Thursday 24th November 2005

 
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A crucial step for unity

Last week we attended one of the most important integration events in the Greater Caribbean—the International Garifuna Summit, convened by the Government of Nicaragua and held in Corn Island, belonging to the regional capital of the North Atlantic Autonomous Region.

Invited to this summit were Central American countries, in addition to Dominica, Guyana and St Vincent and the Grenadines. The initiative corresponded to the interest in keeping alive the recognition given by Unesco proclaiming “the Garifuna language, dance and music” patrimony of humanity.

The Garifunas are peoples from the colonial period who did not conform to the initiatives of metropolitan countries since their origin was associated with the movement of slaves who, fleeing from the cruelties of the system, found refuge in the mountains close to the aborigines of the island of St Vincent.

That ethnic alliance was what earned them the name “Caribbean Negroes,” since being of African origin they had united with the Caribbean Indians for survival.

The African settlers were accepted by the aborigines and managed to create small communities where they survived the attacks of their persecutors. There they developed agricultural cultivation techniques inherited from the original Caribbean inhabitants which, combined with their ancestral African knowledge, allowed them to develop an entire cultivation tradition and diet that have endured up to today.

As in many other Caribbean islands, territories often changed hands, sometimes by negotiations with the metropolis and, on other occasions, by actions of direct conquest over said territories. In other words, one day they could be under English rule and the next French, or later on Spanish.

Between 1795 and 1797, there was movement among the inhabitants of St Vincent who were taken to Continental America by the metropolitan authorities, firstly to one of the islands of Honduras, then moving on to Nicaragua and then to Guatemala and Belize.

The Garifunas lived a life consistent with the development achieved, dedicated to fishing, agriculture, woodcutting and the gathering of fruits with which they ensured their survival and, to a lesser extent, trade, although with the passing of time arrangements were made to export to some of the points closest to each of the countries they inhabited.

Culturally speaking, these groups, just like many other peoples of African descent, integrated their cultures with the contributions received from those going to the respective communities where they congregated. This bore the peculiarity that they came as individuals and as groups representing those left behind in Africa.

Highlighted among their contributions is the originality of their languages which are authentically their own, a Creole derived from English, with African words and others drawn from Spanish; in addition to having preserved the use of English among many of them.

Their religious practices are very close to other popular religions of the island Caribbean where syncretisms prevail that combine the African origin and the influence of western religions.

The music is original, although it is rhythmic with the same characteristics of other Caribbean peoples.

The outcome of this Garifuna summit praises the contributions of those settlers who succeeded in resisting the rigours of colonial domination, the difficulties of material poverty and who, despite everything, have held up high the values of social solidarity and respect for nature.

This is a crucial step for unity between the peoples of the island Caribbean and those of Central America.

Dr Rubén Silié Valdez is the Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States. The views expressed are not necessarily the official views of the ACS. Feedback can be sent to: [email protected]

 

 

 

 

 

 

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