By Wellington C. Ramos
Since our Garifuna people were removed by the British from our sovereign homeland “Yurumein” now known as Saint Vincent and The Grenadines and’ dumped’ on the island of Roatan, Honduras on April 12, 1797, our lives have never been the same in all the countries where we currently live.
In St Vincent and The Grenadines, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize we are still asking some of our fellow citizens and governments, to accept and treat us as equals in these countries, even though we are also born citizens; with Honduras having the ‘worse record on human rights,’ which includes the ongoing; unlawful imprisonments, torturing and killing of some of our Garifuna activists up until recently.
Our Garifuna people have and continue to leave Honduras because of the denial of essential government services, kidnappings, torturing, killings, human rights violations and better economic opportunities. The biggest migration occurred when there was a mass killing of our people in San Juan, Honduras in 1832, which led to Elijio Beni and Satulle taking our people from there to Dangriga, Belize. A Garifuna civil rights activist who was born in Honduras by the name of Thomas Vincent Ramos and naturalized as a Belizean, saw the need to make the 19th of November a Day of “Reflection” and he did it.
This was done so that his people can come together and examine what they have been through as a people and avoid similar occurrences from happening to them in the future. Through his efforts, the British Crown granted his people a Garifuna Settlement Day in 1941, for the Toledo and Stann Creek Districts. We were the majority of people living in the southern part of Belize for many years. The November 19 holiday later became a public and bank holiday throughout the entire country of Belize in the year 1977.
I have observed that since this day became a national holiday, many of our people have moved away from “Reflecting” to “Celebrating. As a result, we are now experiencing some serious economic, social and political problems in Belize and all the other countries where we live. We have moved away from being autonomous and resilient to being passive and dependent. We must always remember, that we are a nation of people living in all these countries based on international law, UNDRIP, treaties and conventions that were signed with us by the French, British and these countries where we reside.
With that being said, we possess Garifuna nation nationality and the nationalities for all the countries where we and our ancestors were born. All the countries where we Garifuna people live today have Dual Nationality Clauses in their constitutions. Plus, almost all Garinagu people have relatives in Saint Vincent and The Grenadines, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize and the United States of America. In the past when I was growing up, I remember going to the Dangriga pier with my mother to welcome my family from “Labuga” Guatemala and some from Honduras.
The boats by the names of Ilda, Santa Maria and Suyapa, would come packed with our people waving their Garifuna Flags and beating their drums until the boats docked at the pier when they came off to greet their families. This was a tradition that was kept up for many years and the late George Pastor, was the person who was known for sponsoring these excursions from Dangriga. Since we are now experiencing serious social, economic and political problems in all the countries where we live.
I recommend that part of our program leading to the 19th of November Celebrations and all of our celebrations, schedule a day for a symposium “reflection” with representatives from all the countries in the diaspora. This day should not only be to meet and greet but to also formalize social, economic and political proposals to focus on and implement in our respective countries.
Every year at subsequent symposiums, progress reports should be presented by the respective organizations to assess the successes and failures of the program. If we do not take this action now, we will continue to celebrate the days when we landed in these countries, while our people have nothing worthwhile to celebrate for.
Economically, November 19 celebrations in Belize and the other celebrations bring in a lot of money to these towns and cities and many people benefit from it. Most of the people that are benefitting from these celebrations are not our people. We are mostly consumers and do not own the businesses.
We are just spenders and consumers to make other people in our community more wealthier. With our innovative minds, we possess the mental capacity to devise ways and means to benefit financially from our celebrations. A good idea would be, to establish a permanent Cultural Village in all of our communities. Where people can come daily to see various aspects of our culture being displayed such as; arts, crafts, dances, storytelling, a museum, drums playing, music etc. not only will this generate money but it will also provide some of our people with employment and help us to accumulate financial resources to sustain our communities.
Every year I make it my business to contribute an article in regards to our November 19, Celebrations in Belize. I am not against the celebrations that are being conducted by my people, but I regret that it is not being used for more meaningful purposes to reflect on ourselves as a nation of people living in these different countries.
When I think about my people and look at what all we have endured under the savagery of Spanish, French, British colonial genocidal and current governments’ neocolonialist human rights violations, I am still in disbelief. Our resiliency is second to none. We have never walked away from any battle that we must fight to survive. Despite many of our victories in past battles, there remains many more to fight. Sometimes I want to believe that the battles will always be here for us to fight until we die.
I hope and pray that for this year and subsequent years to come, when we celebrate April 12, and November 19, and other celebrations, we examine our social, economic and political conditions living in the countries where we currently reside to preserve our culture and improve our living conditions.
The Garifuna Nation was formed in 2014 as an international organization that is committed to seeking justice for all of the Garinagu people worldwide. This can only happen with the assistance of all of us as Garinagu people with our organizations.