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My Garifuna -> Garifuna Day

Garifunas Celebrate with Joy Their Arrival in Honduras

By: Wendy Griffin
By Wendy Griffin

On April 12, 1797 five British ships brought approximately 2,500 Garifunas from the Island of Saint Vincent, north of Venezuela, to the Island of Roatan in Honduras. After several wars with the Garifunas, the British were in the end victorious and evacuated from St. Vincent all the Blacks who had intermarried with the Carib and Arawak Indians there, so the British could plant sugar on St. Vincent.

The modern Garifunas now celebrate April 12 as Garifuna Day. There is a Foundation which works during the year to coordinate activities to celebrate this day, called Fundación 12 de Abril. Several places in Honduras are famous for their April 12 celebrations including San José de la Punta and Trujillo. Celebrations also take place in important centers of Garifuna populations in the US, such as the Bronx.

Trujillo´s celebration started the night before with a dance party at Coco Pando discoteque. On Abril 12, the Trujillo Association of Buyeis or shaman BUYEIN began the celebration at 6 am with the purification of Cristales, the neighborhood where many Garifunas live. In the 4 corners of the neighborhood, the buyeis sang and played maracas and used incense of special herbs to get rid of bad spirits. Garifuna drummers accompanied their songs.

The buyeis spent a long time purifying the area of a terrible car accident where a pick up truck carrying people from the Garifuna mass turned over when its brakes’ failed. Eleven people were injured and a young child who was crossing the street was crushed to death under the truck just days before the celebration.

Next the Garifunas went to the dock in Río Negro where the people staged a reenactment of the arrival of the Garifunas at 8 am. This was done in the style of receiving canoes for the ancestor ceremony dugu. Buyeis with maracas, drummers, rum or “guaro”, and candles awaited the men in the canoes that were decorated with plants.

The dance of the buyeis with maracas and drums led the march of children from 4 schools and representatives of different community organizations as they marches to City Hall where different Garifuna leaders gave speeches. Children from the Socorro Sorel school sang the National Anthem of the Garifunas “Yarumi”. The participants also sang and danced to “Our Father” in Garífuna to the accompaniment of drums and maracas to open the ceremony.

From downtown Trujillo the marchers went to the Cocopando Hotel on the beach in Cristales where Father Francisco led a Garifuna mass. There was not room for all the people. The liturgy of the Catholic mass sung in Garifuna was brought to Honduras from Belize about 10 years and is very popular. It was exciting to see a lot of teenagers sing and drumming to the songs of the mass.

Following the Mass there was a short cultural presentation including dances by the Miskito students of the Normal School in Trujillo and closing songs by the buyeis.

People rested during the afternoon, but at 7:30 pm, a wonderful concert of live Garifuna music was held. The street was filled with several hundred people as youth groups from other communities like Sambo Creek and Bajamar presented Garifuna songs and short theater pieces with the theme of HIV prevention. The participation of the young people was paid by “Fondo Global”, a Global Fund for dealing with the HIV/AIDS epidemic which is seriously affecting the Garifunas.

It was a day filled with warmth and excitement. The event in Trujillo was on local television Canal 12 and national television Canal 5. The only sour notes on the day was that even though April 12 is a holiday for Garifunas by act of the National Congress, the Normal School put final exams on that day to stop Garifuna students from participating in the march, explained coordiantor of the Garifuna mass Balbina Chimilio. The Garifunas had also worked to produce a supplement to La Prensa telling about Garifunas, but in the end this was not published.

Other Articles By Wendy Griffin
11/01/05 Hurricane Beta Causes Widespread damage on North Coast of Honduras
09/06/05 Hondurans Watch Hurricane Katrina From a Distance
03/04/05 Bilingual Intercultural Education in Classrooms--An Elusive Goal
02/24/04 Garifuna NGO Recognized for Protecting the Environment
01/30/04 Garifuna Land Struggles Increasingly Violent

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