Home › Ecotourism › Ethnics › Garifunas › 


The Garifunas

In 1655, two ships of the Spanish fleet ran ashore on the coasts of one of the Antilles Islands, St. Vincent. On board were African slaves. The slaves escaped and hid themselves in the dense vegetation and the mountainous areas of the Caribbean Island. Twenty years later, another ship ran ashore on St. Vincent, as documented by British historic reports. Also, from the colonized Islands of Barbados more and more slaves escaped looking for shelter in St. Vincent and the neighbor Dominica. As result both islands became independent from the different colonists, they are now in-habituated by native Caribbean people and former African slaves.

The Africans adopted the Caribbean life and integrate themselves into the island communities. They participated in the family life as well as in the wars between different groups. Caribbean and Africans got accustomed to each other and shared lives, customs and the language called "Igneri". On the other hand, the European colonists went on settling more and more Islands, bringing more slaves as cheap workers. Several attacks have taken place against St. Vincent and Dominica, called in the Caribbean language "Yolome" and "Yurume". The locals and the Africans defended both Islands, trying to avoid being captured and put to work as slaves.

Those who survived the wars and fights and also avoided captivity got married, and the Caribbean and African races became mixed. The traditions and lifestyles of two continents came together and formed a new race, known today as Garifuna in the countries of Honduras, Guatemala and Belize. In Haiti and the Dominica Republic they are called Karaphuna. The original name is reported as Garinagu.

Till the year 1750 the Garifuna population grew to an impressive number, and the people lived in prosperity. The chiefs and warriors of a clan had several wives, spending the day hunting and fishing. Others traveled to the neighboring islands Martinique, St Lucia and Grenada changing tobacco for guns, ammunitions and other European products. The women were responsible for the house and for the work on the fields. Some families started to grow cotton, using slaves for the hard work on the fields. During this period, French settlers reached St. Vincent, trading and living peacefully together with the garifunas.

From 1763 on, the British settlers put their eyes on St. Vincent again, trying to push the Garifunas so that they could posses the rich farms. There idea was to produce sugar cane. The method of trading or buying the islands was not successful, and so more and more the British started to provocate the Garifunas until a war between the Garifuna and the British settlers broke out. The French settlers successfully helped the Garifunas to defend the Islands against the Englishmen.

In 1775 the British military sent army troops against the settlers of St Vincent. The African slaves of the British colonies fought against the "wild and uncivilized" garifunas. As the French settlers surrendered in 1796, the Garifunas lost their chance to win the war. The British army burned their houses, boats and fields. Exactly 4644 sick and weak men, women and children were captured and sent to the small island of Balliceau. More then half of the Garifunas died under the bad conditions and an unknown epidemic that could have been Yellow Fever.

In April 1797 the Royal British Navy brought the surviving Garifunas to the Island of Roatan, according to the judges. The British left food, seeds and a lot of material for the Garifunas to survive the first months, but they did not calculate the extent of the rainy season which made agriculture impossible. The Garifunas, without food where weak, they asked the Spaniards in Trujillo to take them to the Honduran main land (this took place on the 17 May 1797).

The Spaniards used the Garifunas as soldiers and fishermen. The women had to work in the fields and to cut down the forest to produce enough food for their families. Their knowledge about agriculture was superior to that of the Spaniards, and they sold their products at first on the local markets and soon to the whole north coast of Honduras. The Spaniards did not know how to produce on the tropical soil, and their European plants did not work under this climate. The garifunas fastly started to spread out all over the Central American coast from Belize to Nicaragua, earning money as workers for the Spaniards and the British in producing tropical woods, for example mahogany.

Miskito Indians, formerly called Zambos populated the region east of Trujillo reaching to what today is Nicaragua. Till present times, they where the native inhabitants of the Honduran and Nicaraguan region called La Moskitia. The Miskito were allied with the British, and enemies of the Spaniards. Having differences with the Spaniards a lot of the Garifunas left Trujillo, and settled along the whole coast from Trujillo to the Patuca River - in peace with the Miskitos.

Currently, the Garifunas speak their own language, enriching the Honduran culture and society they have lived in towns along the whole Caribbean coast since their arrival some 200 years ago.

Click here to view our Culture Tours.