I believe in the empowering capability of history. I believe that history has the power to ground a people, to strengthen their resilience, to imbue them with pride, to undergird them with fortitude so that they can endure the impossible and go beyond survival to achieve greatness. This I believe.
That the Garifuna people, their traditions, and their language are still very viable in the twenty-first century speaks volumes about their fortitude and resilience. This year, the Garifuna people, who can be found in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and perhaps many other enclaves in the U.S, celebrate the 210th anniversary of their exile in 1797 from their native island of St. Vincent in the Caribbean to the Central American coast. Not all of the 5000 who were exiled survived the trip across the Caribbean.
I grew up in the small Garifuna village of Barranco in Belize, Central America speaking Garifuna. During my grade school years I experienced times when school prayers and devotions were conducted in Garifuna and other times when we were not allowed to speak the language. I am fortunate, however, that my history was part of my school’s curriculum. Learning the history, traditions, and culture of the Garifuna people led me to believe that I was the only one who could put limits on my own achievement.
The villagers re-enacted and celebrated the arrival of the Garifuna people in Belize annually on November 19th. I attended performance of plays depicting the lives and trials of the Garifuna people. I was lulled to sleep nightly by the drums coming from the community center, drums that broadcast the preparations for that important day. Every year, I learned of the resilience of the Garifuna people, I learned of their fate at the hands of the Europeans who stripped them of their lands, I learned of their ultimate betrayal, but also I learned of their way of life, their prowess at seamanship, and their self-sufficiency. These stories and the re-enactment filled me with pride and endowed me with the strength, stamina, and courage to resist all efforts to diminish me. During my youth, the Garifuna people were not treated well by the Belize community. Knowledge of my history allowed me to rise above the discrimination and prejudice and led me to appreciate and embrace my culture, to speak my language with pride, and to try as much as I could to maintain our traditions.
This year, I plan to participate in the annual Garifuna celebrations in Belize. I plan to be there to greet and welcome the re-enacters as they arrive at the shores of Belize in their dories. I plan to march with them to the church to give thanks for a safe arrival across the Gulf of Honduras. I plan to revel in the Garifuna music and food and to follow the call of the drums. I believe in the empowering capability of history. It has led me to appreciate and embrace my Garifunaness.
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