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Garifuna Settlement In Belize, Central America


Garifuna Capsule No 79: (revised 28 March 2014 – Thanks to Mr. Clifford J. Palacio for correcting my grammar)

The first sign of the Garifuna presence in Belize dates back to 1799 when Garinagu used to travel to “Wallace” (Peter Wallace a Scottish Buccaneer) [Belize] looking for employment in the woodcutting industry spearheaded by the British. On their way back to Honduras, Garinagu would bring back contraband goods and products for resale1. Nancie González speculates that Deep River and Stann Creek [Dangriga] were occupied between the years 1799-1800 with the help of Garinagu2.

Recorded Belizean history recounts that Gulisi [Marie-Louise Chatoyer], daughter of Chief Joseph Satuyé, was one of the first Garinagu who arrived in that country in company of her family. However, when analyzing this compiled testimony, it is safe to say that her family settled in Commerce Bight [Kamasbaidi], Belize during the decade of the 1820s. [Why you would ask?] The matron arrives in Roatán in 1797, she had 13 children in Honduras then she migrated to Belize3. Among the evidence found in the Honduran archives, there is a document dated in the year 1801 which indicates that the Honduran government was well-informed about the fact that Garinagu frequented Wallace (Belize) for the purpose of financial gain: “…it is well-known to the government that the Black Caribs traveled undetected to Wallace [Belize] having a post in Punta Quemara Port [Punta Betulia]…and after eight to fifteen days of absence, they would come back and reappear in their huts…’Wallace, a warehouse to our misfortune and a sponge of our ruins’, is located at the entrance of the Honduran Gulf.4. This document was referring to the practice of contraband, such activity was the fundamental norm of the time, which was exercised along with and by the English and Spaniards as well.

The first evidence of the Garifuna presence in Belize is found in the British documents of the magistracy dated 9 August 1802, which reads “that the admittance of the Charibs [Garinagu] in the establishment is the business of the Superintendent5”; due to the fact that there was a considerable opposition to their admittance by the current Colony. However during the same week, Garinagu found out that the Superintendent had granted permission to 150 Black Caribs who had entered Belizean territory looking for jobs in the woodcutting industry. This very decision caused conflicts among the British authorities. The magistrates saw with distrust and suspicion the Garifuna presence in their territory to the point that Garinagu were forbidden from practicing agriculture, granting them only permission to work as laborers in the woodcutting industry. The inconvenience felt by the colonists caused by the Garifuna presence was so great that the Magistracy document dated 17 December 1802, has an entry that reads the recommendation given by Andres Cunningham Esq, to expel all Garinagu out of the Colony as they were considered extremely dangerous and undesirable elements. These assertions had their foundation based on the British experiencing hostility on the hands of Garinagu while fighting each other in the motherland, Saint Vincent & The Grenadines6.

During the years 1803-1812, English as well as Spaniards intensified their hostility against the French [for their revolutionary ideas which the French brought to America], and a number of strict measures were taken to prevent Blacks to establish the French connection7. These restrictions included and applied mostly to Garinagu who had French surnames, spoke the language, and had been allies during the Carib Wars in Saint Vincent. In 1807, the superintendent of the British Magistracy expressed his surprise, “to find out that – in spite of their warnings against Garinagu, not to trust them, they had been shipped to guard and occupy the post found in Caye Caulker. Caye Caulker was one of the major and most important military objectives” for the English at that time8. In spite of these notifications, Caribs were always needed for the economic life of the Colony and finally Garinagu were admitted into the country due to their cheap labor and the scarcity of slave labor9.

In 1811, the repression against immigrants takes precedence and on 11 July, the High British Commissioner limits and controls the influx of Garinagu into the colony by using tickets (a written license issued by the Superintendent)10. On 16 July 1811, the Joint Magistracy ordered “that the Charibs [Garinagu] now in Gaol, they could volunteer in good faith and acknowledge the orders of day 11, or they could be shipped back to their country of origin onboard any of their country’s vessels as soon as possible, by the High Commissioner11. Having reason to be suspicious about the loyalty that Garinagu have had towards Europeans, a (50)-Pound-Sterling fine was established under order dated 6 July 1812, for anyone willing to hire Garifuna workers, French Blacks, or Free Spanish Speaking Blacks in Belizean territorial land12. This law caused a lot of conflict in the Colony as not everybody was in agreement and willing to apply the new law. In spite of this new law, taking into account the fear to hire these elements, the Belizean woodcutters continued to employ Garinagu.13.

In 1815, the report coming from the Spanish Colony in Honduras read “from Trujillo and Omoa, [Garinagu] were engaged in contraband of precious metals [silver and gold], clandestine business with the British and with the establishment of Wallace. It was nearly impossible to control contraband due to the numerous ports available without any vigilance.” These transactions would take place in complicity with the representatives of the Spanish Crown.14.

Again in 1830, there is mention of Caribs being hired in large numbers by the woodcutters to work in their land contracted for 5-6 months at a time and sometimes even longer. Once their contract expired, Garinagu would come back to their place of origin loaded with home appliances, always dressed-to-impress, English-official-style (bukra). By now, Methodist missionaries informed having found Garinagu who had settled in Stann Creek and in Punta Gorda, Belize.15. In the meantime, as the Colony was dealing with its immigration issues, the counterrevolution and political upheavals between Guatemala and Honduras were taking place. Ex-president Manuel Jose Arce had launched a counter-offensive to recover his power and the Spanish National aristocracy’s privileges.

At the beginning of 1832, there were a series of incidents that occurred each with a mission. Three different allied armies attacked simultaneously the government forces in Morazan [He was the president of the Central American Federation]. One was executed by ex-president Arce, in the interior of the country, another one in Trujillo, under the command of Colonel Vicente Domínguez; and a third army in Omoa, under the leadership of Ramón Guzmán. Appropriately, Garinagu fought along the three armies16. While in San Felipe De Lara Fort located in the Guatemalan gulf inside Rio Dulce, it was protected and guarded by Garinagu, but it was later taken by the counterrevolutionary force17.

Two hundred blacks [Garinagu] were partaking in the capturing of Omoa’s Fort where the victorious army were waving and raising the Spanish flag in front of many indignant Spanish Nationals [Criollos] including those who opposed Morazán’s government18. Although the Superintendent of Belize hoped and believed that Arce and his followers would win the scuffle, the Federal forces [Morazan’s] came up victorious in all the fronts in conflict and the defeated rebels were accused of high treason to the Federation. The leaders of the rebellion were brought in front of the firing squad: Ramón Guzmán was executed in Omoa on 13 September, and Colonel Domínguez was brought to justice and shot in Comayagua the next day.

Garinagu, fearing for their lives, sought protection under King Mosco [Rey Mosco], who granted them to settle in the Western side of Río Tinto or Negro [Black River]19. The great majority of Garinagu living in the territories fighting the struggle such as Trujillo, Omoa, Livingston, and San Felipe de Lara, fled to Belize, where the British merchants had secretly supported Arce’s causee20. It was reported that “around 500 Garinagu solicited British protection and settled 30 miles to the South of Belizce21. Others, under the leadership of Alejo Benin [Alejo Beni] and navigating onboard two dories (durogá], in the company of 28 adults and a dozen children fled from Trujillo and Roatán bound towards Belize arriving in Stann Creek District on 19 November 1832. They met and interviewed with the Superintendence from British Honduras [Belize] granting them permission to settle in the area of Stann Creek, even though S. Cayetano reasserts that they had sought refuge in Mullins River area22.

(All Rights Reseved).20.11.2012.

This article was written by Honduran Professor Salvador Suazo. It was translated from Spanish into English by Rony Figueroa on March 26, 2014. This material was translated for the purpose of educating only. It is strictly forbidden to use and reproduce this material with the intent of financial gain.


1 Burdon John, editor: Archives of British Honduras pp; 57 y 60 en González 2008:94).

2 El corte ilegal de madera comenzó en Stann Creek entre los años 1797-1800: (CO 123/15, 123/18 en González 2008:97).

3 Joseph O. Palacio: Reconstructing Garifuna Oral History – Techniques and Methods in The Story of a Caribbean People. Publicación S/f.

4 Boletín del Archivo General del Gobierno, visita hecha a los pueblos de Honduras por el Gobernador Intendente Ramón de Anguiano, informe elaborado en 1801 y publicado el 10 de mayo de 1804 Tomo XI pág.121 en Rubio 1975:II:411-420.

5 Burdon 1931:57 en Cayetano, Sebastian, 1991:29.

6 Tomado de Burdon John 1931:60 en Hadel E. 1976:562 y en Cayetano 1991:29.

7 Crowe 1850:204 en González 1988:56.

8 Burdon John 1934:102 en González 1988:48

9 Hadel 1976:563 en Cayetano 1991:30.

10 Burdon John 1934:146 en Hadel E. 1976:563.

11 Burdon John 1934:146 en González 1988:49.

12 Gaceta de Honduras 2/84 del 17 de Octubre 1827 en González 1988:564.

13 idem González 2008:98.

14 Durón Rómulo E. 1982: 126-127.

15 Squier 1855:238 en Gonzalez 1988:61.

16 Estos garifunas que formaban parte de la soldadesca federal luchaban a favor de uno u otro bando, quienes se aprovechaban de sus servicios de acuerdo a las circunstancias [vea pildorita No 58].

17 González Nancie 1988:57.

18 Montufar 1970:152.

19 Galvao 1981:38.

20 FO 15/11 en González 1988:58.

21 Hadel 19 76:564 en Cayetano 1991:31.

22 [..] que los refugiados en la zona de Mullins River eran garifunas que habían huido de Honduras junto con Alejo Benni. (Cayetano S. 1991:31).

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