Getting to know the Garifuna
Part of my reporting fellowship explores access to healthcare for marginalized communities within Belize, which took me on a trip south to Dangriga. Dangriga is home to the country's largest population of Garifuna people. You may be asking:
Who are the Garifuna?
The Garifuna (the plural form is Garinagu) are descendants of Carib/Arawak indigenous groups, and Africans who washed ashore on the island of St. Vincent following the wreck of two Spanish ships in 1635. They are often referred to as the "Black Carib."
The Garinagu were the dominant ethnic group of St. Vincent for more than 150 years, creating a vibrant society based on farming and trade with surrounding islands. After decades of fending off attacks from the British, who sought to colonize St. Vincent for slavery, the offensive became too overwhelming. In 1795, after many battles, the British took control of St. Vincent, killing hundreds of Garifuna and destroying their communities. Those who survived were expelled from St. Vincent to the island of Roatan off the coast of Honduras.
The Garinagu journey has been one of constant migration ever since. Following a republican revolt in Honduras, in which the Garinagu aligned with the losing side, many fled to neighboring Nicaragua, Guatemala and British Honduras... what we now call Belize.
My two-hour drive from Belize City took me along a sometimes winding road, through gorgeous mountains and low-land marshes, past citrus farms and private excursion properties -- all the way to Dangriga, where the Garifuna legacy is a prominent fixture of the architecture, culture and food. Homage is paid to the community's Vincentian origins, and Garinagu monuments are spread throughout the small, coastal town.
I had the opportunity to visit the Gulisi Garifuna Museum, where archives and artifacts keep the history of the Garinagu alive and workshops allow for the community to stay true to its Vincentian roots. The museum is named after a Garifuna woman who came to Belize after surviving deportation from St. Vincent to Roatan, Honduras. She brought with her her 13 sons and founded the settlement of Punta Negra, a small village in the Toledo District of Belize.
Check out some of the imagery available at the museum below. It highlights many prominent leaders who championed Garifuna rights in politics, healthcare and education -- a critical element to my larger story. There is also a preschool and primary school for Garinagu children that mixes traditional education with Garinagu cultural enrichment.
The Garifuna diaspora is expansive, with communities throughout Central and South America, the Caribbean, and U.S. cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. According to the National Garifuna Council of Belize, there are about 500,000 Garifuna worldwide. Of those, 15,000 are in Belize, accounting for seven percent of the population. Most Garifuna still reside in Honduras, where about 300,000 live primarily on Roatan Island or in coastal cities like Trujillo.
Footnote: November 19 is believed to be the day the Garinagu first arrived in Belize and is celebrated as a national and bank holiday. It is marked with drumming ceremonies and a Ms. Garifuna Belize pageant. I highly recommend visiting Dangriga for its rich history.