crucial step for unity
week we attended one of the most important integration events
in the Greater Caribbeanthe International Garifuna Summit,
convened by the Government of Nicaragua and held in Corn Island,
belonging to the regional capital of the North Atlantic Autonomous
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
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
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
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
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]