African American News and Genealogy

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Friday, November 26, 2004

Black Caribs Celebrate Slave Ancestry in Guatemala

By Frank Jack Daniel LIVINGSTON, Guatemala (Reuters) - Coming from as far away as New York, hundreds of people celebrated the Black Carib Garifuna culture in this tiny Guatemalan port town on Friday, dancing in an annual tribute to the courage of escaped slaves. After an all night party, a three-day festival peaked on Friday with a dawn reenactment of the Garifuna's arrival in Guatemala by dugout canoe. People danced through the streets to rapid drum rhythms, drinking homemade liquor and singing call-and-answer songs about the hardships of their forefathers. The Garifuna are descendants of escaped slaves who mingled with Carib Indians on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. They speak a language which blends words and grammar from West Africa with the Caribbean's Arauak as well as French, English and Spanish. "For me this symbolizes the problems that my ancestors went through and every year I remember those that spearheaded our migration," said Alvin Laredo, 38, who came by boat from Belize for the celebration, accompanied by his two sisters, who wore traditional gingham cotton dresses. Fearful of this hybrid people's alliances with their French colonial rivals, in 1797 the British deported them to an uninhabited island near Honduras. They rapidly spread out along the Atlantic coast of Central America, settling in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Belize. The port town of Livingston is one of their strongholds. Now almost half of the estimated 200,000 Garifuna live in the United States, mostly in New York City but also in Miami and Los Angeles. Many older Garifuna say their lifestyle -- based on their language, food, fishing and farming traditions -- is being lost although younger members see the festivals in Livingston and Belize, which began just a few years back, as a way of connecting with their roots. Prudence Miranda, 23, moved from Belize to Los Angeles three years ago and joined the U.S. Navy. She has served in Pakistan and the Persian Gulf but says she comes home every year to celebrate the festivals. "It helps us stay in touch because they celebrate it nowadays -- it reminds us," Miranda said. © Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserved.


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