The National Garifuna Council: Its Achievements

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The Garifuna Flag

Historical Background

The National Garifuna Council (NGC) was formed in 1981. It was duly registered under Chapter 206 of the Companies Act, Laws of Belize in 1987. The organization is headed by a National President and Board of Directors. The President and his executive are elected every two years at an Annual Convention.

Garifuna are a hybrid people resulting from a cultural mixture between Caribs and Arawaks of the Caribbean and people of African origin. This gave rise in the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent to a new group called the Garifuna or the Garinagu. History tells us that these people resisted English efforts to deprive them of their lands in a land war that lasted many years and when they eventually lost the English carried out a plan that was conceived twenty five years earlier. Those who survived a six month imprisonment on the rock island of Balliceaux were loaded onto ships on the 11th of March 1797 and exiled to Central America where they arrived in Roatan on 12th April of the same year. From here they spread to the mainland and along the Central American coast from Nicaragua to Southern Belize. Since it was on the island of St. Vincent that the Garifuna came into existence as an identifiable group, we consider ourselves as being indigenous to the Circum-Caribbean.

The Garifuna language is spoken in Garifuna communities scattered along the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Belize. In all of these communities the forces of the current world order threaten to overwhelm the Garifuna language and culture if mitigating actions are not taken.

On April 12th, 1997 the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Garifuna People in Central America was celebrated. Events surrounding the observances brought a new awareness to many of the circumstances surrounding our exile from St. Vincent, and the real reasons for the attempted genocide, as well as a new appreciation for the miracle of our survival. While we managed to survive the inhuman treatment two hundred years ago and continue to exist today as a distinct group it is our view that our culture is now threatened. The threat comes from ourselves as well as from some of the modern day institutions that have a profound effect on us. The danger from within arises from the fact that we are fast losing the identity and cultural strength that enabled our ancestors to resist great hardships and deprivations. We learned and taught the history, language and culture of those who colonized us but are losing our own.

The erosion of the Garifuna language in Belize is particularly worrisome and the concern is expressed in all sectors of the Belizean Garifuna society - young and old. This threatens our value system and our existence as a people and there is a need to take action to stem the erosion as quickly as possible. The erosion has affected our self-esteem and performance as a people. As a result, we are alienating our lands and are performing poorly in school. The fact is that our language is still spoken and its use is widespread. However, it is only in one village - Hopkins - that young children still learn it as their native language. There is an awareness of the fact that this very important part of our identity is beginning to slip away. This awareness is coupled with a feeling of helplessness as parents are blamed for not speaking it to their children even while they use the language among themselves. In this climate, it is imperative that the National Garifuna Council takes the lead in working out interventions aimed at arresting the loss of our language and other elements of our culture.

Mission of NGC

NGC's mission is to advocate for and secure the rights, development, and culture of the Garifuna in Belize, while promoting economic sustainability, interracial harmony and maintaining traditional respect for the preservation of the environment.

Objectives

  • To foster economic development in Garifuna communities by facilitating and promoting new business growth in an environmentally sound manner.
  • To ensure that our Garifuna cultural heritage is nurtured and promoted.
  • To establish an advocacy, education, and community outreach programmes seeking to address issues that affect our communities / people.
  • To empower youth and to participate in the development of the Garifuna culture and people.
  • To build the administrative and financial capacity of the Council, and its branches for long-term sustainability

MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF NGC

1.) Unesco Declaration

The Garifuna people are struggling with issues of poverty and cultural survival. Maintenance of a vibrant language and oral tradition is essential to the identity of the Garifuna people. The value of the Garifuna culture and in particular its language, music and dance has been attested to by UNESCO who proclaimed it to be a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2001

2.) Institutional Strengthening

NGC has just completed a 2-year Institutional Strengthening Project sponsored by the Danish Trust Fund for Consulting Services (administered by Inter-American Development Bank), the NGC and the Government of Belize. The objective of the project is to develop the income generating potential of Garifuna communities and the NGC while taking into consideration the vibrant Garifuna culture, business opportunities in Belize, and the socio-economic situation of most Garifuna communities. The philosophy behind the project is that it is difficult to preserve cultural customs while fighting extreme poverty. The focus of the project is to provide technical support to build the capacity of the NGC to fulfill its mandate, by developing plans for NGC owned businesses, communication and promotional strategies, and producing a 5-year strategic plan.

3.) Monument Complex and Museum

The Chuluhadiwa Garinagu monument, representing the arrival, struggles and prosperity of Garinagu around the world was built from 1984-89 at the entrance to Dangriga. In 1999, 13.9 acres of land surrounding and including the monument is the property of the NGC. There are plans to expand the Monument complex with a Garifuna tourism and education village. The complex will in addition to the existing monument include a museum / library, auditorium, dabuyaba (temple), cafeteria / dormitory and a traditional home gift shop. The museum / library were constructed with funds from the Taiwanese Government, the Government of Belize and other donors. In November 2004, NGC and the National Institute for Culture and History (NICH) were pleased to officially open the Gulisi Garifuna Museum at the monument site. It is hoped that the complex will be used as a source of information about Garifuna heritage and a learning resource for Garinagu, as well as a major tourist attraction for the area, thus raising national and global awareness of the Garifuna culture.

4.) Hamalali Garinagu NGC Radio Station

Hamalali Garinagu NGC Radio Station In 2000, the Commonwealth of Learning donated a portable radio transmitter to the NGC and subsequently a radio license was applied for and granted. So far the signal covers the Dangriga area, but the long term goal is to extend the range throughout the south of Belize to Punta Gorda. Hamalali Garinagu NGC Radio has been on air since 25th May 2002 and is broadcast daily from Dangriga. It has been established as a community radio station to serve the wider community, as well as to promote Garifuna music and culture, and thus plays a variety of Garifuna and contemporary music. The radio station broadcasts at 100.1 FM between 6am and 12pm. Currently the NGC is working with UNESCO to expand the radio signal to a national frequency. The NGC is also providing valuable training to another UNESCO radio initiative in the Toledo District to establish an indigenous Maya and Garifuna radio station, a mechanism to promote culture, but also to educate the public about issues that affect Belize's indigenous people.

5.) Habinaha Garinagu Youth Dance Company

In 2005 the World Bank Indigenous People's Grant Facility sponsored a 4 week drumming and dancing workshop for Garifuna youth in Belize. The workshop was facilitated by Garifuna choreographer, Eleanor Castillo Bullock and Garifuna music teacher, James Lovell. Both facilitators, currently living in New York, are dedicated in their work to preserve the Garifuna culture. 50 Garifuna youths (age 6 - 24) from 8 different communities participated and a National Garifuna Dance Company was created. In addition to learning about Garifuna Drumming and Dancing, the youths acquired significant Garifuna language skills as the performance, including drama and songs all took place in Garifuna. 3 gala performances were held: Dangriga, Belize City, and Punta Gorda. The dance company has also performed at a number of other Belizean celebrations, including Independence Day in September and Garifuna November Celebrations.

6.) Gulisi Community Primary School

The National Garifuna Council with the support of the Ministry of Education took a bold but a much needed step and inaugurated a new Pre and Primary School on 11th September 2007 and named it GULISI COMMUNITY PRIMARY SCHOOL in honor of Gulisi. Gulisi was the daughter of our legendary chief Joseph Chatoyer. Gulisi was only thirteen years old when the resistance of the Garinagu against the full military might of colonial Britain collapsed and we were forced to surrender. She survived the brutal internment of the Garinagu on the barren island of Balliceaux where half of our numbers died and the harsh sea voyage in the hulls of the British ships where many more of our numbers died and were thrown overboard. Many of the details of our struggles and the suffering that took place during these epic events and turmoil in our history are known today because this extraordinary woman made sure that her children and grandchildren knew of the struggles and committed them to ensure that the story was passed on to future generations so that we may never forget who we are, where we came from, and the circumstances that resulted in our being exiled. It is the spirit of this great woman that we want to capture for our children and hence we chose this name for our school which has a curriculum that is intercultural and bilingual. The students are taught equally in and of their cultural language and patrimony as well as in English and the standard primary school curriculum of Belize.

Books And Publications

The following books have been produced by the National Garifuna Council:
  • "Walagante" by Marcella Lewis;
  • "Garifuna Understanding of Death" by Rev Fr. Jerris Valentine;
  • "Bungiu Waba" by E.R. Cayetano;
  • "THOMAS VINCENT RAMOS – The Man and His Writings" by Adele Ramos.
  • "THE PEOPLES'S GARIFUNA DICTIONARY" by E.R. Cayetano
Other publications done by Garinagu include:
  • "Garifuna History, Language and Culture – The Bicentennial Edition- written" by Sebastian Cayetano and Fabian Cayetano
  • "The Garifuna Teachers' written" by Francis B, Arana Sr.
  • "The Belizean Garifuna" by Carel Roessing
  • "NARENGA" by Felicia Hernandez

Plans

(1) Cultural Preservation of the Garifuna in Belize

Cultural preservation for the Garinagu is important for all generations, but no one is more important than working with young people to promote cultural pride, learning traditional customs, and have an opportunity to practice the Garifuna language. Outside forces such as migration and adopting westernized philosophies and world view have eroded cultural values and traditions of the Garifuna in Belize. As Belize is a relatively small country, of only 300,000 persons, and only 15 per cent of the total population is Garifuna, cultural erosion is inevitable. However, as Garinagu become part of the wider Belizean culture, it is important for them to embrace and learn their own special cultural traditions and how the Garifuna have contributed to the development of Belize.

As people move away from their traditional homes, they lose their traditional language. Garifuna is an oral language that makes it very susceptible to being lost and forgotten. Today, very few children speak Garifuna which is a precursor of the loss of language to come.

(2) Language Preservation

The rich history of the Garifuna culture is found in the language, the stories, and the songs. Once the language is lost, they will also lose their songs, stories, and history. It is vital that the language be written so that it can be studied and written down. The revision and creation of a new dictionary will allow students to undertake the study of the language and hopefully, reverse the erosion that the language has seen in the past

(3) Economic marginalization

The contribution of the Garifuna culture and of the Garinagu to Belize is widely recognized to be disproportionate to their population size. Garifuna teachers were renowned for their skills and were relied upon by the Catholic Church in the propagation of modern education to all other ethnic groups in rural communities in the early 1900's. Garinagu also constitute a major part of health workers, Police Department and the Defense Forces of Belize. The music and dance is powerfully appealing and has today become synonymous with the Belizean identity. But notwithstanding all these achievements, the Garinagu as a whole are largely recognized to be at the lower end of the economic spectrum and economic opportunities for the young are very minimal in the home communities in the southern part of Belize.

(4) Financing of a Sustainable Secretariat

The work of the NGC requires national coordination which requires a full-time commitment of a number of individuals to implement the NGC’s programmes, communicate with members, and address the needs of 11 diverse communities. The ability of the NGC to do more for its people is severely hampered by the lack of a full time Secretariat of competent individuals to carry out the day to day work. Financing for the payment of salaries on a sustainable basis is the major drawback.

We would like to thank Mr. Ernest Castro, President of the NGC for his assistance in compiling information for this article.

For more information visit the NGC website at www.ngcbelize.org

 

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