This is a story of two CARICOM countries which are apart in terms of geography, but which are eternally bonded by history.
In a previous story carried by Secrets of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ travel blog, it was promoted that Belize owes St. Vincent. There is however, another side to the coin, and that is – St. Vincent owes Belize.
Though the presence of Garifuna people in Belize are traced back to St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Belize indirectly owes it to St. Vincent for part of their culture, it turns out that St. Vincent owes Belize too.
The truth in this assertion is found when one considers where St. Vincent had to turn in an effort to revamp Garifuna culture and heritage.
If you guessed Belize, you guessed right.
The Garifuna in Belize and elsewhere in Central America, were somehow able to retain their culture to an extent that the Garifuna who remained in St. Vincent were not. This lead to much international recognition of the Garifuna.
For instance, The Garifuna Heritage Foundation states on its website that “On May 18th, 2001 the Garifuna Language, Music and Dance was Proclaimed by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. This Proclamation was made possible through the unstinting work of the National Garifuna Council of Belize”.
It is safe to conclude that had it not been for the vibrancy of the Garifuna in Belize to preserve Garifuna culture in terms of art, music, folk medicine, language, literature and history, among other factors, it is likely that St. Vincent’s quest to regain a cultural identity in such areas would be exceedingly difficult.
For instance, Belizean-born Garifuna singer and performer – James Lovell came to St. Vincent, as part of a ‘Yurumein Garifuna Cultural Retrieval’ workshop, teaching Drums and the Garifuna Language to young Vincentians. See article here
ST. VINCENT’S PROBLEM
The present generation in St. Vincent, however, cannot be held fully accountable for the void which exists among St. Vincent’s Garifuna community, where Garifuna culture is concerned.
According to a 2004 publication by Herbert Devonish of the Jamaican Language unit – UWI Mona, it is suggested it that “the last speaker of Vincentian Garifuna died in 1932”.
Some historians in St. Vincent believe that the reason for the death of the Garifuna language in St. Vincent was that one could not publicly communicate in any other tongue than English, as a rule, after the exile of more than 5,000 Garifuna.
Furthermore, visitors to St. Vincent will experience the true war waged against the Garifuna when places such as Fort Charlotte are visited. There, Cannons pointed inland still stand today as relics of a time when war was waged against the Garifuna.
Every attempt was made to curb resistance and exterminate the Garifuna from St. Vincent. Luckily, due to the terrain, the mountainous north-eastern end of the island served to be a safe-haven for the people.
PROGRESS MADE IN ST. VINCENT
Though not as deep as in Belize, the food (particularly Cassava) and the use of herbal medicine have always been preserved by the Garifuna in St. Vincent.
Furthermore, much progress has been made and continues to be made to advance the culture of the Garifuna who live in St. Vincent and to cement their rightful place in the country’s political landscape.
For instance, In 2002, with the passage of the National Heroes Act, The Right Excellent Joseph Chatoyer – Paramount Chief, was accorded the honour of the first National Hero of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and March 14th declared a public holiday – National Heroes Day. This was a major political development.
Roads, bridges and other infrastructure were also put in, including the Rabacca Bridge which Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said was symbolic in linking the northern communities (the Garifuna Communities) to the rest of the country
In 2015, a very ambitious proposal by some entities to grant honorary citizenship to Garifuna descendants who regard St. Vincent as their ancestral home, was met with some degree of indifference. People instead seemed to strongly favour cultural exchanges and other moves to keep the link alive.
In terms of culture, the national anthem of St. Vincent is sometimes rendered in Garifuna language by students who have been taught the language.
Additionally, the Garifuna Heritage Foundation Inc. in St. Vincent has been working assiduously to advance the revival of the Garifuna culture.
By: Demion McTair
Editor – Secrets of St. Vincent and the Grenadines
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