A Brief History of the Garifuna
The story of the Garifuna begins in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which the indigenous Kalinago called Hairouna, and the Garifuna know as Yurumein. In the mid-17th century, a slave ship with human cargo from Africa was shipwrecked near to St. Vincent while en route to Barbados. The surviving Africans were rescued by the Kalinago inhabitants of St Vincent and brought ashore. The inter-marriage of the Kalinago and the African cultures produced the black carib race or Garifuna.
St Vincent and the Grenadines became the melting pot that gave rise to this organic fusion of peoples and cultures. The African newcomers took Kalinago names and adopted Kalinago customs, religious and burial rites, and their reliance on seafaring and fishing. To these customs they infused elements of West African cuisine, music and dance. The Kalinago language also began to absorb African words and rhythms. The two peoples slowly became one. By the mid-18th century, the British attempts to take possession of the island were met with fierce and sustained resistance by the Garifuna nation.
This led to the First Carib War of 1772. After 10 months of war, the British were forced to negotiate a peace treaty with the Garifuna. Unfortunately, the Treaty – which split St Vincent roughly in half between Garifuna and England – was met with bitter complaints from the planters, that “the most fertile and beautiful part of the island was ceded to the Caribs. They quickly tried to breach the boundaries on the so-callled “Carib Lands” and this led to the second world war led by Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer who was killled on battlefield. The Garifuna ultimately surrendered.
Having fought two wars in less than thirty years against the Garifuna, the British were in no mood to be magnanimous in victory. The unyielding Garifuna were gathered-up and exiled to an inhospitable rock off the coast of St. Vincent called Balliceaux – a place devoid of water, vegetation, or arable soil, where over 2000 of them died. The British ultimately sent ships to transport the remaining Garifuna from Balliceaux and into exille on Roatan Island, off the coast of Honduras. The survivors were split in half, with about 2,000 now on Roatan Island and roughly the same number remaining on a tiny reservation in the a corner of
St Vincent (North of the Rabacca River). Death and forced exile had reduced the size of the Garifuna population in St Vincent by almost 80 per cent. The Caribs were trapped on a 300-acre reservation in St Vincent, and their exiled brothers and sisters were once again singing their fathers’ songs in a strange land.
The story did not end there. On the tiny reservation in St Vincent, the Garifuna were subject to British attempts to eradicate their language and outlaw many of their religious customs. As a consequence, many aspects of the Garifuna culture disappeared; The Garifuna continued to endure the injustices of history and faced many challenges integrating themselves into a post emancipation society.
Today, in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Garifuna language is not spoken. Efforts are being made to revive the Garifuna culture.