the World Wildlife Fund and Anthony Ives of Intensive Heart Ventures/Grupo de Apoyo al Desarrollo. The three don life jackets and hop in a speedboat to check on the progress of the projects they've helped create.
An hour of rough waters later, the group arrives at Cayos Cochinos -- an archipelago of islands, cays and coral reef. It's a protected marine area, part of the treasured Mesoamerican reef, and home to two Garifuna communities.
The boat pulls up to the old dock at East End. This community has the feel of an ancient pirate pit stop, a hodgepodge of mud houses nestled between lush mountains and a crystal sea. A family, standing knee-deep in the ocean, guts a pile of fearsome pink fish on their side porch-cum-dock.
There are pluses and minuses to living in a marine park. Because of strict environmental regulations, villages in Cayos Cochinos are largely protected from huge developments like the Tela Bay project. However, the Garifuna, for whom fishing is a way of life, now face not only depleted fish stocks but also regulations on how and what they can catch.
"Years ago, there was a lot of fish, marine life," explains East End resident Francisco Velazquez.
But recently, says the lanky and soft-spoken man, it's a struggle to get by. "There were times when we didn't have enough money earned from fishing that we had a hard time feeding our children," he says. "We started thinking, you know, tourism is going to come and if tourism comes and we are out of the process, it's going to be a problem."
That kind of thinking, plus a lot of help from groups like the World Wildlife Fund, has culminated in the spot where Velazquez sits now. He's on a veranda, shaded by palm trees, just metres from the lapping waves. This is the pride and joy of East End: a brand-new restaurant and guest house. Simple, clean, nuzzled in a fascinating community and with a view beyond belief, at $80 US a night for an eight-bed cabin, it's an adventure traveller's dream. The villagers have high hopes their new venture will pay for their kids to go to school on the mainland. But, on this morning, the varnished mango wood tables are empty. "Nobody knows about this project yet," Velazquez says. "The tourists aren't coming."
The tourists are coming, however, to their neighbours in Chachahuate. By the boatload. This sandy cay, just a few minutes' boat ride from East End, is the next stop for the trio of conservationists. The island, no bigger than a football field, is crowded with grass shacks and fishing boasts and, this afternoon, Canadian tourists.
It's no wonder they've flocked here: it's like a slice of the South Pacific. But there's something incongruous about the bikini-clad, beer-clutching day-trippers picking their way past playing children. The kids, in turn, largely ignore the foreigners sunbathing between the fishing boats. Cubas has mixed feelings about the community tourism projects here, a hostel and a restaurant. On a busy day, 70 tourists visit, doubling the island's population. The influx, he says, is changing the community.
If there's a downside to the boom, the islanders aren't dwelling on it. "(Tourism) is a benefit, lots of help for us," says Lesbia Arzu, who runs the hostel, empty today. "We make the rules with the tourists. How they snorkel, where and how they can do it, how to use water, how to take care of garbage."
Roman Norales, who co-ordinates the restaurant, says there's a good relationship between locals and visitors, who are interested in Garifuna culture. Norales sees tourism as a complement to traditional livelihoods. But replacing fishing, he says, would be impossible. "It's cultural. It's our inheritance," he says.
It's mid-afternoon and time for the tourists to leave, before the winds pick up. The Canadians, pink and dazed, pile into their boats and in no time the island is emptied of visitors. Arzu and Norales take a seat in the shade and pull out a calculator and notebook. They start to tally up the day's earnings into careful columns of fried fish and beer. A woman in an apron emerges from the restaurant to help.
As they continue their labours, the raucous pounding of drums rises in the distance. In a shady patch of sand, around the corner from the restaurant, a dance party has broken out. Two young men beat drums and another leans back in his chair with a shaker. The village's children giggle and crowd around, taking turns dancing. From toddlers to precocious teenage girls, they show off the gyrating, rhythmic moves for which the Garifuna are famous.
It's the kind of display for which tourists would pay top dollar. But, on this sweltering afternoon in their hometown, they're dancing just for themselves.
The Mega Tourism Industry Threatens Garifuna Villages in Honduras
Triunfo de la Cruz, Honduras - Right between tropical rainforest and the Caribbean Sea in remote corner of Central America, 76 Garifuna villages lay scattered along hundreds of kilometers of beaches in the north coast of Honduras.
The Descendants of a 17th-century union of a fierce indigenous people with the survivors of two shipwrecked slave ships, the Garifuna inhabit one of the last pockets of communally held land in the world. They live as they have for centuries: relying on the sea for fishing, relying on the beach for coconut and fruit, on their land for rice cultivation and on the hillsides for growing yucca and gathering firewood to prepare their meals. Their wooden homes are built along the beaches or on stilts above the water. The Garifuna men fish from dugout canoes and dive with spears along the reefs.
Over 100,000 Garifuna live along the Caribbean coast of Honduras, speaking their own dialect, which is a combination of Arahuaco, Swahili and Bantu.
For the Garifuna villages this could all change soon because the government, the World Bank and other businesses plan to transform the Honduras north coast into a tourist friendly place. According to former Honduras Tourism Secretary, Honduras has hundreds of kilometers of beaches along the north coast that aren’t developed.
The Garifuna are resistant to the privatization of their ancestral lands. But talk to a Garifuna community leader Alfredo Lopez for five minutes, and it becomes clear that any attempts to romanticize the cutthroat struggle are misguided. "All this privatization is illegal, and if it continues, we are going to die as a people," Lopez, standing before the great Bay of Tela, the disputed territory coveted by Honduran Tourism. "To lose our land is to lose everything. We are in a struggle for our life, and we will do what it takes to defend ourselves."
Honduras, the quintessential banana republic, is the the second poorest country in the hemisphere. The Central American staples of chronic insecurity, massive migration and unreliable economy torment the country. And in a nation saturated by CocaCola, Pizza Hut, shopping malls and U.S. consumer culture, the Garifuna stand out as different.
The Garifuna have a vibrant living culture born from a unique history. Between 1635 and 1670, two slave ships coming from West Africa sank off the island of St. Vincent in the Lesser Antilles. So began the story of the people who came to be known as the Garifuna. Their fate should have been to labor as slaves, but instead they found themselves on a tropical island populated by a hostile indigenous population known as the Red Caribs.
The Red Caribs rescued the shipwrecked, after that they attempted to enslave the newcomers, but they resisted, retreating into the western mountains of the island, forming a maroon community that in time was sought out by other runaway slaves and fugitives. So a liberated territory was consecrated, and a kind of pirate utopia blossomed in the age of 17th century capitalist expansion. Conflict with the Red Caribs was constant and occasionally brutal, but somewhere along the line love overcame differences and the fruits of their union became known as "karibena galibina" child of the Caribe, indigenous galibi and eventually became Garifuna.
When the British seized control of St. Vincent from the French and the Caribs at the end of the 18th century, the Garifuna were deported to the uninhabited island of Roatan off the north coast of Honduras. Many died at sea, but the rebellious Garifuna survived once more.
This ethnic group now found a small space in which to work with the regional colonial masters who where the Spanish at that time. The Garifuna spread out along the Honduran coast, eventually surrounding the Caribbean coastlines of Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize. There they mixed with the indigenous inhabitants, always keeping their ethnical and cultural identity intact. But they remained marginalized, independent and rebellious in their little communities.
The Garifuna fusion of Caribbean fishing and farming traditions with a mixture of South American and African music, dance and spirituality led UNE SCO in 2001 to declare the Garifuna culture one of 19 Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Tela Bay and its nearby comunities are the center of the Honduran Garifuna world, with some 36 communities dotted along an impressive 50- mile sandy shore. The largest of them, Triunfo de la Cruz, with a population of 800 families, is a quiet, unassuming village that now finds itself on the front line of the conflict. The first thing the visitor may notice about the Triunfo de la Cruz beachfront is what is missing.
Little has changed there on the beach at Triunfo de la Cruz for a couple of centuries. in this sun-drenched bay with lavish sands and regal palms, there are no beach-front hotels, no bars, no tourists in bikinis taking the sun, no attendants sweeping up the ocean debris. Instead there is a group of fishermen dragging their dugout boats from the sea, there are groups of children playing around, and there is an attractive, languorous feel to the place and this is how people like it.
The tradition of the Garifuna is to hold their land communally. The community gathers to decide on what happens in the territory. The Garifuna community made this arrangement work without interruption for 200 years, partly due to the isolation of the coast and the marginalization of the community. Nobody else wanted to live in such a wild and remote region, so they were left alone.
The Garifuna achieved legal recognition for their communally held land in 1992 after decades of struggle. In 1994, powerful business and governmental interests made their move. Imagining a Honduran version of Cancún that would help the economy. Locals looked struck with overwhelming shock as suddenly a big fence went up on the beach at Triunfo de la Cruz in 1994, and the building of luxury villas commenced. They were going after the sun and the beach. A privatization bill was passed that rendered the communally held land titles of the Garifuna useless.
The Garifuna took local and regional authorities to court in 1997, but three activists with the Land Defense Committee of Triunfo de la Cruz were quickly assassinated. Alfredo Lopez was jailed for seven years on trumped-up drug charges.
Members of the Honduras Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH) have also been targeted for state repression and the members have been illegally detained and harrased. Their houses have been searched. The last deadly assault was aimed at the OFRANEH president, Gregoria Flores, who suffered gunshot wounds while walking down the street in a nearby town.
OFRANEH’s base of support is mainly among women, and it was the women who responded with direct action against the first tourist project, occupying the site and building their own alternative community-based eco-tourist cabins alongside the stalled resort construction site.
One of the committee members from OFRANEH said they do not want the tourist industry in their communities because they come to take their resources.
In 2003 when Alfredo Lopez was released from prison, it had been almost a decade since their struggle began and the government and investors were gathering support for their tourist resort plans from the World Bank and the Inter- American Development Bank while continuously wearing away at community resistance.
The Honduran government issued a new land ownership law that was yet another attempt to break the Garifuna’s collective titles into individual deeds that would make it easier to target individual landowners several years ago. The first Garifuna village to succumb to the preasure was Miami, an impoverished beachside paradise where most residents eventually sold their individual land plots, opening the way for the investors. The coercion was accompanied by threats. As Garifuna leader Edgardo Beneditt pointed out: "The Miami residents think their land will be stolen away if they don’t sell."
What followed was the multi million dollar Los Micos Beach and Golf Resort. The development affected not only the beach but also their land upon which the Garifuna depend for their livelihood.
Ironically, the jobs promised to locals have not materialized, as companies opt to bring in employees from outside the community.
But resistance continues. In Tela Bay, roads are blocked and the construction of new hotels is being sabotaged. Mass marches are held in the capital of Tegucigalpa. Resistance is both collective and individual, like the single old lady who refuses to budge in the center of the development at Miami village, forcing developers to build their mega complex around her little hut.
It is a difficult moment because OFRANEH is under intense pressure; people are being bought off, one by one. Some activists are migrating, Alfredo explains, and others are simply tired of the struggle. We are really at a crucial moment in the struggle, and it could go either way.
Lopez has as a fearless voice denouncing injustice on his radio show on the local Garifuna Radio Faluma Bimetu, (the Sweet Coconut) and the Radio Progreso.
He is a living example of the saying "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." His is a world of total defiance against the government, the foreign investors, the compliant NGOs and most of all, the local authorities in the town of Tela, those who framed him and killed the fellow members of his group.
"The Tourism is using local people, setting up NGOs as fronts, paying them well, buying some, pressuring others,
" he says. "Our community assemblies are infiltrated by individuals working for The Tourism, they try to foment division.
"People look at Miami and see the future. That’s why the struggle here in Triunfo is so important. We are at the top of the list for Tourism. They want this land. If we hold out, so will the other communities."
The conservation NGOs are pressuring the fishermen. Garifuna have always eaten shark and sea turtle and other now endangered ocean species.
"It’s not us who emptied the ocean, we have always fished just for subsistence. Industrial fishing depletes the stocks," he says.
People constantly come and go, having a quick word with Lopez or looking for information. A large dreadlocked fisherman with hands the size of oars greets me like a brother, warm and friendly. He assures me he is in the fight. "To the very end," he says, with a great laugh.
Another man, dressed in city attire, hands Lopez an envelope and leaves quickly, glancing about him. "We have our sources in the municipality," says Alfredo, his gold teeth flashing. "I broadcast all the inside information we receive on my radio show. The enemy are my best listeners because they know I’ve got the inside information" He smiles.
"We have a string of petitions before the Inter-American Human Rights Court, and we have high hopes that we can win there. The state has never won a case in that court."
"We are in a struggle to save our people. We will do what we have to do here in Triunfo. We are the strongest community, so the struggle will be won or lost here. And we think we will win our demands. That is our hope."
By Ramor Ryan
Punta Gorda, garifuna culture and exuberant beauty
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Punta Gorda, Bay Islands. - This community inhabited by garifunas is "the other side of the moon" and should be an attraction for tourist and investors because of its exuberant natural beauty and the ecologic conservation.
A few kilometers of the main road to Oak Ridge, the streets are similar to the lunar surface because they are in bad conditions. Punta Gorda is the first community where 5,080 garifunas arrived from the island of Saint Vincent on April 12 of 1,767. After 200 years the situation has not improved much.
While Roatan is an economic emporium because of the increasing growth of tourism, there is no private or government investment in this part of the island. The four thousand inhabitants of Punta Gorda remain invisible until now, surviving from their fishing, agriculture and remittances.
Punta Gorda is one of 16 garifuna communities located in the Atlantic coast of Honduras, but here the garifunas keep their ancestral traditions alive commemorating their arrival to Honduras every year on April 12th celebrating with dances and rites.
In the past years the decision of the members of this afro-Honduran community has been seen to work with the communitarian and cultural tourism.
This way the garifunas with the support of the Communitarian Development Organization (Odeco), are preparing to immerse themselves in to the tourism industry, developing their area in a sustainable way to avoid repeating the ecologic crimes Roatan is suffering.
The president of the Board of Water of Punta Gorda, Midencio Beneditt, said water is important for the development of their community, because of this, the minister of tourism is helping them improve their water distribution system.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to improve their water system and pave the access to this garifuna community for them to develop.
There is no access to public health, the inhabitants cure themselves with natural medicine, but if it’s a serious illness they have to travel to La Ceiba to be treated.
The people from this comunity are motivated because they know they can move ahead and their aspiration is to improve the life conditions of their people. They are now preparing for the inhabitants of this community to become visible to the public and private investment.
First Garifuna Hospital in Honduras
Monday December 10, 2007
The remote community of Ciriboya jurisdiction of the municipality of Iriona in the department of Colon counts with their own hospital clinic as of December 08, 2007. Thanks to the Cuban medical brigades and the cooperation of union of workers from the United States of America represented by California vice-governor John Garamendi.
The Hospital inauguration was done during midday of December 08, with the presence of personalities such as the Cuban ambassador Juan Carlos Hernandez, the municipal commissioner from La Ceiba, Bernard Martinez and the building manager Doctor Luther Castillo.
This work was also built with the collaboration of the first garifuna doctors graduated from the Cuban Medical School ELAM and the communities that worked hand in hand everyday.
The California vice-governor arrived along with his wife the day before the inauguration to Honduras and shared the culture of the Honduran black communities.
The Luagu Hatuadi Waduheñu Foundation (For the Health of our Town), was founded by the ELAM first graduates, they started by donating 15 of their vacation days to give medical assistance and medication around 19 garifuna communities.
Bernard Martinez said this Project comes to a remote community to cover all the urgent basic necessities of a town that has been historically marginalized and forgotten by the different administrations.
He also said he is thankful to the Cuban community and the town of Sacramento, California, because together they made this social Project of big interest to the Garifuna people of Iriona.
He then added that the new professional leadership of the garifuna community breaks with the norms established by the traditional leadership that has solely made actions of ungenerous form that doesn’t cover in the minimum with looking for alternative solutions to the problems raised.
Friday June 15, 2007
The Guardian 'Look at us now!'
The Garifuna people were forgotten even in places they called home. But a new musical project has brought them worldwide attention, writes Robin Denselow
Music is often used to highlight a particular cause, but it's a rare album that suddenly brings attention to a little-known community struggling to preserve its identity. Watina, by Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective, is a remarkable reminder of the rich culture and extraordinary history of a people scattered across the Caribbean coast of central America. It is also one of the most unusual, intriguing and rewarding albums of the year.
Andy Palacio, the best-known musician and spokesman of the Garifuna community, has spent much of his life exploring and promoting the culture of his people in a career that has taken him from local pop idol to senior government official. Now, at 46, he has a new role, recording and touring with the Garifuna Collective, an unlikely band of young and elderly musicians who could prove to be a central American answer to Cuba's Buena Vista Social Club.
Their story starts with a 17th-century shipwreck: the Garifuna are the descendants of Africans who escaped from slavery in 1635, after two slave ships sank off the island of St Vincent. The survivors intermarried with the local Carib and Arawak people of the island, and from that union came the hybrid culture known as Garifuna. However, in 1797 the island was attacked by the British, who shipped the Garifuna off to the island of Roatan, off the coast of Honduras.
"They were just dropped there," says Palacio. "The British must have thought that we would just vanish, but look at us now! There were just 2,000 on the slave ships, but now there are half a million Garifuna worldwide."
Some of those dumped on the island escaped to Honduras, on the Central American mainland, where the majority of the Garifuna communities can still be found today. From there, others migrated to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize, where Palacio was born.
The Garifuna have a distinctive culture, "with our own language, music, dances and cuisine," says Palacio. But in some countries, they struggled to survive and were not recognised for centuries. He describes a visit he made to the Garifuna community in Nicaragua back in 1980, soon after the Sandinistas had taken over.
"I couldn't find anyone under the age of 50 who could hold a conversation with me in our own language. The Somoza government had never acknowledged the existence of the Garifuna community, and the Sandinistas didn't know they were there. I told one of their commanders about it, and he asked the press corps to interview me. I said, 'These black people you see here are not the same as the black people you see over in that village,' and the newspaper the next day had the headline that a new race had been discovered on the Atlantic coast."
Palacio's mission to preserve Garifuna culture started early. Born in Baranco, the southernmost coastal village in Belize, near the border with Guatemala, he was inspired by his father, a sailboat captain who sang for his passengers, to start a band while at school. From playing mostly reggae and R&B, he decided to focus on Garifuna music as his "contribution to the survival of the culture".
It was then that he discovered punta rock, a dance style that mixes Garifuna influences with other Caribbean styles such as zouik and soca. It mixes electric guitar and bass with the catchphrase hooks and aggressive beats associated with punta, which Palacio describes as "a sensuous, flirtatious dance that focuses heavily on the pelvic area".
After leaving school, he hosted a Sunday afternoon radio show in which he featured punta rock musicians such as Pen Caytano and the Turtleshell Band, and helped popularise the style within Belize and across Central America.He started writing punta rock songs of his own; a visit to London led to a series of eight-track recordings in a Hackney studio that made him a celebrity back home, and his career began to take off in Central America and beyond. He even appeared in Britain at a punta rock tour in 1992. With the help of producer Ivan Duran, founder of Stonetree records, Palacio began to expand his range, moving away from punta to explore other Garifuna styles like the Latin-influenced paranda, and to work with other Garifuna musicians, including the singer and songwriter Aurelio Martinez.
But by 2000, Palacio's musical career seemed to be slowing down. "I reached a point when I needed a secure wage. I didn't feel I was realising my dreams for my entertainment career, so I figured I should put it on the back burner. I have training as a teacher and in community work, so thought I should restart a public service career."
And so began his successful new role as a civil servant. Palacio started as a rural development officer and is currently the deputy administrator of Belize's National Institute of Culture and History, as well as a cultural ambassador for his country.
None of this stopped his involvement with music, or the Garifuna community. He recalls recording the Watina album: "I would leave the office on a Friday evening, and travel to Hopkins, a small village by the sea where Ivan Duran had set up the recording equipment. I would return from the sessions on Monday morning, and go straight back to work." The aim behind the project, he says, was to "not play punta rock - to go beyond paranda to explore the more soulful and spiritual sounds of the Garifuna repertoire". It was not just a Belize-based project but also involved musicians and songwriters from the communities in Honduras and Guatemala. They were, he says, "fantastic players, but very few are professional. For most of them, music is something you do in your free time."
The cast who assembled at Hopkins village included fishermen and wage labourers, along with Aurelio Martinez, who is now a congressman in Honduras, and an extraordinary singer-songwriter called Adrian Martinez, a schoolteacher. They were joined by Paul Nabor, another singer-songwriter-guitarist, who is now 79 and, Palacio says, "legendary in the Garifuna community for playing in village festivities". The album includes a gently percussive song by Nabor, in which he is joined by Palacio and a rhythm section using anything from Garifuna hand-drums to rum bottles, telling the story of a fisherman who loses his canoe, and pleads for God to save him. Other songs feature the gently rousing electric guitar work of Eduardo "Guayo" Cedano. Then there is Adrian Martinez's exquisite and powerful prayer Baba. "He wrote it recently but it sounds like an old song," says Palacio. "It's now sung regularly at Catholic church services." The song is, he says, an example of dugu, "the highest form of spiritual expression that we have". It is both a musical style and a complex healing ceremony that involves mediation with the ancestral spirits through dance, prayers and medicinal herbs, in a community where "Catholicism and Garifuna spirituality now coexist".
The album was intended as a way of documenting Garifuna culture and showing how it could be a "foundation to create contemporary material", but the project has gone far beyond the musicians' original intentions. In other words, this varied, soulful set has been so successful (it's currently No 1 in the European world music charts) that Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective have embarked on their first lengthy tour.
Before leaving for Europe, they gave an emotional show in Belize, where Palacio was delighted by the outpouring of support from the younger generation: "The album is inspiring them to return to their roots and reconnect."
HONDURAS - A fading culture clings to roots
The small and politically marginalized Garifuna community has maintained its rich African heritage but is struggling for the rights and education needed to survive.
BY NANCY SAN MARTIN
Published June 10, 2007
TELA, Honduras -- The three women in pumpkin-colored skirts, with sand clinging to their bare feet, held maracas over their heads and shook them in rhythm with drumbeats.
Nearby, bare-chested men with colorful headdresses moved with snakelike motions. The men and women then joined for an explosive Baile de Guerra -- a 200-year-old war dance commemorating their ancestors' liberation from English enslavement.
The dancers were Garifuna, descendants of African slaves who were shipwrecked on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent in 1665 and mixed with Carib and Arawak Indians. After clashes with the English, they were sent in 1797 to Honduras, from where they spread to neighboring Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize.
Ironically, the dancers were celebrating a planned tourism development that could further erode a unique community with an already muffled political voice, dwindling numbers and vanishing culture. Blacks account for only 2 percent of the people in this nation of 7.4 million.
With virtually no economic clout, widespread poverty and voter apathy within their community, the Garifuna face a difficult challenge keeping their land.
"The investors and the government divided the [Garifuna] community through money; public opinion was bought," said Domingo Alvarez, 65, a senior official of the Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras. "Even as there are denunciations, others simply dance to the tune of the state."
The Garifuna population in Honduras is officially estimated at 45,000, dispersed across more than 30 communities. They speak their own Africa-based language, Garifuna, as well as Spanish and English. But while their communities are promoted in Honduran tourism pamphlets, their numbers are too small to carry political weight.
"We are a minority, and even after 200 years of being here, we are still considered foreigners," Alvarez said.
Today, Garifuna communities can be found in small towns along Honduras' Caribbean coast, including one named Miami, a tiny slice of shoreline where families still live in straw huts.
But they are struggling to maintain their roots amid a dwindling population and several divisive issues -- the most contentious of them the swath of land where the war dance was held in October.
The site is being developed into an $11 million Micos Beach and Golf Resort. Land where about 35 Garifuna families had lived for generations was expropriated by the government for the project.
During the groundbreaking ceremony, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya promised that about $3 million would be set aside to invest in money-making projects specifically for the Garifuna -- but the community remains skeptical.
"We live a little poor," said Isaac Arriola, 34, who was at the dance to celebrate the project. "I think we are going to get some work and get some money."
"Maybe we are going to clean or cook, but we won't have the top jobs," countered Climaco Martinez, 66. "We don't have the necessary training to do anything else, and the government won't invest in that."
Martinez's wife, Balbina, said that while the planned resort could provide jobs, she worries about its impact on Garifuna society.
"When I grew up over here, we were innocent," she said. "My grandmother never went to the doctor. She used herbs for ailments. There are hardly any herbs anymore."
Those who still believe in herbal remedies infused with a dose of spirituality now turn to Felix Valerio, a respected curandero, or medicine man.
The rugged 70-year-old gets around on a rusty bicycle and is always barefoot "to feel the power."
"We are here to combat evil. We've saved a lot of souls," said Valerio, using the "we" to refer to himself and the spirits he prays to for guidance.
Consultations take place in the bedroom of a modest Caribbean-style home. One corner contains an altar topped with several statues, a portrait of Jesus, candles and flowers. Valerio listens to his clients' problems and seeks guidance from spirits to provide a solution.
Remedies consist of herbs combined with scented water that Valerio prepares in his tiny kitchen. People travel from all over the country to see him. Everyone leaves with a dose of advice and a bottle of herbal brew.
Valerio, whose grandfather settled in the region in 1890, has lived in the same house since he was born. The house faces the ocean -- a Garifuna trademark. "The Garifuna have never liked mountains," Valerio said. "They've always liked the ocean, fishing."
In the nearby fishing community of La Ensenada, Garifuna leader Gerardo Colon Rochez complained about a lack of government services as well as a loss of culture. "We have maintained our tradition, but we're also losing it," Colon said. "In part, it has to do with racism, but also partly due to us not mobilizing ourselves."
"Look, this is the most touristic community and we don't even have potable water," he said. "Before, we could take water from the ground and boil it. But now, there are latrines for the tourists, and the septic tanks have ruined the ground."
Garifuna artist Nicolás Colon Gutierrez is trying to inspire youths by teaching them to paint.
"In the Garifuna community, a lot of talent is being lost," he said. "This is the only ethnic group [in Honduras] that has maintained its language and culture."
"Not all of them can make it to the United States or be doctors or professionals," he said. "But they can make a living as talented artists. Here, the community migrates because the government offers nothing for its citizens. This program is providing a message of hope."
Hope also was at the core of a dance recital at a church in the community of San Juan, where a group of teenage girls held maracas over their heads, shaking them to the rhythm of drums played by a handful of boys.
That performance was not about war. It was about cultural survival -- practicing for a parade that would celebrate their heritage. They planned to dance down sandy streets, behind a banner with these Garifuna words: "Lema Ibagari lau Emenigini Wabaruaguon" -- "Life and hope are just ahead."