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GARINAGU: WE HONOR YOU ! – – By. Lloyd Jones (Ret’d)

GARINAGU: WE HONOR YOU ! – –  By. Lloyd Jones (Ret’d)
November 16
14:52 2018
By: Major Lloyd Jones (Ret’d)

As we head toward the 19th of November, it is important that we reflect on the special people that are the Garinagu. The Garinagu are a unique people and they form a special part of the social fabric of this young nation Belize; they are to be treasured and celebrated.

In the mid seventies the movie King Kong had hit the theatres in Belize City and as a treat for being good lads my brother, my cousin and I were allowed to go watch it at the Palace Theatre (now Mikados). We were living at 125 West Canal Street at the time, a short walk to the theatre.

King Kong started off with a scene where an African tribe was about to sacrifice a “young beautiful white woman” to the beast that was King Kong. There was drumming, a blazing fire and black people talking in strange tongues. It was a frightening scene for a young kid but that scene was meant to subconsciously demean Africans and portray them as barbaric. It worked!

There were some Garifuna people living through an alley off South Street in Belize City between the East Canal and Albert Street. In the evenings and on weekends they would socialize and beat the drums of their fathers. Up until the movie King Kong, for some reason, I was not aware of the drumming but after, every beat of the secunda stirred up fears of that opening scene of King Kong?

As a young Creole boy I became afraid of “those people through the alley.” The drums of their fathers conjured up the images of the opening scene of King Kong. Could it be that they were some of those same African people? And how could they be here? Right here in the middle of Belize City! I was about eight years old at the time and I was afraid to pass that alley to go to school. It took some convincing by my mother (a leather belt) that my fears were unfounded.

In 1979 we moved South; my mother’s people are from Sittee River/Silk Grass. We were renting a house on Caney Street in Dangriga and then one evening, there it was again. The drums!

All my neighbourhood friends ran towards the drums, I was apprehensive but I was a little older now and my friends were able to convince me that it was only the Warigabaga Dance Group practicing their dance moves.

I ventured up the stairs of the “Post Office” building with some trepidation and sure enough there they were. No, not Africans about to sacrifice anybody but beautiful Garinagu people honouring their ancestors by keeping their culture alive. It was a joy to watch the moves of Roysus Bregal, Jerris Valentine et al.

I was hooked and every evening of practice I was a faithful part of the audience. The drums that once scared me now revived my own Africanness. Those drums called me in a way that no words can explain; for those drum are the drums of my father too!

Strangely, in 2018, 41 years after the 19th became a national holiday; there is a debate that is increasing in intensity about the correctness of celebrating Garifuna Settlement Day. Some people are of the view that to celebrate one ethnic group is to do a disservice to the others.

I have learnt over the years to never dismiss the views of others out of hand because all that does is to drive the view underground. Unresolved views about ethnicity have a way of resurfacing with venom and bloodshed and therefore it is important for us as people to ventilate and discuss those views.

I disagree with the view that we should change Garifuna Settlement Day to National Culture Day or any other day for that matter. I am fortified in this position because we can celebrate our Garinagu without diminishing our own culture. It does not have to be one or the other. In fact this is one instance where two is better than one.

I do not even think we need a national culture day because I believe that is what the 21st is supposed to be about: us as one people, one “Belizean Culture,” diverse though we may be ethnically.

On the flip side there are voices from the Diaspora, particularly Joseph Guerrero, who seem to espouse a separate “Garifuna Nation.” They often point to the historic Mayan land rights case as somewhat of a cause celebre. I think that such an outlook can be equally as explosive and I would urge caution when it comes to these types of agitation that are predicated on ethnic differences. We all owe Belize a duty to be guarded about those who sit on the extremes of this debate.

Belize is a unique melting pot of cultures. We have managed to co-exist in peace for 37 years and that in and of itself is a beauty to behold.

The Garinagu add to Belize’s beautiful tapestry and their contributions to our collective being are to be valued. So on this 19th of November I celebrate you my fellow Belizeans, my Garifuna brothers and sisters and I thank you for the immeasurable work that you have done to aid Belize’s development: “Lawanseru Garifunaduau: Hadasi Sun Garinagu.” Happy Garifuna Settlement Day!

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