story / editorial
Yurumein to Honduras
by Marcella Perdomo
211 years of Garifuna presence
On the afternoon of April 12th 1797, two British ships coming
from Saint-Vincent approached our Bay Islands for the first
time. On board were travelling around 2000 Garinagu, better
known as the Garifuna. Saint-Vincent or Yurumein, situated
on the north of Venezuela's coast, was the first homeland
of this community that, until today, has transcended the borders
of any national political ideology. From Belize to Nicaragua,
the Garifuna have founded more than sixty communities scattered
on the Atlantic shores. They have lived for almost 200 years
in a perpetual dialogue between an exotic cosmology and Central
America's eagerness to contemplate the ideas of a modern world.
Thus, this community's identity, while "traditional",
also presents the most unedited cultural features of our times.
The Garinagu's long journey began in the Orinoco area, the
coastal region of north-western Guyana, Suriname and French
Guyana. This was the home of the Carib Indians, whose real
name was actually the Callinagu (a derivation of the root
word Callina, the name of their language). According to most
historical accounts, the Carib Indians had arrived on the
Lesser Antilles a century before Christopher Columbus' discovery.
They conquered most of these islands, exterminating almost
all of their native male inhabitants, the Arawak Indians,
while keeping most of the women for their own convenience.
The bonding of these two indigenous groups (Carib-Arawak)
gave birth to a new society known as the "Red Caribs"
or "Island Caribs," a name given to them in order
to differentiate them from the mainland natives. As time went
by, they denominated themselves the Calipona Indians.
The majority of the Calipona lived on Dominica and Saint-Vincent
Islands. However, their isolated lives soon came to an end
when for the first time in history, the unexpected meeting
of three distinct civilizations, America, Europe and Africa,
took place. Despite the fact that in the early seventeenth
century colonial and slavery regimens were at their height,
Saint Vincent Island was kept aside from the strategic route
undertaken by European colonial forces due to its undesirable
geographical conditions for commercial intentions. As a result,
Saint Vincent turned out to be the shelter of African fugitive
slaves, who established the early start of a new society known
from this time as the Garifuna.
There is no doubt that the historical reports related to this
new group's genesis are far from convincing. Many unfilled
areas and unanswered questions still hinder apprehending the
whole story. However, experts base their statements on colonial
files that seem to point out the loss of two Spanish vessels
which brought large sums of African slaves. Hence, the origins
of the Garifuna society are placed around 1635, not only due
to the fugitive's arrival but also to these vessels' wreck
near Saint Vincent Island.
During this time, the Calipona Indians were in the middle
of a quite hostile relationship with the Europeans who had
finally decided to invade them. The Indians retaliated by
stealing their slaves and by successfully reducing their troops.
They voluntarily integrated the African newcomers in order
to form a group based on solidarity and opposition to their
In order to escape slavery, the Africans apparently showed
an outstanding interest not only in establishing friendly
relations with their new hosts but also in adopting their
language and lifestyle. For example, they inherited their
agricultural knowledge as well as one of their most fundamental
technologies, the preparation of cassava bread (ereba). In
fact, the modern Garifuna utensils involved in making cassava
differ little if at all from those used by the Island Carib
of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They also adopted
the fishing techniques of their hosts, since the greater part
of the native's non-vegetarian diet came from the sea. Even
though some African traditions were introduced to the Indians,
scientific study suggests that Garifuna culture possesses
essentially an Amerindian social structure with few West African
cultural features. In fact, this is one of the many paradigms
concerning the exact origins of the Garinagu, especially as
we observe that their main physical appearance is rather African,
not Amerindian. Yet, it has been quite difficult to detect
African cultural patterns within their language or among any
other cultural aspects.
During the last decade of the 17th century, the island of
Saint Vincent changed drastically. The new "Black Carib"
society grew quite rapidly, giving birth to what has been
called the "Golden Age" of Garifuna history. Nostalgia
for these times still lives in many Garifuna songs and ritual
traditions. It was also during this period that legendary
personalities emerged for the Garinagu, such as Chatoyer,
the commander and chief of Yurumein, who fought with such
braveness to defend his people against European hostilities.
By the early 18th century, although conflict had increased
between Garinagu and colonists, quite friendly relations were
established between the Garifuna and French Christian missionaries.
Many traces of their exchanges still remain, such as many
French words incorporated into the Garifuna language.
Many years later, colonial forces vying for control of the
rest of the Caribbean islands drew Saint Vincent Island into
their violent conflicts. By 1795 a terrible war took place
between the Garifuna and the British, both now obstinate to
conquer their island. The battles, from the British perspective,
were out of hand and not according to expectations, which
led to a decision by the British Crown that remains quite
mysterious to this day: After realizing that the Garifuna
were tough warriors, they reinforced their troops not to commit
a complete extermination but to carefully plan and deport
all of the remaining inhabitants to one of their colonial
possessions located on the other side of the Caribbean: the
accounts suggest that there were a total of 5,040 individuals
travelling on board the British ships from the Lesser Antilles
all the way to our Honduran islands. The rough journey and
severe conditions caused the death of more than half of the
people on board. But at last, after a long year sailing across
the ocean, on the afternoon of April 12, 1797, the English
vessels finally arrived at Port Royal on the east side of
Garifuna boy with by a wooden cayuco.
that night, the British disembarked more than 2,000 Garinagu
who had miraculously survived the long journey. From this
moment on, a new chapter began for the Saint Vincent newcomers.
arriving, the Garifuna founded their first town on the northeast
of Roatan, now known as Punta Gorda. Soon, they scattered
all along the Central American shores, giving birth to new
generations that would become a new part of our national identity.
Although the Garifuna have lived somewhat separated from the
rest of the national contexts, they sure have known how to
maintain a dialectic relation between two totally different
worlds: On one hand, they have always promoted an authentic
cultural background, which makes them so unique, not only
on a Central American level but on a continental level as
well. At the same time, they have also known how to integrate
into the larger dominant societies, even standing out in the
political, artistic and sports fields. Nevertheless, despite
the fact that Garinagu are mostly known for their exotic dances,
for their Caribbean cuisine, or for their excellent athletes,
this is only a reduced image of their culture which ignores
the most significant aspects of their identity.
Garifuna mythology is essentially based on syncretism reflecting
both the sacred and profane traditions. Messages are sent
through the rhythms of a wide musical repertoire and through
the movements of an original choreography. Sometimes, during
warm sunsets on the beach one could hear the tune of the Parrandas,
or the Garifuna "blues." These songs, often sung
with guitar or maraca accompaniment, cover the entire range
of emotions and concerns of daily life. Today we can also
listen to them beyond our political boundaries, interpreted
by talented artists such as Aurelio Martínez, Paul
Nabor or Andy Palacio. The ideal time to listen to Parranda
music is certainly during the Christmas period, when they
mix to the rhythm of Punta, which is definitely the most popular
Garifuna dance of all. It is the first rhythm that young children
learn how to sing and dance. Punta is so enjoyed that once
somebody starts to sing the first line of a song, everybody
in the audience joins in the singing to the end. The famous
dance of punta is not just a popular tradition. Originally,
punta was an ancient fertility dance linked to a person's
death. They are usually sung by women and danced by improvised
couples during the belurias (velorios), the cabo de año
(novenarios) or during moments such as birthdays and funerals.
procession of the Garifuna mainlanders carrying a Garifuna
popular is the Wanaragua dance, also known as the Yankunu
or the John Canoe, whose roots are simultaneously African,
Carib Indian and European. Though we know little of the original
meaning of the Wanaragua, it seems to show a tribute to an
African prince or hero, a drill of a tactic war based on a
travesty outfit, the prelude to a combat, or even sarcastic
imitations of ancient British gestures.
The Garinagu celebrate traditional festivities that point
out every period of the year and sacred ceremonies continue
to play a central role in the Garinagu's lives. During these
occasions, daily life scenes become part of a symbolic world.
This is how behind the walls of the Dabuyaba, the temple dedicated
to the ancestors, religious rituals are celebrated, gathering
family and friends together for a very special moment. This
is the case of the dügü , a ritual celebrated in
order to calm the gubida ancestors that have been offended
due to inappropriate behaviors coming from their descendants.
The ancestors appear in their dreams asking to be relieved.
Then for endless nights, the dead sing and dance the Amalihani
through the bodies of the living until peace is restored again
among the community.
There is no doubt that religious rituals play an important
role in the Garifuna social life. Their spirituality reflects
quite perfectly the mixture of their different origins, a
harmonic world vision that includes the Gubida ancestors,
the Carib Indian myths, the Catholic saints and other forms
of religions. Unfortunately, Garinagu's religious beliefs
as well as their ritual practices have not always been well
understood nor tolerated by the political authorities and
by society in general. For instance, the ancestral dügü
rite has been qualified as a "dark cult" contrary
to the dominant religions of the area. Something similar happened
to the Haitian voodoo, which suffered so long from a negative
reputation, mostly due to intolerance to other ways of believing
and conceiving the spiritual world. But Garifuna dügü,
Haitian voodoo, Cuban santería or Brazilian condomblé
are unique, legitimate religious forms containing African,
American and European beliefs.
The Garinagu's identity, because of its unusual origins and
particular journey, has not always been completely integrated
into the Honduran society, which has created problems for
the Garinagu. Their ancestral land, for example, has been
repeatedly threatened by government authorities more concerned
with multiplying economic investments rather than with the
Garifuna people. Due to difficult situations such as this
one, the Garinagu have been obliged to emigrate out of our
country looking for better opportunities. More than one hundred
thousand Garifuna have immigrated to the United States since
the early days. Nowadays, we can find important Garifuna communities
in large cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Houston and
The Garifuna Diaspora in the United States certainly opened
a whole new chapter in the Garinagu's life journey. They have
extended their roots and founded new communities despite the
fact that challenges in our modern world are complex. Throughout
their existence, the Garinagu have bravely survived colonial
wars, exile, and so many other threatening situations which
could have already brought them apart. Even though social
problems are truly present in today's Garifuna communities,
their cultural evolution does not seem to be in crisis. On
the contrary, they are both sustaining and adapting their
culture to the new contexts and situations they face.
Today, we not only celebrate 211 years of Garifuna life on
our Bay Islands, but we also commemorate over 300 years of
a strong culture's survival.
Perdomo is a Honduran Anthropologist
Currently doing her PhD in the EHESS (Ecole des Hautes Etudes
en Sciences Sociales) in Paris, France. Her PhD dissertation
concerns the Garifuna's Mythology and Ritual Traditions.
story / editorial
/ local new s
______________back to top
Laws in a Bizzaro Place
by Thomas Tomczyk
the Honduran government distracts its people with bogus laws while
the really important issues looming over its future remain unaddressed
"Hoy no circula" solution was to be the Zelaya's
government way out of a campaign promise to provide a fuel
subsidy. Since President Mel Zelaya was elected to office,
the Lps. 4 a gallon fuel subsidy has been eating away at
his budget. The way it is currently structured, the government
subsidizes inefficient, fuel-gouging vehicles much more
than economical ones.
The price of a gallon of fuel in the country, currently
at Lps. 83, carries a Honduran government subsidy of Lps.
4. While I fill my tank of gas with 15 gallons I receive
a Lps. 60 gift from the Honduran government. I've always
felt that I don't need any subsidies. If I, or anyone else,
wants to buy 1,000 gallons of fuel, why should any government
subsidize one cent? They shouldn't.
While the "Hoy no circula" law was meant to introduce
a savings to the Honduran government, it only exposed the
bizarre lack of priorities and lack of sensible thinking
by the country's leaders. The cost of printing, shipping,
guarding and distributing the stickers has run into millions
Before the country's supreme court ruled the "Hoy no
circula" law unconstitutional on April 11, the government
was ready to create a bureaucratic nightmare, to add to
the country's security problem, and to increase corruption
pressures on police.
Bizzare laws like "Hoy no circula" provide Honduran
police with constant pressure to let people slide - for
a fee. "Hoy no circula" created a security concern
as many families on the mainland rely on their cars to provide
them with not only efficient but secure transport.
Honduras is now leading Latin America in homicide rates;
and world prices of rice, a major staple for the 3 million
Honduran poor, have doubled. Just 20 miles from Roatan,
lawless crime has turned La Ceiba into a smaller version
of San Pedro Sula. The upcoming years will likely create
additional financial stress on the 50% plus of Hondurans
living in poverty. Honduras government priorities should
focus on improving security and stabilizing food prices,
not on creating legal chaos.
in Honduras can sometimes be reminisced of living in a Bizarro
World--a comic book cube-shaped planet where everything is
done in reverse. Honduras, at least once a year, becomes the
bizarre country-planet of the Latin Universe.
When the Honduran government announced a time change measure,
I believed it was a joke. No other country so close to the
equator has even considered doing so. Honduras did it in 2006,
then just abandoned the idea in 2007. Maybe it will be back
this year. I wouldn't bet against it.
For 2008 it seems, the bizzaro idea named "Hoy no circula"
was to prevent drivers from using their cars on one day a
week. For the first week in April, Honduran car owners spent
hours waiting in queues for car stickers, searching for documents,
and deciding what they will do without their vehicles on their
designated day. I know people who were already planning to
swap stickers, discussing how much would they have to bribe
the police, etc.
story / editorial
/ local news
site, road and plaque are in place. Machinery to arrive soon
six acre Punta Blanca garbage site and the 20,000 square meter garbage
dump was paid for by the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) and
its construction was supervised by PMAIB (Environmental Management
Project for Bay Islands). According to PMAIB officials, the project
will have a minimum lifespan of 20 years and a capacity to handle
107,000 cubic meter of garbage. According to Rene Echeverria, PMAIB
project coordinator, the refuse on the site can be stacked and compacted
to 14 meters.
"This project is here to help the development of tourism in
the long term and to make it sustainable," said Steven Stone,
representative of IDB.
The project cost $1 million in site work and $600,000 in equipment.
The equipment: two trucks, a tractor and a compactor are yet to
be delivered. "We wanted to take advantage of the president
being here for the Garifuna anniversary," said Walter McNeil,
a Ribbon of Roatan's second garbage dump: Governor Arlie Thompson,
Patricia Rodas (PMAIB), Steven Stone (Inter American Development Bank),
President Mel Zelaya, Wally Bodden (SG Municipality), Congressman
Jerry Hynds, Minister of Tourism Ricardo Martinez, Vice-Minister Paola
April 12, President Mel Zelaya and dozens of government representatives
showed up in Santos Guardiola to dedicate the commemorative plaque
by Roatan's second garbage dump in Punta Blanca. When in 2002
the dump opened in Mud Hole, on the West Side of the island, Santos
Guardiola found itself dumping and burning garbage on unsecured,
environmentally harmful sites. "We have the biggest tourist
potential on the Bay islands, but we have been forgotten,"
said Wally Bodden, a city councilman representing Santos Guardiola
Driving Today" law creates chaos then disappears
Roatan the ministry of finances officials set up shop in the
ZOLITUR building in French Harbour to collect vehicle documentation
and give out stickers. For five days queues of unhappy Roatan
car owners stood in line to get their sticker. "People
will have to look for alternatives of not using the obsolete
and dangerous public transport. They will just buy more cars,"
says Elmer Cruz, a business owner from Coxen Hole. "We
need big public transport projects like a metro, not this."
Then on April 10, Honduran supreme court ruled on the issue
of constitutionality of the law forbidding periodical use of
vehicles in the country. On April 10 the constitutional court
overruled the president and the "hoy no circula" was
gone. Only the stickers remain to remind drivers of the government
Redundant Sticker. S stands for Saturday.
no circula, mañana no come," (today doesn't drive,
tomorrow doesn't eat), was the popular phrase heard by drivers
and business owners who had to choose one day a week when they
would not use their vehicle.
The proposed law was an effort by President Mel Zelaya to curb
a government subsidy of Lps. 4 to each gallon of fuel sold in
the country since 2007. The "Hoy no circula" program
was originally to begin on April 7 and affect 350 vehicles.
A Lps. 680 fine was to be imposed on violators of the law driving
without stickers, or on disallowed days.
Honduran government spent Lps. 1.2 million in designing the
"Hoy no circula" 3 inch by 3 inch permit stickers.
Then it spent another Lps.100 million in printing them. These
costs are in addition to the costs of shipping the stickers
throughout the country, providing round-the-clock securing by
army and military and paying the administrative workers.
in a Taxi
Robbery in Coxen Hole
a dark road in central Sandy Bay, on March 31, around 9:30pm a taxi
driver and his passenger were attacked with knives by three male
passengers. The taxi driver was stabbed multiple times. A female
passenger barely escaped with her life as a knife blade broke on
her neck and she fled the taxi leaving her purse. The taxi driver
managed to leave the vehicle, but eventually collapsed and died
attempting to reach a nearby health clinic.
Three days later, on April 3 at 10:20pm four robbers with guns entered
Anthony's Key, a Sandy Bay dive resort, assumed to be motivated
by personal revenge and robbery. The assailants were confronted
by the resorts' security guards and a shoot-out ensued. Henaro Salinas,
24, AKR security guard was shot dead and another security guard
was wounded. The attackers fled.
One of the attackers was shot in the incident and treated the following
day at the Roatan public hospital. Police were able to follow up
on the suspect and arrest the four attackers. At least three of
the four assailants arrested have worked or have been working as
security guards at Sandy Bay resorts. Several of them lived in Sandy
Bay colonia and moved to Roatan from the coast less than a year
before. "The Sandy Bay colonia is breeding crime. There is
no presence of authorities of any sort there. People are afraid
to go out of their homes at night," said Samir Galindo, a manager
According to Irma Brady, a Sandy Bay resident, in 2007 there was
an incident where a taxi driver was knifed in the same area. "We
need more security and more lights," said Brady.
April 15 at around 3:30pm several attackers stopped a Wackenhut security
vehicle transporting cash from BAC Bank Coxen Hole branch to the airport
on the Coxen Hole Main Street by the airport entrance. In the ensuing
shoot-out Sergio Arguijo, 40, one of the Wackenhut guards, was killed
and two others were wounded. The robbers escaped with a vehicle and
an undisclosed amount of cash and securities belonging to BAC and
Police set up road blocks within an hour of the robbery but no arrests
were made. The robbed vehicle was found abandoned a day later about
one kilometer east of the airport. "It was a well planned robbery,"
said Julio Benitez, Bay Islands Police Chief.
Five banks have offices on Roatan: Lafise, HSBC, Banco de Occidente,
Banco Atlantida and BAC. Bank security measures such as double doors
and metal detectors, while common on Honduras' mainland are not in
place on the Bay Islands. Unlike on the Honduran coast, none of the
Roatan's security companies transport cash between the airport and
bank in armored and secure vehicles. "The banks have focused
on maximizing profit on Roatan and ignored improving security and
customer service," said Samir Galindo. "It's embarrassing
to see a hundred people outside a bank waiting in the sun for hours."
This is the first bank-related robbery on the Bay Islands in seven
years. In 2001 the Banco Atlantida on Guanaja Cay was robbed and one
of the bank's guards was killed. The robbers escaped on a small boat.
Old, Old House
Renovation of a house at Utila's East Harbour brings back some of
the Island's History
the building changed color several times, the new owners tried to
preserve as many of the original elements as possible. There are
original door and window hardware, original fencing. Honduran pine
floors and metal sheet roofing were some of the new additions to
the structure, but some of the original wood was reused to make
furniture inside the building.
Outside the house one of the island's last surviving wooden water
tanks stands. Donated by Ms. Libby Bodden the cedar tank is held
together by three metal braces and a coat of fiberglass. The house,
still leaning six inches towards the sea, is full of uncommon and
historical construction elements: dove-tail joinery, wooden dowels
covering the square, original nails. A cladding beam had a chalk
signature of Samuel Warren and a date - 1864.
The signature marks moving from the Cays and reassembly of the home
in East Harbour. After 20-30 years, in 1864 and likely following
a Hurricane, the home was moved. "Many people think it is a
Victorian, but it is really a French Colonial," says Pacatte.
Two level with a wrap-around porch, it is a typical French Colonial
feature. "Some of the wood is 200, maybe 250 years old,"
says Tony Pacatte, Kurt's business partner on the island.
1908 photograph of the house.
front façade of the building that serves as a restaurant
and real estate office.
building housing Munchie's restaurant on Utila's main street is
the community's oldest surviving structure. The house was built
by Samuel Warren, who arrived on the Utila Cays in the 1830's. Warren
came to Utila from Massachusetts via Belize on a turtle hunting
vessel. He brought with him a ready-to-assemble kit house made from
As late as the 1960's and 70's black people were not allowed to
enter the house. "It is ironic that a home that a few decades
ago was off limits to black people is now owned by a black person,"
says Linda Halverston, an owner of the house since 2002. Linda's
husband Kurt Halverston undertook the renovation of the building
that began in January 2003 and lasted until 2007.
story / editorial
Non Profit filling brings in a badly needed medicines
Nora El Goulli, Medicines for Roatan president, remembers when her
NGO filled in a gap in the supply of insulin, a life-saving drug
for diabetics, to 250 Roatan patients. "We had the medicines
donated and FedEx-ed from Mexico," says El Goulli, who created
an emergency fund of $2,500 for just such situations.
After three years the process of working on the island has been
streamlined. The customs lets the donated drugs through without
problems, and the customs clearing process takes less than two weeks.
"We couldn't make it without these donations," says Dr.
Lastenia Cruz, director of the Roatan Hospital. One of the prerequisites
for importing drugs to Honduras is that they have at least one year
validity. Some of the drugs donated to medical centers and clinics
on Roatan comes in suitcases of tourists and are sometimes expired.
According to El Goulli these medications can be dangerous to the
patients. "Humid and hot conditions can break some drugs, like
aspirin or certain antibiotics into toxins. At the very least they
can lose their potency and fail to treat the patient" says
Dr. El Goulli.
Medicines for Roatan brings in over 100 prescription drugs, buying
medicines at cost from international non-profit drug suppliers.
"We are focusing on the rice and beans medicines: penicillin,
painkillers, antibiotics- high volume, low cost medicines,"
says Dr. El Goulli, president of the NGO. The Honduran government
still has to provide all the less common and often more expensive
One of these drugs is the cocktail of anti-HIV medications. Roatanians
diagnosed with HIV on Roatan range from a 14-year-old girl to an
87-year-old woman. "Family brought her in while she was in
a coma, then took her back before we had results. We don't even
know," said Dr. Cruz.
It costs the Honduran government Lps. 24,000, or $1,240 per patient
per year to provide anti-HIV treatment. The Honduran patients, on
Roatan almost all women, receive the medications for free. Since
October 2005 the number of patients taking the medication has grown
from 10 to 35 adults and five children.
at the island's busiest pharmacy: Dr. Nora El Goulli, Dr. Maria
Luisa Fernandez, Rally Rivers - pharmacy assistant.
a year after Medicines for Roatan has begun operation, the non
governmental organization (NGO) has grown into an indispensable
contributor to the Roatan public health system. 20% of all medicines
used at Roatan Hospital come from one NGO, and the Honduran central
government doesn't even know about it.
"In theory patients at public health facilities in the Bay
Islands are entitled to free medicines provided by the Ministry
of Health. In reality, up to 50%, 45,000 of patients go home without
treatment each year," a Medicines for Roatan pamphlet reads.
"This results in unnecessary suffering, disability and death."
In 2007 the Roatan Public Hospital pharmacy budget was at $195,000;
but they only received $135,000 worth of drugs from the government.
Medicines for Roatan topped up most of what was missing by providing
25,000 treatments. Roatan Hospital has been consistently using
the donated drugs as a fall back resource. As the government sends
drugs to all its hospitals on a quarterly basis, the last two
weeks of every quarter, every March, June, September and December,
are the times when medications at the hospital typically start
& Charity Medical Care in Bay Islands in 2007
Private and Public
in Bay Islands