Vincentians get taste of Garifuna culture

Eleanor Bullock, SVG.

Citizens of the Eastern Caribbean country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, also known as Yurumein, received a rare and magical cultural treat from July 28 to Aug. 21.

Garifuna Artist James Lovell and Choreographer Eleanor Castillo-Bullock brought this cultural extravaganza to their ancestral homeland. They conducted a groundbreaking and historic workshop as well as staged several concerts.

Although Lovell and Bullock call New York and New Jersey home respectively, they are both from Belize in Central America, and are members of the ethnic group known as Garifuna who descended from St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

This workshop was an effort to return to St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) a language and culture that was eradicated from that country; when thousands of Garifuna citizens were exiled in 1797 to Roatan/Honduras in Central America. The exile followed eight months of internment at a concentration camp on the barren island of Balliceaux. Subsequent to the exile, it became illegal for the Vincentian people to speak the language and the British ordered their soldiers to shoot to kill any persons who were found speaking it.

Over time many Garinagu (plural for Garifuna) remaining on the island, who were a free people, blended with the formerly enslaved Africans as a method of self-preservation. Over time they ceased from identifying themselves as Garifuna. Consequentially the language and many facets of the culture died. The aim of this workshop was to re-introduce the Vincentian people to the language and culture that were preserved by the descendants of the Garinagu who were exiled to Central America.

Due to heavy demand the workshop, which had intended to facilitate 25 to 30 children, was adjusted by Lovell and Bullock, to accommodate more than 75 children, young adults and adults.

Through the mastery of drums, songs, dancing and poetry, the participants were introduce to the Garifuna language as they danced enthusiastically to Punta, Paranda, Chumba, Hungu Hungu and Wanaragua. With only 76 hours of instructional time, this group of Vincentian citizens was able to retrieve their lost culture as if it had always been a part of their lives.

There were two concerts after the workshop, both of which were spellbinding and captivating. One concert was held at the popular Peace Memorial Hall while the other was held at the Garifuna village of Greiggs. The day of the Peace Memorial Concert was an extremely rainy and stormy day and Vincentians are as wary of heavy rainfall as Americans are wary of snow and ice. Yet they flocked to Peace Memorial Hall to see this beautiful concert that had fill the airways, television and newspapers for three weeks. Many dignitaries including former Prime Minister Arnhim Eustace was present. Several people in the audience expressed their emotions with teary eyes as the heart wrenching depiction of the Garifuna tragedy unfolded on the stage.

Habinaha Garinagu.

After the show, historian Dr. Adams, an authority on Garifuna history, commented that it was the first time the Vincentian National Anthem was sung in a language other than English. The second concert in Greiggs played to a smaller but very enthusiastic crowd and was equally beautiful.

Lovell and Bullock are to be commended for what they were able to achieve in less than a month. This is clear evidence that the British did not win when they ordered their soldiers to shoot to kill anyone in St. Vincent who spoke the Garifuna language. They eradicated the language from its ancestral homeland with their threats, but it rose from the ashes like a Phoenix back to the shores of Yurumein 214 years later.

Thanks to the dedication, skillfulness and selflessness of cultural pioneers Lovell and Bullock, Vincentians were able to partake in this extraordinary free workshop. The quickness with which the Vincentian children and adults were able to grasp the various elements of the Garifuna culture, have moved many to believe that the Garifuna language and culture have a very strong future in the lives of the Vincentian people.

Courtesy Ajani Publishing

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James Lovell, SVG.

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