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From Yurumein to Honduras by Marcella Perdomo

Celebrating 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 European enemies.
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 Bay Islands.
Historical 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 Roatan Island.

A Garifuna boy with by a wooden cayuco.

During 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.
After 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.

A procession of the Garifuna mainlanders carrying a Garifuna flag.

Less 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 Miami.
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.

Marcella 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.
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Bizarro Laws in a Bizzaro Place by Thomas Tomczyk
How the Honduran government distracts its people with bogus laws while the really important issues looming over its future remain unaddressed

The "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 of Lps.
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.

Living 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.
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Garbage Dump Opens… Almost

The site, road and plaque are in place. Machinery to arrive soon

The 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, PMAIB director.

Cutting 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 Bonilla.

On 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 Municipality.

Wasteful Spending
"No Driving Today" law creates chaos then disappears

On 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 effort.
The Redundant Sticker. S stands for Saturday.
"Hoy 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.
Murder in a Taxi
Bank Robbery in Coxen Hole

On 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 of AKR.
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.

On 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 HSBC.
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.
island reviews

This Old, Old House

A Renovation of a house at Utila's East Harbour brings back some of the Island's History

While 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.

The 1908 photograph of the house.

The front façade of the building that serves as a restaurant and real estate office.

The 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 long-leaf pine.
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.

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Filling the Gap

A Non Profit filling brings in a badly needed medicines

Dr. 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 drugs.
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.

Working at the island's busiest pharmacy: Dr. Nora El Goulli, Dr. Maria Luisa Fernandez, Rally Rivers - pharmacy assistant.

Barely 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 running out.

Public & Charity Medical Care in Bay Islands in 2007
Public Hospital 53,000 consultations 56%
Guanaja Clinic 11,500 consultations 12%
Oak Ridge Clinic 11,500 consultations 12%
Nurse Peggy Clinic 7,500 consultations 9%
French Harbour Clinic 7,000 consultations 7%
Utila Private and Public 3,500 consultations 4%
Total in Bay Islands 93,000 consultations 100%
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