Op-Ed: The Key to Garifuna Unity? Garifuna Identity

The Key to Garifuna Unity? Garifuna Identity

 By José Francisco Ávila

In response to my latest article, one of the readers sent me a message stating, “This was an timely reminder of this prestigious event. My hope that the Summit Meetings would have turned into a yearly event, because our fragmentation continues to increase.” In my response, I mentioned that the fragmentation is due to the lack of loyalty to the Garifuna identity and culture. Now nationality and hometown issues supersede the Garifuna issues.We must understand and accept that we are one people who share the same history and a common tradition in language, music and dance among other things. Despite the national boundaries that separate their communities, the Garifuna remain united by sense of common identity!

As I said in my opening speech during the 1992 Garifuna Summit Meeting, “It is now our collective responsibility to put the pieces of ourselves back together. We must help resurrect the Garifuna culture in the image of its past glory by reclaiming our history for the sake of our future. It is our responsibility to work to reassemble Chatoyer’s people. Most importantly, we must define ourselves within a global context rather than in the narrow confines of our scattered nationalities. Doing so requires neither imagination nor myth making, as our detractors contend. It requires only an accurate awareness of our natural ties, in spite of efforts to destroy them, with Yurumein and with other people of Garifuna descent.

But it would be foolish for us to enter the twenty first century with a twentieth century world view, concerned only with being citizens of our respective countries of birth. For the twenty first century, we must be prepared to define ourselves in the most global manner possible as Garinagu. And as citizens of the planet, we must assume the logical role to which our own history not someone else’s, clearly assigns us.

We must resurrect the Garifuna Culture in the image of its past glory by reclaiming our history for the sake of our future. A future based   on the UNESCO Proclamation of masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity: “The Garifuna are a hybrid people resulting from a biological and cultural mixture between Caribs and Arawaks of the Caribbean and people of African origin. This process of hybridization, which took place in the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent, gave rise to a new group called the Garifuna or the Garinagu.”

All of the communities in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua descend from the just over two thousand Garifuna people exiled from Saint Vincent in 1797. They are therefore one people who share the same history and a common tradition in language, music and dance among other things.

As described in the liner notes of the Andy Palacio’s the song Lidan Aban (Together) on his last album Watina, “This is a call for unity and progress among Garifuna people everywhere. Despite the national boundaries that separate their communities, the Garifuna remain united by sense of common identity.”

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