Texas Garifuna/Belizeans Community
Published for the Garifuna & Belizean Community of  Killeen/Texas

ISSUE NUMBER:  003-2000                December,  2000
Early Garifuna History
By: Joseph R. Flores
The History of the Garinagu culture begins in South America, where people who spoke Arawak; an Amerindian language, fashioned a culture based on farming, hunting and fishing. By 1000 AD some of them had moved up the Orinoco River to the Caribbean Sea and it's islands, where they established a new way of life.

Later, other people, whom history has called "Caribs, moved into the Caribbean out of the same area. They traded with the Arawaks, sometimes raiding their settlements, and eventually  pushed them out of the smaller islands, taking their women as wives. This mixture of Carib and Arawak created a new race of people, called; "Island Caribs.

In the 1500's the Europeans came to the Caribbean islands,  bringing Africans as slaves to carry out the agricultural and other manual labor. The Island Caribs fought fiercely to protect their islands, but succeeded in holding only two; Dominica and Saint Vincent, or Yurumei; as they called it.
In 1635, two Spanish ships carrying slaves ship-wrecked off  St. Vincent and the slaves on board escaped, taking refuge among the Carib Indians. The Caribs welcomed and protected the Africans, and in time allowed them to marry the Caribs. The Africans then adopted the languages, culture and traditions of the Yellow Island Caribs.

The intermarriage brought about a rapid growth of hybrid mixture of African and Yellow Indian Caribs. From this union arose a half-bred race possessing some Caribs and African characteristics to which the name Garifuna or Black Caribs to distinguished them from the others, who were called Red or Yellow Caribs. Today, they are more often known as Garifuna (or Karaphuna, in Dominica) which is closer to the original word by which they called themselves so long ago. More correctly they are called Garinagu.

By the 1750 the Black Caribs of St. Vincent were numerous and quite prosperous. They had war-chiefs, some with several wives who did most of the farming. The men hunted and fished and made trips to nearby islands to trade tobacco and baskets for arms, munitions and other European manufacture goods. French settlers lived in St. Vincent then too, but there was enough land for all, and few problems arose.

Then, in 1763, the British came to St. Vincent and over the next several years tried everything they could to get the Black Caribs to give more of their fertile lands to them to plant sugarcane. Finally; in 1772 the Caribs were provoked to open warfare. The French sympathized with their Black friends, and sided with them in trying to get rid of their common enemy. For 32 years the struggle went on and off, with both sides incurring many losses.

Finally in 1795, the British determined to end the conflict and take over the entire island. They brought in special troops; including elements made up of their slaves to put on a major military campaign.  By the summer of 1796 the French had had enough and surrendered, but the Carib continued fighting. The British burned their houses, canoes and crops and eventually; sick and nearly starving, the Caribs surrendered too. A total of 4,644 men, women and children were taken prisoners and sent to the island of Baliceaux, until it was decided what to do with them. While there, under dreadful and crowded unsanitary conditions, more than half of them died from diseases.

In February 1797, the order came to send all surviving Black Caribs to the island of Roatan, just off the Honduran coast. At the same time, they returned the so-called "Red" or lighter skinned" Caribs to Saint Vincent. By then, the two populations were very mixed.  Single families would have had some light and some darker-skinned individuals: Thus it's likely that forced separation according to skin color only made the situation more tragic.

Although the British left them with food supplies, tools, fish hooks and lines, cuttings and seeds, it would have been very difficult to have cleared and planted before the rainy season began-specially because the people were weak and miserable from their long ordeal. Therefore, they begged the Spanish on the main land to come to Roatan and rescued them. On May 19. 1797, the Spaniards did so.

Once the Garinagu had moved to Trujillo, the men worked as soldiers and fisherman. They also cleared land so the women could plant food crops. In this way they provided enough food for the entire European coastal population, which had been near starvation before.

Ethnological studies have proven that the Garifuna, are the only black people in the Americas to conserve their native culture.

Throughout more than 300 years, the Garifuna culture has undergone constant changes as the Garifuna people respond to the new demands placed on them through contact with other cultures. They still share a great deal with the Indian of the Amazon such as language, the yucca, fishing, dances and several religious practices and beliefs.  However, their African  ancestors have also left a deep mark in their dances, oral traditions, drum styles and agriculture.

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