Ultimate Provider of Authentic Garifuna Information!
  »Garinet   »Shop   »Entertainment   »Communications   »News   »My Garifuna   »Community   »Regional

Entertainment » Musician's work captures his culture
Nov 18, 2003

By Aaron Cohen
Special to the Tribune

November 16, 2003

Musician Rhodel "Rhodee" Castillo smiles when he is asked how he
explains who he is and where he's from to his neighbors on the South Side.
Although he looks like them, his native Garifuna language is considerably
different than what's usually heard on this city's sidewalks. He says
that many people he meets are confused about what the word "Garifuna"
means -- sometimes they think it's a place or food. Castillo answers
their questions through his music on his recently released disc, "In Exile"
(Vgroove), which also serves as a narrative of the Garifuna people.

"I'm always happy, proud, to explain who I am and the genesis of the
language and all that good stuff," Castillo says.

Castillo will bring his music to Chicago for two Garifuna Settlement
Day celebrations, Wednesday at the Old Town School of Folk Music and
Saturday at Lal Qila.

The Garifuna trace their origins to the island of St. Vincent (in the
Lesser Antilles) during the early 17th Century. It was there that Carib
and Arawak Indians mingled with a group of Africans whose arrival is
still mysterious, according to anthropologist Nancie L. Gonzalez in her
book, "Sojourners of the Caribbean." Many scholars contend that they
were shipwrecked or runaway slaves. Others argue that the Africans were
explorers who arrived on their own accord. But what is undeniable is that
Garifuna culture has endured for 400 years.

Most of the Garifuna language is derived from Carib and Arawak. While
their religious beliefs are primarily Catholic and Protestant, the
Garifuna veneration for their ancestors recalls Amerindian and West African
spirituality. Garifuna music, especially the drums and rhythms,
emphasizes their African heritage. How much traditional food and other customs
derive from which part of their background depends on who is telling
the story.

History of resistance

But the Garifuna also stand out as black people who historically
resisted slavery. They fought against the occupying colonial British troops
in St. Vincent who exiled them to Central America in 1797. Because of
the Garifuna's rebellious legacy, they were feared in the countries where
they settled.

"They were always the underdog and they always had to fight to maintain
their space," says Evanston filmmaker Andrea Leland, who co-produced
the documentary, "The Garifuna Journey." "They were also rejected by a
lot of the cultures they came in contact with, so they remained separate
and didn't assimilate, which made their culture even stronger."

After living on the Honduran island of Roatan, the Garifuna moved
throughout the region. Some migrated to Belize on November 19, 1832, which
is commemorated as Garifuna Settlement Day. Originally a Belizean event,
it is now an international Garifuna holiday. Estimates vary on the
total Garifuna population -- from 100,000 to 450,000 -- but the largest
concentrations are in Honduras and Belize with smaller numbers in
Guatemala and Nicaragua. They have steadily migrated to the U.S. since the

Recent events should make the Garifuna more prominent. Two years ago,
the United Nations (specifically UNESCO) proclaimed their culture "A
Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity." A 1998
recording of traditional Garifuna music, "Paranda," continues to receive
worldwide acclaim. The renowned Garifuna musician Andy Palacio is the
official director of culture for Belize and many others are actively
promoting their identity.

"At one time, many of us were afraid of showing who we are," Castillo
says. "Many of us were afraid to even speak our language, because we
were among a dominant culture. But now, suddenly, there's a surge and
pride that has come over us and there's nothing that's gonna stop us at
this point."

Los Angeles and New York are major centers for Garifuna immigrants, but
Chicago is also a significant destination. Estimates vary on the size
of the local population, but the most likely number seems to be between
3,000 and 5,000. Several Garifuna in Chicago are from the Belizean
village of Hopkins.

The Garifuna are diffused throughout the city and gatherings are
usually in the homes of family and friends. These get-togethers are so lively
that Emily Martinez, a teacher in the Belizean capital, Belmopan, says,
"When I'm visiting my sister, uncles and cousins in Chicago, I eat more
Garifuna food there than when I'm in Belize."

It took a while for this community to reach that level. Adolfo Arzu
says he counted a total of six Garifuna here when he arrived in Chicago
from Honduras in 1967. Even though he remembers feeling lonely initially,
he was determined to work hard as a tailor to put his children through
school in the U.S. As he sits in his son Luis' dental office in Logan
Square, Arzu says that education is a primary Garifuna value.

"The Garifuna come over here, sweeping streets, cleaning, baby-sitting,
and they're going to school," Arzu says. "They have ambitions for their

Andrew Castillo (Rhodel's cousin) came to Chicago to pursue his
education and works for the Illinois Department of Revenue. He says that the
Garifuna are more willing to speak their language openly here because
there is no resulting stigma.

"In Belize, the Garifuna were treated as second-class citizens," Andrew
Castillo says. "So what better way to survive [there] than to push the
language aside?"

Enterprising students also are able to find ways to teach themselves
about Garifuna heritage. Adolfo Arzu's granddaughter, Angela Ruiz, an
English major at the University of Chicago, says that she learned how to
count to 10 in Garifuna through the Internet.

Reaching out

Garifuna Chicagoans are also connecting with the larger community.
Rhodel Castillo says that on "In Exile" he includes reggae alongside a form
of modern Garifuna music known as punta rock to attract a wide audience
(and because he's always been a fan of Bob Marley). He formed the
Progressive Garifuna Alliance 12 years ago to stage cultural events in
Chicago and raise money for economically disadvantaged communities in
Central America. Another locally based Garifuna musician, Fabio Guiti from
Honduras, agrees that now is the time to reach more Chicagoans.

Castillo is also collaborating with Takeesha Hart-Holmes, education
programs administrator at the Field Museum. The museum hosted Garifuna
programs a few years ago and will include their music and dance as part
ofthe Black History Month celebrations in February.

"We tend to think of black people only in regards to black and white
here in America," Hart-Holmes says. "But there are other people who
identify themselves with the color black or the pride that's associated with
being of African descent."

While many Garifuna agree that Chicago has been accommodating, there
are still times when they miss Central America. When Andrew Castillo's
father died this past autumn, he held a celebration of his memory as a
customary ninth-night wake. Even though he had plenty of friends and
relatives around -- and such traditional dishes as cow's foot soup --
Castillo became slightly homesick when he called his mother in Hopkins.

"I could hear them just beating the drums and it kind of took me home
for a little bit," Andrew Castillo says. "My mom said that even at 8 in
the morning, people were still having a good time telling stories and
playing cards. Oh man, I wished I was there."


Garifuna Settlement Day celebrations featuring Rhodel "Rhodee"
Castillo: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln
Ave.; 773-728-6000; free. 10:00 p.m. Saturday, Lal Qila, 6345 N. Western
Ave.; 773-764-8400; $15 advance, $20 at the door.

Copyright (c) 2003, Chicago Tribune

GARIFUNA IN PERIL - The Movie Review

Garifuna Legacy's Eddie Retiring

In Los Angeles, A Free Screening of Quest of the Carib Canoe

Interview with Garifuna Artist, Andy Palacio Part 3 of 3

Interview with Garifuna Artist, Andy Palacio Part 2 of 3

Interview with Garifuna Artist, Andy Palacio Part 1 of 3

Garifuna Musical Icon, Andy Palacio to be flown to the US as condition worsens

Andy Palacio has been hospitalized


Garifuna Network - Ultimate Provider of Authentic Garifuna Information! GarifunaCommunity.com - Find out where the Garifuna people are getting together on the internet PuntaMusic.com - Bringing the drums closer to your ears  with authentic Garifuna music! GariChat.com - Chat Live Today GariTV.com - Online Garifuna Television GariStore.com - Garifuna Super Store. Great Products, Fast Delivery Garifuna Network - Ultimate Provider of Authentic Garifuna Information!