The Garifuna History

The Garifuna History

Honduras is home to many indigenous people, from native Indian tribes to the more recent Garifuna. The Garifuna, who are also known as the Black Caribs or the Garinagu, are the descendants of Caribs Indians and Black African slaves who were shipwrecked on the island of St. Vincent. These two cultures married into one another and gave birth to a people who have managed to preserve their culture despite discrimination, migration, interaction and re-settlement. In 1974, there were an estimated 77,000 Garifuna people, spread out across fifty-one different communities. And their culture is a perfect melding of both of their ancestors. Their language, agriculture and religion are very similar to that of their Caribbean ancestors, while their dances, drum music and art bear a strong African influence. But, despite the fact that they have managed to preserve their way of life, there are many outside influences that threaten their very existence.

The Garifuna Villages of Honduras

The great majority of the Garifuna people live within the borders of Honduras. There are many villages; some are popular while others are more obscure. Some of the more popular villages include:

  • In the Tela area: San Juan, Tournabe, Triunfo de la Cruz, Miami and La Ensendada.
  • In La Ceiba: Corozal and Sambo Creek.
  • In Trujillo: Trujillo, Santa Fe, San Antonia and Guadeloupe, and
  • In Bataya, they have villages throughout the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve.

Lesser known villages include:

  • Villages in the Puerto Cortes region
  • Punta Gorda
  • Roatan
  • Santa Rosa de Aguan
  • Lemon and
  • Iriona

The Garifuna Way of Life

These villages remain largely untouched by the outside influence of technology and “advancement.” Their houses are constructed in the old way, using wild cane or palm leaves, though more recently some have been renovated to include concrete block. Their society depends a great deal on fishing, which they accomplish by using hand fishing lines, nets and hollowed out (or “dugout”) canoes. Many of the villages are self-sufficient, and hardly any of the Garifuna let the local bounty of nature go to waste. You’ll find a great deal of the local agriculture incorporated into their diets and dishes. There is machuca, which is a meal made of mashed green plantains with coconut milk soup and fried fish, as well as traditional breads like cassava bread, buns, banana bread and pumpkin bread. The Garifuna also have recipes for cocktail concoctions that will surely light up your night, and blend in well with their celebratory music, dancing and ceremonies.

Garifuna Day

The Garifuna are a proud culture, with a unique religion (which, though many confuse the two, is not voodoo) and their own vibrant style of dress, art and craftsmanship. Every year, on April 12th, the Garifuna celebrate their arrival to Honduras, which occurred on April 12, 1797. This celebration is not restricted to any one city, but to every city, town or village that the Garifuna call home. The celebration is headed by the Buyeis, or shaman, who start the ceremony with purification rites, which are followed by historical reenactments, dances, songs, parades, Mass, a time of rest, all culminated in a night of concerts and festivities. Indeed, the Garifuna find many reasons to celebrate, and their excitement is infectious. But, while you stay with the Garifuna, it is important to show them honor and respect. Please don’t show up to attend one of their cultural celebrations without an invitation, whether open or specific. As a general rule, the Garifuna are very happy to share the culture, legends and way of life with all who visit.

Encroaching Danger for the Garifuna

While it is fascinating to discover and immerse yourself in a culture that has held it’s own against the powerful global wave of modernization and development, all is not well within the Garifuna culture. While they’ve managed to stave off the threat of assimilation for over two hundred years, modern life and dangers are finding their way into the peaceful villages. The Garifuna village of Miami will soon give way to posh beach resorts, and it isn’t the only one to worry. As tourism and travel continue to flourish in Honduras, it is of the utmost importance that this culture be preserved, for the Garifuna are as vital to the area as the dwindling rainforests and endangered species that call the country home. But, modernization isn’t the only danger the Garifuna face. The AIDS virus has also begun to take its toll. In some areas, the infection rate of the Garifuna is upwards of 25%, and many fear that intervention and education may be arriving too little, too late. And if all of this wasn’t enough, there’s yet another problem. While past generations have worked diligently to preserve their language, culture and way of life, more recent generations have begun to disregard the importance of passing on the culture and language to their children. Many fear that within the next few decades, one of Honduras’ greatest treasures may pass away, with no one left to carry the torch of truth and tradition. And should this happen, the Garifuna will be greatly missed.

Only Time Will Tell

Only time will tell whether or not the Garifuna will be able to resist the temptation to abandon their old way of life and be absorbed into the ever-growing global culture. Times are hard, and money talks in any language, regardless of how unique it may be. While at first glance it may appear that this encroaching modernity will prove to be a boost for this historic culture, the loss of their cultural identity would be a wound to the very heart of Honduras. Today, there are many activists and philanthropists eager to aid the Garifuna in their quest to stave off technology and modernity, but the only true solution, the only real hope, will come from the Garifuna themselves.