Wednesday, April 18, 2007

210 Years and counting

I wish I were home this past weekend. If I were, I would have travelled to Honduras. There was a great celebration of the 210th anniversary of the arrival of Garinagu to Central America. The event brought together thousands of Garinagu from numerous communities in Honduras and also from Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua. It is likely that Garinagu living in the US and other parts of the world also made the trip to partake in the festivities.
Ten years ago, I travelled to Honduras for the first time for that very celebration - then the 200th anniversary of our arrival. I remember travelling behind a pick-up truck and enjoying the view of a clear, starlit night sky. Adding to its beauty and lumination was the full moon and the comet. It was a memorable treat. I got to see Ballet Folklorico Nacional de Honduras and they did a riveting performance highlighting Garifuna spirituality. I was certain someone would have onweha (spirit trance). I visited Puerto Cortez, San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba. If I could have afforded it, I would have visited Trujillo, Roatan and a few other Garifuna communities. I will still do so at some point in the near future. I will also visit Yurumein (St. Vincent and the Grenadines), the homeland of the Garinagu.
Well, I wasn't able to be there for the festivities but April 12 will always have significance in my life because it is the day my Ancestors arrived on Roatan after being exiled from Yurumein. Thousands had died from fighting the British in Yurumein and also from being exposed to the elements after they were left on Balliceaux, a rock island off Yurumein's coast. More died on the long and arduous journey across the Caribbean on the bottom of ships.
It was no luxury cruise and it was a forceful removal of a people from their homeland. The British called us cannibals and savages because we stood up to them. Would any civilized people allow others to invade their home? Would any civilized people invade or enslave another group of people? We fought the uncivilized and savage British. Our survival is evidence of our Ancestor's resilience. We honor them because were it not for their struggle, courage and determination, we would not be here. Other peoples, entire ethnicities and civilizations no longer exist because of their encounters with europeans; but we, the Garinagu, still exist. 210 years after our exile, we are still here and our culture is still alive. We will celebrate this day hundreds more years to come. Itarala (So be it).

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Proud to Be Garifuna

I must credit my mother Jacinta Palacio for setting the foundation for my cultural pride. She created an environment in which her children grew knowing who they were and where they came from. We ate Garifuna food and she taught us how to prepare them also. We listened to Garifuna music. My older sisters were involved in a youth group called Igemeri which means light. My eldest sister Florence taught me several Garifuna songs and she used to host a program called Garifuna half hour on Radio Belize. There was a group of musicians - led by a man named Rene - who came to our house when I was a child and played live Garifuna music. During Garifuna Settlement Day celebrations, my mother would take me to the festivities and allowed me to join in the circle with her and other women as they sang and danced to various Garifuna songs. My mother also baked bread and johnny cakes on a make shift fire hearth in the back of the yard where we lived on 38 Sittee Street in Belize City. Many evenings our neighbors would line up in the yard for bread and johnny cakes fresh and hot from the baking pot. Developing pride in one's culture comes from living it. My mother set a good example by living Garifuna culture with pride and passion.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Bit of History

I am a Garifuna. Usually when I say that, people ask "What is that?" I then have to explain the origins of my people. The Garinagu (plural for Garifuna) are the offspring of the intermingling of Carib and Arawak Indians and Africans. This took place on the island of St. Vincent (referred to as Yurumein by the Garinagu) in the 15 and 1600's. This intermingling led to the establishment of a new culture with its unique language, dress, food, spirituality, and technology.

The Beginning

I came to Jamaica at a time when my sense of cultural identity was strong and in tact. I did not expect that I would have stood out among my peers because of my cultural attire because I understood this place to be one in which people were culturally aware and very much in tune with African heritage. Surprisingly though, I did end up standing out because like back home in Belize, most students were more into the American culture which of course included the attire of the north. So far away from ourselves we have become as African people in the diaspora that I constantly have to correct people's reference to my attire as a "costume." At one time I walked into an office on campus and was asked if there was some special activity taking place. When I informed the person that I dressed that way all the time, the reaction was disbelief. Another person was convinced that over time I would change my way of dress after interacting more with students. Yet another person stopped me to request that I dress "normal" at some point. The experiences are many and I will share them as each day goes by in this blog. I will be sharing how I managed to maintain my cultural identity despite the challenges.