Op-Ed: The Garifuna Nostalgia Paradox

The Garifuna Nostalgia Paradox

By José Francisco Ávila

Over the past year, I’ve read and seen a great deal of postings on social media, expressing nostalgia for the era of our “Ancestors” in the heart of modern day communities.

While we may nostalgically long for the era of our “Ancestors”, we have proven that modernization need not involve sacrificing all that is dear, yet neither must people be excluded from the benefits of the modern world.

We recently celebrated my mother’s 90th birthday, she left her native village of Cristales in Honduras, over 70 years ago when she and my father migrated to the City of La Ceiba for better opportunities, where we were raised. From there, we migrated to the City of Boston when I was 15. Therefore, despite being born in the Garifuna village of Cristales, I’ve lived most of my life in urban settings, having to assimilate into established larger communities.

That has been the Garifuna reality since the days of our “Ancestors” in St Vincent,  the ancestral homeland of the Garifuna People; where they coexisted along the Caribs, Arawaks, Africans, French and British. It continued in Central America, where we coexisted with the Spanish, Mestizos, Miskitos, English, English Speaking Blacks, etc., and it continued when we migrated to the melting pot of the United States of America during desegregation.

The same reality is experienced in Central American Garifuna communities, as stated in the UNSESCO Candidature Form, “There has been some erosion of the Garifuna language and some other aspects of the culture due to a combination of factors. These include migration in search of economic opportunities not present in Garifuna communities, discrimination and the failure of the school system to even acknowledge the language and culture in the work of the school even in Garifuna communities.”

Despite forcible deportation and subsequent Diaspora, the Garifuna Heritage and Culture has not only survived, we have thrived as a people by taking the best from our history into the future. This can be demonstrated by the Proclamation by UNESCO of the Garifuna Language, Music and Dance as Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangibles Heritage of Humanity in 2001!

We have displayed remarkable resiliency in our quest to maintain our cultural identity. Our resiliency is demonstrated through our Culture which has continually reinterpreted, adapted, and synthesized in order to survive.  We have confronted and stemmed the erosion of the Garifuna Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage in the heart of modern day communities, by preserving Garifunaduaü, the practice and maintenance of the customs, rites, and beliefs that promote identity.

Having lived the first 15 years of my life in Honduras and after 49 years in the USA, I have seen our Community uplifted from obscurity to the pinnacle of recognition, as demonstrated by the UNESCO Proclamation and the adoption of the Garifuna Punta Rhythm as the national rhythm of Belize and Honduras.  I have witnessed Zamfir “Man Zangie” Adams being crowned the 2018 St Vincent and the Grenadines Calypso Monarch with a song entitled “Hail Garifuna” proclaiming “Great Is Our History! Great Is Our Garifuna Legacy!”

While we may nostalgically long for the era of our “Ancestors”, we have proven that modernization need not involve sacrificing all that is dear, yet neither must people be excluded from the benefits of the modern world.  “Hail Garifuna

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