Garifuna is a term that refers both to a group of people, and to the language that they speak.
The Garifuna people are descended from West African slaves who were brought to the Caribbean in the 17th century. According to oral tradition, there was a ship wrecked off the coast of St. Vincent island. This ship was carrying slaves from what is now Nigeria. Those who survived swam ashore and encountered Arawak and Carib natives. While the new Africans did have conflicts with the native peoples, they and other slaves that arrived soon began marrying natives and having families. This mixture of African and native Carib peoples created the Garifuna people.
In the early 18th century the Garifuna fought off attempts by both the French and the British to claim St. Vincent for their own. While the French eventually backed off and allowed Britain to lay claim to the island, the Garifuna and the Carib on the island did not want to give up their land so easily. The British fought against this native resistance, and after killing off much of the local population, the Carib surrendered to the British in 1796.
The British separated the Garifuna from the Carib and deported the Garifuna to a small island called Roatán. Nearly 5,000 began the journey, but only half survived to reach Roatán. This island was poor for farming and could not support the Garifuna, so they asked Spain for permission to settle in Central America. The Spanish agreed, and put the Garifuna to work on farms in countries all along the coast of the Caribbean Sea.
Text by Brandee Sanders & Matt Boggie.
Image of Garifuna dolls in Dangriga by Beti Gathegi.