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The Garifuna (Belize and Honduras)


Last modified: 2020-05-13 by rob raeside
Keywords: america | central america | honduras | belize | garifuna | gariganu | dangriga |
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image by Ivan Sache, 27 April 2008

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The Garífuna

About 2 days ago on CNN I just saw a little report on the Garifundio (or something quite similar, I couldn't write it down at that moment) people. If I understood well, I didn't see it complete, they are descendents of Africans brought to America. Again, If I understood well, they live in Belize. Of course, the interesting thing is that they have a flag. (from up to down): equal stripes yellow, white, black. Proportions, as always in moving flags, were a little difficult to tell, but it seemed to me that the flag was not very "long" (as 1:2) I would rather say it looked like 3:4.
Nicolas Rucks, 3 April 2000

It's 'Gari'funa' according to State of the Peoples', by Marc S. Miller (ed), Boston, 1993 :
Gari'funa of Belize.
The Gari'funa, also known as Caribs or Black Caribs, are not native to Central America but can be classified as an Indian element on the basis of their genetic makeup and their use of a language indigenous to the Americas. Of mixed African and Carib Indian descent, the Gari'funa originated on St. Vincent Island in the Lesser Antilles. Gari'funa were deported by the British to Honduras in 1797 and reached Belize during the early nineteenth century. Gari'funa are concentrated in six villages in southern Belize near the Caribbean coast - Dangriga (formerly Stann Creek), Hopkins, Georgetown, Seine Bight, Punta Gorda, and Barranco. The British established agricultural "reserves" on the outskirts of Dangriga and Punta Gorda during the 1930s for subsistence-oriented farmers and fishing people. In recent decades, the number of Belize Gari'funa has remained relatively stable. The most numerous Indian group in the country, they number about 11,000, accounting for 8 % of the population. Some Gar?funa are migrating from coastal villages. This trend reaches throughout Belize and beyond to large Gari'funa communities in Los Angeles, Houston, New Orleans, and New York. However, the homelands remain strong Gari'funa territory.
Gari'funa of Honduras.
Gari'funa speakers occupy the Caribbean coast between southern Belize and northeast Honduras, plus a small enclave at Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua. Of the 54 Gari'funa settlements in Central America, 44 are along the coast of northern Honduras. Gari'funa are the majority rural people of the country's northern coastal fringes. Official population estimates for Honduran Gari'funa are between 70,000 and 80,000, but Gari'funa leaders often suggest a figure of 200,000 to 300,000. A 1988 Honduran language census lists 27,745 Gari'funa speakers, certainly an undercount. Gari'funa are unified and characterized primarily by language and rituals. Women normally dominate agriculture and food preparation, which centers on bitter manioc. Men engage in fishing-related activities and wage labor away from the villages. Although the distinctive Gari'funa culture, including dance, folk stories, songs, death, and rituals, remains strong in the home beach lands, out-migartion throughout Honduras and abroad is increasing. Maintaining the language and traditions is more difficult away from the villages. In addition, ladino encroachments onto traditional Gari'funa lands present the possibility of cultural dissolution.
Jarig Bakker, 3 April 2000

Data from "The Ethnologue" at <>:
GARÍFUNA (CARIBE, CENTRAL AMERICAN CARIB, BLACK CARIB) [CAB] 12,274 in Belize (1991 census); 75,000 in Honduras (1995 UBS); 16,700 in Guatemala (1990 SIL); 1,500 in Nicaragua; 94,500 in all countries. Stann Creek and Toledo along the coast. Arawakan, Maipuran, Northern Maipuran, Caribbean. They speak Creole as second language. Dictionary. English-oriented orthography used in Belize, Spanish-oriented in Guatemala. NT 1983-1994. Bible portions 1847-1968.
Nicolas Rucks, 7 April 2000

The website of the National Garífuna Council of Belize has a detailed description of the flag: "The Garifuna flag consists of three horizontal strips of black, white and yellow, in that order, starting from the top. This flag has long been accepted internationally as the flag of the Garifuna Nation and the colours have been used in any forum where Garifuna people assert their Garifuna identity. The flag of the National Garifuna Council is identical to the Garifuna flag with the addition of the NGC logo set in a white circle in the center.
This flag represents an evolution that commenced with the Carib International Society (CIS) whose flag was made up of horizontal strips of red, yellow and black.  Red (funati) stood for the blood of the Garifuna, black (würiti) the skin of the Garifuna and yellow (dumari) the food of the Garifuna. T.V. Ramos added the strip of white (haruti) in the middle, substituting it for the red, when he formed the Carib Development Society (CDS). Carib International Society, as the name implies, was international in scope and its development appears to have been facilitated by the convergence of Garinagu from the various countries in places like Puerto Barrios where they flocked in search of employment with the United Fruit Company. The area of operations of the Carib Development Society, on the other hand, was limited to Belize although the influence of its initiatives spread far beyond the borders of Belize and laid the foundation for the later emergence of its successor, the National Garifuna Council."
The author of the notice gives an interpretation of the colours, stating that there are no written source for that
"What is the significance of the colours of the Garifuna flag? This question has been asked quite frequently and some attempts have been made to answer it although I am not aware of any written explanation. I will now try to piece together what I have heard, with the hope that this will evoke some reaction that can contribute to a full and complete documentation of the significance of the colours. It should also be noted that it is people who give meaning to symbols. We, therefore, have the option of expanding on whatever meanings have been handed down to us by the originators of the CIS and CDS flags.
Black - The black strip, which is located at the top, represents the black ancestry of the Garifuna people. The people have always acknowledged the African input into what became the Garifuna people, a phenomenon that occurred in St. Vincent starting in the seventeenth Century.
This colour, at another level, recognizes the hardships and injustices that the people have had to endure, their struggles for survival and the odds that they have had to overcome in the course of their history. Apart from the experience of the Middle Passage, which we share with other black people of the Americas, there was the imprisonment on Balliceaux, the exile from our Vincentian homeland after the so called Carib Wars and the replay of the Middle Passage in the form of the mass forced relocation to Central America.
Tough though these experiences have been, they helped to strengthen our spirit and shape our spirituality which is based on the principle of reciprocity captured in the Malí song in the words “Aura buni Iyaya waü, amürü nuni” – I for you, Grandmother, and you for me.
Yellow - The yellow strip at the bottom of the flag symbolizes the other half of the ancestry of the Garifuna – the Amerindians or Yellow Caribs as they were referred to by Europeans. These were actually a mixture of Caribs and Arawaks and formed the host community in which the fusion of Africa and South America took place to give rise to the emergence of the Garinagu as a distinct group indigenous to the circum-Caribbean region.
In contrast to the hardships experienced in the course of history, the yellow symbolizes the hope and prosperity. Yellow is the colour of grated cassava, which is further processed to make ereba, one of our staple foods. It is the colour of cassava juice, a colour that is further brought out in the process of turning it into dumari, an additive for enhancing sauces, soups and stews. (It seems to have been an identifying feature of Garifuna people as it is the “tumali” that is referred to in the racial slur “Salt head Kerub, tumali water”). Yellow is also the colour of the rising sun, which brings new promise and much hope for a better life. Yellow, therefore, represents hope, plenty and prosperity, as well as the Carib/Arawak input into the Garifuna identity.
White - The white strip, located in the middle between the black and the yellow, reminds us of the role of the white man (Europe) in the history and formation of the Garifuna people – the forcible removal and enslavement of the African, the seizure of Garifuna land, which precipitated the Garifuna resistance, and the forcible removal of the people from St. Vincent. Even after the arrival and dispersal in Central America, it was still necessary to deal with the white man.
At another level, white symbolizes the peace that has eluded the Garifuna people for most of their turbulent history - the peace for which they continue to yearn."
Finally, the author of the notice mentions a flag proposal: "It would be remiss of me not to mention an attempt made by Ruben Reyes to propose a flag for the Garifuna Nation. The colours are essentially the same. He also proposes a logo set in a shield in the center. I believe that it is a good effort and that the various country Garifuna organizations should respond to him with a view to its possible adoption."
Ruben Reyes' proposal is for sale  at the Internet store of Garinet.
We show in this page, two flags with the black stripe either on top or on bottom. As stated by the author of the notice, both combinations exist: "The relative position of the colours needs to be clarified or agreed. It is clear that the white strip is always in the middle.  The problem is with the black and yellow. I have referred to the black as being on top partly because of the location on the samples I looked at when I was writing this and partly because the colours have always been referred to as “black, white and yellow” and we normally start at the top. However, I have since seen some examples in which the black is at the bottom, including the proposal from my cousin, Ruben Reyes."
The website also contains an historical account of the Garifuna: "Traditional Garifuna communities are mainly found along the Caribbean Coast of Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua. Out of an estimated 500,000 Garinagu world-wide, there are today about 15,000 Garinagu in Belize (about 7 % of the total population). In Guatemala there are an estimated 4,000 Garinagu and in Honduras the population is around 300,000. Garifuna communities are also found in the USA in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and New Orleans.
Garinagu (plural of Garifuna) or Black Caribs, are descendants of two ethnic groups, Carib Indians and Black Africans, that lived on the island of St. Vincent.
Arawak Indians, also called Yurumei, the original inhabitants of St. Vincent, were invaded and conquered by Kalipuna (Carib) Indians, a tribe from mainland South America. The Arawak men were killed and the warriors took the women as wives and the Carib Indians originated as a mixture of these people.
Around 1635 two Spanish ships carrying Black Africans destined for slavery, to the West Indies shipwrecked near St. Vincent. Survivors escaped and swam ashore to St. Vincent where they settled and lived amongst the Carib Indians.
Over the next 150 years, the two groups intermixed and the Garifuna ethnic group also called Black Caribs was formed. By 1750 the Black Caribs were the dominant population of St. Vincent and quite prosperous. French settlers lived on the island as well.
The Black Carib men hunted and fished while the women did most of the farming. The Black Caribs also traded with nearby islands: tobacco and baskets for arms and European manufactured goods. In 1763 the British invaded the island trying to take over land from the Black Caribs to plant sugarcane. This struggle for land resulted in the Black Caribs trying to establish independence and control of the island. They were supported by the French with whom they did considerable trading and many years of battles between the Caribs and the British ensued. After losing a major battle in 1795, the French and the Black Caribs finally surrendered and the British took over the entire island.
The British hunted down the Black Caribs, burned their houses and killed hundreds. Early in 1797 over 4000 Black Caribs were taken prisoner and sent to the Island of Baliceax where over half of them died from diseases like yellow fever and malaria. In 1798 the rest were exiled to the Island of Roatan, an island off the coast of Honduras. From Roatan the Black Caribs migrated to the mainland of Honduras (Truillo) and settled all along the Caribbean coast of Belize (then British Honduras), Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
According to legend, the first Garifuna arrived in British Honduras on November 19, 1802. Today this day is a national holiday and the arrival of the Garinagu is celebrated allover Belize with drumming, dancing and pageantry in Garifuna communities."
While we have written and iconographical sources for the Garifuna flag(s), there is no source available for the "Dangriga Flag".
Ivan Sache, 27 April 2008

Coat of Arms of Garífunas

image by Fred Drews, 25 December 2011

National Garifuna Council

image by Fred Drews, 6 April 2020

Coat of Arms

image by Fred Drews, 6 April 2020

Belmopan Branch

image by Fred Drews, 6 April 2020

Dangriga Branch

image by Fred Drews, 6 April 2020

Carib International Society

image by Ivan Sache, 27 April 2008

Dangriga Flag

image by Jaume Ollé , 15 April 2000

Garifuna or Garifundio must be the same people as Gariganu. Gariganu have their own flag , dark yellow, white and black with central emblem in the white,  and black letters in the upper stripe. I don't know what is the meaning of the word DANGRIGA. According to source, Gariganu are old slaves that are in Belize since 1832.
Jaume Ollé, 15 April 2000

Dangriga is the name of a southern Belize town near the Caribbean coast, formerly Stann Creek. It means "standing water" in Garifuna language, population about 10,000. Dangriga is the cultural center of the Garifuna.
Jarig Bakker, 16 April 2000

I checked with a professor friend who recently returned from several months in Belize.  His response was: "Garifuna were NEVER slaves.  They descend from a slave ship rebellion and were marooned and kept their African culture in tact and mixed with Caribe Indians to form Garifuna culture and language. Dangriga is the town in Belize that is the center of Garifuna Culture."
Kevin McNamara, 26 April 2000

Report at the National Geographic

image by Blas Delgado Ortiz, 6 September 2001

Reading the September 2001 issue of National Geographic I reached the article about the Garífuna. One of the pictures shows a partially hidden triband paste to a green board with the written title "The Garifuna Flag". It is a black-white- light gold triband in that particular order. The flag at top is exactly the inverse. Beside each band it reads:
black band - "death and suffer"
white band - "peace"
gold band - "hope in Belize"
It can also be read that "the Garinagu came in 1823", and "they came from Yu...ei".
The Geographic states that today some 60 Garífuna fishing villages dot the Central American coast, but population numbers are hard to pin down. Estimates range from 450,000 to fewer than 100,000. This year the Garífuna were named a World Heritage culture, a new United Nations designation that recognizes and urges protection for endangered heritages. Most of the Garífuna has settled around Nueva Armenia on the Honduran Caribbean coast.
There migratory history is summarized in five steps. First, slave ships depart from West Africa (Yu...ei?) in 1635, probably from the Slave Coast or Bight of Benin in the Gulf of Guinea. Second, later that year the ships wreck near St. Vincent. Soon Africans begin to mix with local Carib Indians. Their descendants are called Black Caribs or Garífuna. Third, in 1796, British forces conquer the Garífuna and their French supporters and imprison them on Baliceaux, where more than half perish. Fourth, exiled by Britain, the Garífuna reach Roatán Island in April 12, 1797. Today, Garífuna celebrate this as Arrival Day. Fifth, Later that year the Garífuna move to Trujillo, Honduras, from where they scatter along the Central American coast, from Belize to Nicaragua.  They apparently reach Belize by 1823.
Blas Delgado Ortiz, 6 September 2001

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