Although Africans, including the nobleman Nuflo de Olano, were with Balboa in Panama when he “discovered” the Pacific in 1513, most historians record the beginnings of an African presence in Central America with the landing of Gil Gonzalez De Avila near Puerto Cortes in 1524. That same year Cristobal de Olid established the first Spanish settlement in Honduras at La Ensenada (near Tela).
Portrait of Afro-Honduran old ladies
Garifuna Woman KENIA MARTINEZ (Miss Honduras), 2010
Sailing from the island of Jamaica, a storm had forced De Avila and his party to land on the Honduran coast. Among those on board were African salves as well as Spanish women. These are generally considered the first Africans (and European women) to arrive on Central American soil. It should be noted that a man of African heritage Diego Mendez, was with Columbus on his fourth voyage to the New World in 1502. Mendez sailed with Columbus along the eastern seaboard of Central America and landings were made on the Honduran coast at Trujillo and in the Bay Islands (at Guanaja) as well as at other points along the Central American coast from Honduras to Panama. Mendez therefore can be considered the first person of African heritage to set foot in Central America in modern times.
Diego Mendez discovers Haiti. Illustration for Cristobal Colon by Conde Roselly de Lorgues, translated into Spanish by D Pelegrin Casabo y Pages (D James Seix, 1878).
The story of the African presence in Honduras reflects the great mixing of peoples that has taken place in that country over the centuries. Next to El Salvador, Honduras has the second highest percentage (90%) of people of mixed racial ancestry in Central America. The African element is found not only among those of mestizo heritage, but also among other African descended communities such as the Garifuna, Miskitos and Afro-Antilleans. These three groups live primarily along the Mosquito and North Coasts of Honduras, as well as on the nearby Bay Islands.
Beautiful Afro-Honduran ladies
During the colonial era (1524-1821) Honduras received most of the African slaves that were sent out from Spain’s Caribbean colonies. From North Coast towns such as Puerto Cortes, Triunfo de la Cruz and Trujillo, African slaves were sold and dispersed throughout Central America.
During the first years of the colony most African slaves lived in Spanish settlements along the North Coast. But by the 1530’s mining interests in the interior took over as the colony’s most important industry. These mining centers were originally located near the Guatemalan border (around Gracias) and by 1538 over 60,000 pesos of gold had been mined. During the 1540’s the mining areas shifted eastward towards the Rio Guayape Valley. Other gold deposits were also discovered near San Pedro Sula and the port of Trujillo. Both gold and silver were mined in these areas by large numbers of African slaves.
By the 1540’s the native labor supply had become greatly depleted through sickness, warfare and the native slave trade. This resulted in the increased importation of African slaves into Honduras. Over the next 100 years more Africans than Europeans arrived in the colony. By 1545 it is estimated that 2,000 African slaves were laboring in the mines of the colony. In 1561 the Spanish writer Menendez de Aviles noted that large numbers of black slaves were in the Spanish colonies and mentioned “Puerto de Cavallos” (Puerto Cortes) as having a large slave population.
Going to School :: Roatan, Honduras School Girls on the island of Roatan, off the north coast of Honduras, return from a walk on the beach during a break from school.
In 1548, slaves working the mines near San Pedro Sula rebelled against the Spanish. Military reinforcements from neighboring colonies were brought in to suppress the uprising. In 1550 eighty African slaves were sent to work the Buria mines near Barquisimento. Five years latter, a Spanish speaking slave named Miguel organized Africans and native Americans into an uprising known as Miguel’s Rebellion. Miguel and his followers escaped from their Spanish masters and organized their own “nation” with Miguel as their king. They established a capital and founded an army to defend themselves against possible recapture by the Spanish. This rebellion is considered one of the first important slave rebellions in Latin American history.
Afro-Honduran garifuna woman at Cayos cachinos fishing village
Miguel ordered an attack on the Spanish settlement at Barquisimento. The Spanish colonists here numbered forty. With the arrival of a military detachment, Miguel and his follows were defeated and the rebellion put down. The Spanish also used Africans in their colonial armies as “shock troops” to crush slave rebellions and maintain order throughout their Central American colonies.
Afro-Honduran woman hand-washing her cloth.
Mining production began to decline in Honduras during 1560’s. A silver strike in 1569 revived some operations and resulted in the founding of the city of Tegucigalpa. Tegucigalpa became the capital of Honduras in 1880. By 1584 the silver boom had peaked and the large numbers of Africans brought in to work the mines slowly decreased. During the 17th century fewer African slaves were brought to Honduras, and the colony was largely forgotten and left on its own. Honduras was the poorest of the Central American provinces during the colonial era. During the 17th century the African population began a process of amalgamation with the native American and European elements in the country resulting in the composite muli-racial population that today makes up the overwhelming majority of the Honduran population.
Garifuna woman from Honduras
The Garifuna, also known as “Black Caribs”, are the descendants of runaway and shipwrecked African slaves and native Americans of Carib and Arawak origin. Technically, the people are referred to as the Garinagu and their culture and language is called Garifuna, but Garifuna is commonly used today to describe both the people and their language. The story of the Garifuna begins on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. Native American Arawak and Carib tribes from South America (Venezuela) settled over several centuries on a number of islands in the Lesser Antilles including St.Vincent. The Arawaks arriving around 100AD, and the Caribs from about 1200AD. The Carib’s subdued and absorbed the culture of the native Arawaks, killing off their men and intermarrying with their women.
Afro-Honduran woman performing the traditional dance of the Garifuna people. (Photo by Wanjira Banfield, 12/2011
The British claimed the island in 1627 and in 1660 the British and French signed an agreement that the island should be left in “perpetual possession” of the Carib peoples. For years the Europeans had been unsuccessful in their attempts to conquer island from the Caribs. By 1719 the treaty was broken and French settlement on the island commenced. In 1748 both countries reaffirmed their “neutral policy” towards the island. This lasted until 1763 when the Treaty of Paris placed the island back into British hands.
In 1635 two ships carrying captured Nigerians were shipwrecked off the coast of St. Vincent. Some of the Africans were able to swim ashore and find shelter in the Carib villages. In 1675 a British ship carrying settlers and their slaves was shipwrecked between St. Vincent and Bequia. Only the slaves survived the shipwreck and they also came to live and mix with the native Carib-Arawak population. For several decades escaped slaves from the nearby islands of Barbados, St. Lucia and Grenada also arrived on St. Vincent. In the beginning their dealings with the Caribs were less then cordial and for 150 years the relationship between the Africans and natives went from one of “reluctant acceptance” to that of occasional warfare and finally to the complete fusion of the two peoples into a new “tribe”. In 1700 for example, tribal warfare between the Garifuna and Caribs took place. The colonists referred to those of mixed African and native ancestry as “Black Carib” and to those of unmixed ancestry as “Red” or “Yellow” Caribs.
Miss Universo Honduras 2010, Kenia Martínez wearing her new national costume "Wuri Magadietu", meaning "pretty woman' in Garifuna language
The African newcomers came to politically dominate the Carib population. They achieved linguistic and cultural unity among themselves by adopting the Carib language and many of their customs, as well as intermarrying with them. Having come from several different tribes in Africa, the Carib language served as a lingua-franca giving the Africans a new found unity and cultural identity. Over the centuries the Garifuna language incorporated Yoruba and French words into its native Arawak-Carib vocabulary. These two groups, one African and the other Carib-Arawak, blended together to form a new ethnic group. One that has endured for over three centuries.
Garifuna Heritage Celebration in La Ceiba;Garifuna Masquerade in La Ceiba. ©2009 Pablo Delano
From 1719 on, French settlers started arriving on St. Vincent. They set up small tobacco, cotton and sugarcane plantations and for the most part got along well with the Garifuna and Caribs. In 1760 the Garifuna population on St. Vincent was estimated at around five thousand.
The English wanted to set up large scale plantations and attempted to force the Garifuna off their land. They also would not tolerate of a large free African population existing on the island in such close proximity to their own plantations. A campaign to push the Garifuna off their land resulted in warfare between the two groups in what were known as the Carib Wars of 1772-‘73. A short lived peace treaty was signed in 1773 and by 1776 the French and Caribs had retaken the island from the British. The island was returned to the British in 1789.
Aurelio Martinez, Afro-Honduran international music superstar. (WorldMusicCo U.K. has awarded Aurelio Martínez’s album Laru Beya sixth place in the Top 20 World Music Albums of 2011. The list of winners was compiled from all world music albums released in 2011 that were received by WorldMusicCo U.K. In the review of Laru Beya on the WorldMusicCo website, they write:
“Aurelio is a highly talented musician, conscious composer and passionate performer with an excellent band behind him, as well as being the prime advocate for a unique culture. If anyone is going to put the Garifuna culture onto the map, it’s Aurelio Martínez.”)
Another war took place between England and French on the island between 1795-1796. A Frenchman by the name of Victor Hugues organized the French on the island in a revolt against the British. Hugues was joined by the Garifuna in one final attempt to rid the island of the British. For a year and a half the Garifuna fought bravely (with the French) against the British. They were led during the early phases of the conflict by King Joseph Chatoyer (Satuye) who was killed in May of 1795. He remains to this day the “national hero” of the Garifuna people. During the war the Garifuna took revenge on the English, and a number of plantations were pillaged and their owners killed. The French and Garifuna were finally defeated (June 10, 1796) by 4,000 British troops under the command of General Abercrombie. The 5,000 Garifuna on the island were then held as “prisoners of war”. The English made the decision to deport over 60% to an uninhabited island off the coast of Honduras, believing the Garifuna would now become a “problem” for the Spanish. The decision to do this came back to haunt them in latter years when the Garifuna attacked repeatedly English settlements along the Honduran (Mosquito) coast.
Young Barack Galiez sits in front of his home on the south side of the Bay Island, Honduras. (Photo by Wanjira Banfield, 12/2011
On March 3, 1797 over 3,000 Garifuna were loaded onto a convoy of ten ships and relocated 1,800 miles west to the depopulated island of Roatan. Arriving on April 12th , they were left with supplies for only three months. Most of the Garifuna did not find Roatan much to their liking and soon after their arrival the Spanish governor of Honduras invited the Garifuna to settle in an area near the coastal town of Trujillo. The Spanish believed the Garifuna might be of help to them in their efforts to bolster the meager coastal population against British encroachments in the area.
Horizon of the Bay Islands on the coast of Roatan, Honduras. (Photo by Wanjira Banfield, 12/201
By 1799 the Garifuna had established their first two mainland settlements on both sides of the city of Trujillo (located at Rio Negro and Cristales). The Spanish welcomed the Garifuna as workers and warriors. They were excellent boatmen, fishermen, loggers and mercenary soldiers. They also helped to defended coastal Honduran towns against English pirates and latter took part in the wars for Central American independence. Some escaped Spanish military conscription by fleeing to the nearby Mosquito Coast. In 1823, two years after the independence of Central America, an abortive takeover of Honduras by Spanish royalists resulted in some Garifuna finding themselves on the loosing side. Defeated and facing political persecution, some moved to the remote coastal area of Livingston (Guatemala). Several years latter in 1832 another group under the leadership of Alejo Benji left for the Stann Creek (Dangriga) area of Belize.
Garifuna people participate in the Drum March in Tegucigalpa, Honduras,
A small group of Garifuna remained on the island of Roatan. Moving to its north side they established the village of Punta Gorda, the oldest Garifuna settlement in Central America. Over the next century groups of Garifuna moved up and down the coast of Central America establishing villages from Belize to Nicaragua. A total of 51 communities now exist (43 in Honduras or 85% of the Garifuna population). Most settlements are located along the shores of the North Coast of Honduras (within 200 meters of the ocean) from Puerto Cortes to the Rio Paulaya. On the island of St. Vincent there is still a small Garifuna community living in the area around Sandy Bay, the descendants of those who were not deported in 1797. In 1802 the island of St. Vincent was finally recognized as a British possession with the signing of the Treaty of Amiens.
Cultural “Mascaro” dancer representing the exuberant boldness of the ancestral warrior garb of the Garifuna people. Roatan, Honduras. (Photo by Wanjira Banfield, 12/2011)
Some of the younger generation Garifuna have moved to the larger cities of Honduras such as San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. A number of them now speak only Spanish. Others have immigrated to the United States in recent years and have settled in Los Angeles and New York. It is estimated that there were 75,000 Garifuna speaking persons living in Honduras in 1995.
Important Garifuna settlements along the North Coast of Honduras include: Puerto Cortes and it’s surrounding areas. The area around the city of Tela has several villages and the Garifuna museum (Museo Garifuna) is located here. In and around the city of La Ceiba there are also several settlements. The Garifuna first came to La Ceiba in 1810 and are famous for their yearly fiesta called the Feria de San Isidro. Here one can see the Punta danced. The Punta is a Garifuna folk/social dance popular throughout Central America. Garifuna style dance bands are well known throughout Central America and the Caribbean (see page 37).
Afro-Honduran Garifuna women
Trujillo (the “Garifuna capital”) was the first mainland Garifuna settlement. There are still many small Garifuna villages in this area. Trujillo was destroyed by English and Dutch pirates in 1642-’43 and for nearly 150 years it was left deserted until Spanish soldiers arrived in 1780. The Garifuna were the first persons to re-settle the area when they arrived between 1797 and 1799.
Many Garifuna are fishermen and merchant sailors. They take great pride in their traditions, having their own language, dances, music, foods and variations on Roman Catholicism all showing strong African influences. They see themselves as a native American culture group, although they are predominantly of African ancestry. In April of 1997 the Garifuna celebrated their 200th anniversary in Central America with festivities in Trujillo and on Roatan. “Uwara wachuluru, lidawama aban” (We came united, we stay united) was the motto of the day.
For over 200 years the Garifuna have maintained a distinctive lifestyle along the eastern shores of Central America, the product of the mixing of two races and cultures for over three centuries.
Two women of the Garifuna people embrace, demonstrating solidarity and community. Roatan, Honduras. (Photo by Wanjira Banfield, 12/2011)
Because of Spain’s failure to colonize the eastern Caribbean lowlands of Honduras, English pirates, traders, woodcutters and planters began to settle in the region east of Trujillo around Palacios and Brus Lagunas. As early as 1625, English explorers (based in Bermuda) explored the Mosquito Coast of Honduras and Nicaragua. In 1633 an English settlement was established at Cabo Gracias a Dios in the region known as La Mosquitia . Until 1860 La Mosquita or the Mosquito Coast of Honduras and Nicaragua, was essentially a British “protectorate”.
The Miskitos are the descendants of native Americans (Pech, Tawahka, Sumo), black Africans and English and Scottish woodcutters and planters who settled along the coastal areas of Honduras east of Trujillo continuing along the coast into the eastern coastal areas of Nicaragua. Through ongoing miscegenation between the three races a people predominantly native American in culture and language emerged known as the Miskitos. Whereas the Garifuna of Honduras and Nicaragua are generally considered to be black, the Miskitos are most often thought of as being an indigenous or native American community. They tend to show fewer African influences then the Garifuna, who have retained far more influences in religion, music, dance, food and folklore.
With the arrival in 1633 of the first English settlers at Cabo Gracias a Dios, a population of mixed native American and English emerged. In 1641 the first of several shipwrecked slave vessels brought Africans to the area. Escaped slaves, as well as Garifuna fleeing Spanish military service also contributed to the growing Miskito population. The small Garifuna communities in the Nicaraguan portions of La Mosquita add yet another ethnic dimension to the diversity of the Coast.
Afro-Honduran boy with a crab
By the 18th century the three racial groups had merged together to form a “tribe” calling itself the Miskitos. The language of the Miskitos is a Creole based on the native American Bahwika language with influences of African, English and German. German speaking Moravian missionaries came to the Nicaraguan coast during the 19th century and converted large numbers of Miskitos to the Moravian faith. Many Miskitos also speak Creole English as well as Spanish. Miskito settlements stretch along the Honduran coast from Laguna de Brus (Honduras) to the Laguna de Perlas in Nicaragua and inland along the Rio Coco (the border between Honduras and Nicaragua).
The first written account of the Miskitos is in 1672 when the pirate John Equemelin estimated their numbers at sixteen hundred. The English saw the value of cultivating the Miskitos against the Spanish. In 1687 they invited the chief of the Moskito’s to Jamaica and crowned him Jeremy I, the first of many Miskito kings (this tradition lasted into the 19th century). Miskito kings traveled from Bluefields (Nicaragua) to Jamaica (and latter to Belize Town) for their “coronations” receiving the “good will” and “blessings” of the British Crown. The Miskitos were well know for their loyalty to the British, and many joined in English pirate raids on Spanish cities along the Honduran coast. The Miskitos also launched their own attacks against Honduran cities such as San Pedro Sula and Juticalpa, as well as against Leon and Granada in Nicaragua and Matina in Costa Rica, where they exacted tribute from the population until 1841
Afro-Honduran woman wearing a straw hat
In 1780 a major Spanish offensive to remove the English from their settlements in Honduras commenced. In 1782 the Spanish attacked British settlements in Honduras and the English and Miskitos fled into the jungles. They quickly recaptured their communities. In 1786 the Convention of London (Anglo-Hispanic Convention) was signed and the British agreed to evacuate the Mosquito Coast in exchange for Spanish recognition of their Belize colony. The “Shoremen”, as the English living along the coast called themselves, were forced to leave their settlements and most went to Belize or the Caymen Islands. The British had their main settlements at Black River (Palacios) (settled originally by Englishman William Pitt in 1699) and at nearby Brewer’s Lagoon (Brus Lagunas).
Afro-Honduran (mestizo) woman with her baby.
The British had come to the Coast for the groves of mahogany and logwood. The Chartered Company also set up operations in the area exploiting the pearl fisheries of the region. The British brought with them blacks from Jamaica to work in the timber industry. These were the first Afro-Antilleans to come to Honduras. British interests in the region continued in the form of the “Miskito Kingdom” a “protectorate” that was re-established in 1816 and lasting until 1860 when Honduras finally gained complete control over their portion of the Coast. The Spanish language did not become important in this region until the 1950’s.
There are around 10,000 Miskito speaking Hondurans living along the Honduran part of the Coast. Other Miskito settlements are along the Rio Coco (on the Honduran-Nicaraguan border) where there are forty villages. During the 1980’s up to 10,000 Miskitos fled from Nicaragua to the Honduran side of the river as a result of operations against them by the Sandinista government.
The first Afro-Antilleans in Honduras were slaves brought by the British to the Mosquito Coast from Jamaica and other Caribbean islands. They were brought in to work in the mahogany and logwood industries developed there by Scottish and English woodcutters during the early 18th century. Logwood was used in dyes that were used in the British woolen industry. Mahogany was used to make furniture. When the British and their slaves were forced to leave their settlements during the 1780’s many moved to Belize or the Caymen Islands. Afro-Antilleans would not return to the Honduran coast in large numbers until the end of the 19th century.
Afro-Honduran with shoo-fly
Fruit companies from the United States developed a banana industry along the North Coast of Honduras during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The United and Standard Fruit companies established operations here in 1899. These companies recruited Afro-Antilleans from Jamaica and the Caymen and Bay Islands to work on these plantations. Black immigration to Honduras from the Caribbean continued into the first half of 20th century. Several Afro-Antillean communities developed in and around the larger towns of the of the North Coast (Tela, La Ceiba, Puerto Cortes). Companies such as United (Chiquita) and Standard (Dole) controlled much of the economy of the region and continue to have a major economic influence, employing large numbers of Afro-Antilleans on banana and pineapple plantations.
Around the towns of Tela, La Ceiba and Puerto Cortes Afro-Antilleans speak a Creole English related to the Jamaican variety. Most younger generation Afro-Antilleans are either bi-lingual or Spanish speaking only. They continue to become more assimilated into Hispanic culture with each generation with greater numbers leaving the North Coast for jobs in the larger inland cities.
The Bay Islands:
The Bay Islands (Islas de la Bahia) are several small islands lying off the North Coast of Honduras. The largest of the islands are Roatan, Utila and Guanaja. Roatan, the most populated of the islands, has a majority black population. Since the 1970’s a Spanish speaking mestizo community from the mainland has also settled on the island. North Americans and Europeans have come to Roatan and Utila in recent years as well. Utila is predominantly English speaking and culturally the most Anglo. Its population is about half black and half white.
In 1980 the ethnic makeup of the islands was 42% black, 27% white, 16% “mixed” and 4% Garifuna, thus persons of African or partial African ancestry made up 62% of the islands population. The 1995 population was estimated at 60,000. There has not been a lot of intermarriage between the various groups on the islands but a general sense of social equality exits between the black and white communities. Many blacks and whites living here remain economically impoverished.
The Afro-Hispanic Diego Mendez was with Columbus when he landed on the Bay Islands in 1502. He is the first person of African descent to set foot in Central America in modern times. The Spanish did not return to the islands until 1516 when they kidnapped numbers of native Americans sending them into bondage on the island of Hispaniola. During the 1530’s French (and latter English and Dutch) pirates and freebooters started using the islands as a base for attacks against the Spanish fleet. Although claimed by Spain, an English military detachment occupied the islands in 1742. English military forces had landed at Port Royal and Sandy Bay three years earlier and English settlers (along with their slaves) started to settle on the islands. Spanish forces retook the islands in 1748 and forced the English to evacuate their settlements three years latter. By 1779 the English had returned, but were again defeated by Spain (1782) and once again the colonists and their slaves were forced to leave. The islands were left depopulated until 1797 when the English deported the Garifuna to Roatan. The Garifuna village of Punta Gorda is the oldest continuous settlement in the islands.
During the 1780’s the English settlement at Black River on the Mosquito Coast was forced to evacuate to Belize and the Caymen Islands. Thirty years latter, descendants of these refugees started the re-settlement of the Bay Islands by persons of English, Scottish and Africans descent. With the abolition of slavery on the island of Grand Caymen, British landowners and their slaves began moving to the Bay Islands. Starting at Suc-Suc Cay off Utila in 1831, planters and their slaves eventually migrated to Coxen Hole, Flowers Bay and West End (on Roatan) and Sheen and Hog Cays on Guanaja. This migration continued until 1843.
Afro-Hoinduran women at her farm
In 1859 the English officially recognized Honduran sovereignty over the Bay Islands. However, many islanders continued to think of themselves as a part of the British Empire well into the 20th century. English speaking and of the Protestant faith, they represent the influences of the Afro-Anglo Caribbean cultures that settled along the eastern coastline of Central American from Belize to Panama.
Hondurans honor African heritage
Thousands of black Hondurans paraded through the streets of the capital Friday as the country's president pledged to do more to promote and protect their heritage.
Beautiful Afro-Honduran Garifuna girl
About 2,000 Hondurans of African and Caribbean descent -- known as the Garifuna -- came to Tegucigalpa from communities that dot the country's coast for the start of African Heritage Month.
They carried 214 drums with them as they marched through the streets -- demanding respect for their rights and honoring the Garifuna's arrival in the Central American country 214 years ago.
"Today we have been here for 214 years making our firm demands, against government repression of the Garifuna communities, against the invasion of our communities' land by landowners and large foreign projects that have sold our property and demanding intercultural, bilingual education," said Dr. Luther Castillo, a Garifuna activist.
Miss Honduras 2010 Kenia Martinez models swimwear by Dar Be Dar at the Palms ..
As he kicked off festivities, President Porfirio Lobo announced that he would sign an agreement within six months to give indigenous people and Honduran blacks a preferential right to choose teachers and doctors from their own villages.
Garifuna communities have requested such an allowance, which could bring bilingual education into classrooms that once only taught Spanish.
"This should be a reason for us to reflect in order to have a more cohesive society, without any kind of discrimination, with social justice and opportunities for all," Lobo said.
He predicted that he would be recognized as a defender of the rights of Afro-Hondurans by the end of his term.
Government officials said Friday's festivities marked the first time a Honduran president had inaugurated the month.
The country's post office also plans to issue stamps commemorating African Heritage Month.
Honduras will host a "World Summit of Afrodescendants" in August.
Ana Pineda, the minister of justice, said the Honduran government is concerned about the rights of the Garifuna and other ethnic groups, pointing to the creation of a government ministry of indigenous and Afro-Honduran people as proof.
Garifuna fire dancer in Roatan,Honduras.
But activists marching Friday said the government still must do more to recognize their rights.
"The simple act of being this color and speaking the language we speak, we are repressed in this country," university student Keldy Bermudez said. "So we as young Garifuna, we demand our rights to be respected for who we are."
In 2001, the United Nations recognized the language, dance and culture of the Garifuna, who also live in other Central American countries.
Afro-Honduran Garifuna dancers
Garifuna women of the National Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras demonstrating:http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/audio/2012-February/2012-02-14/wv20120214b.mp3. The group works against privatization of natural resources and the cultural destruction of Garifuna people
Authentic African Culture in Honduras? Afro-Central Americans ChallengeHonduran Mestizaje
BY Sarah England and Mark Anderson
In April of 1997, the Garifuna commemorated the 200th year anniversary of their arrival to the shores of Central America with the Garifuna Bicentennial Celebration in La Ceiba, Honduras. The week-long event included cultural performances, art exhibits, and symposia meant to display the unique origins of the Garifuna as maroons who escaped slavery to mix with native Caribs on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, forming an Afro-Indigenous culture in the 1600s that existed outside of the Caribbean plantation slavery system. The Garifuna were exiled
from this island homeland in 1797 by the British, who shipped them to the Caribbean coast of Central America where they established villages in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The arrival of these Garifuna ancestors to the shores of Central America was re-enacted on the final day of the Bicentennial, along with the erection of a statue of the "paramount chief" Satuye, who perished while resisting the British on St. Vincent. Like many of the Bicentennial events, this final substantiation in metal of a founding father/hero served to emphasize the roots of the Garifuna as a people in St. Vincent, uniting them as an ethnic nation through a common culture,
language, and ancestral homeland that is both of the Americas and deeply connected to Africa.
Though this history on St. Vincent allows the Garifuna to claim both Native American and African ancestry, the Bicentennial was clearly a celebration of blackness. The pervading aesthetic of the event was an identification with the African Diaspora as evidenced in the abundance of dreadlocks, cowry shell earrings, Senegalese clothing, and Bob Marley T-shirts, alongside the usual Nike high tops, basketball jerseys, Tommy Hilfiger shirts, and other attire associated with the African American youth culture already popular among Garifuna transmigrants returning from the US. Participants traveled from Central and South America and the US representing Garifuna, Afro-Latino, and African-American organizations to speak on panels dealing with issues of racism, land expropriation, economic development, and political empowerment. In his opening address the president of the National Coordinator of Black Organizations in Honduras (which co-coordinated the event with the Bicentennial Committee of the US, based in New York City) told the audience that the Bicentennial served as an opportunity for Garifuna to recognize a common history of discrimination and marginalization with other blacks in the Americas, and to form economic and political alliances that would empower them in the current era of globalization. Within this call to political and cultural affinity among blacks of the Americas however, the Garifuna were often represented as being the most "authentic" blacks in the Americas due to their history as a free people whose culture had not developed under the yoke of slavery. Indeed the featured report on the Bicentennial appearing in Diaspora:
A Global Black Magazine (published in New York City) consistently lauded the Garifuna as
having "authentic African culture in its untouched and undiluted form" (John-Sandy 1997:27), a
bastion of cultural, spiritual, and linguistic conservation, a shining example to all members of the
African Diaspora looking for real African culture in the Americas.
Two days after the grand finale of the Bicentennial an editorial appeared in the Honduran newspaper El Tiempo, written by Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle, the Honduran Minister of Culture. In response to the obvious afrocentricity of the Bicentennial he wrote:
(I must) remind the Garifuna where they come from. One cannot invent oneself according to ones whim or preference. To try to pass as African is just as questionable for a Garifuna as it would be for [President] Carlos Roberto Reina to dress like a Lenca or for me to presume to be a Briton or a Pech Indian just because I have these ancestors. Like all other Hondurans, the Garifuna are mestizos, from the Arawak Indian and the
African black. To pass as the product of just one of these ancestors is to falsify ones identity, to forget the other complimentary component, to betray the ancestors which they are trying to erase from their collective historical birth certificate. To locate ones identity in history is easy but absolutely insufficient (Monday, April 14, 1997).
In the current moment in which Latin American states are espousing a politics of multiculturalism that celebrates cultural difference, why would the Minister of Culture be concerned with the growing tendency of Garifuna organizations to identify with blackness, while minimizing their indigenous heritage? Why does it matter whether the Garifuna locate their identity in Africa, St. Vincent, or Central America; as black, indigenous, or mestizo? What are the political stakes involved in this excavation of history and construction of identity for Garifuna social movements? These comments must be understood as taking place at a time when both black and indigenous organizations in Honduras have become increasingly vocal in demanding the legal protection and titling of community lands, bilingual education, economic opportunities, political representation, and the protection of basic human rights. The most dramatic displays of this activism have been a series of marches on the capital, in which indigenous and black organizations (sometimes jointly and sometimes separately) have mobilized busloads of protesters from their villages, camped for days in the central plaza, burned effigies of Columbus, and carried out religious rituals for the ancestors in front of the presidential palace. Indeed the Bicentennial was much more than a celebration of ethnic nationalism, but was also a time to make public the political and economic demands of Garifuna organizations vis-à-vis Central American states. This activism and these spectacles of cultural difference have brought the issues of racial discrimination and multiculturalism to the fore of national debate, challenging the formerly hegemonic elite, academic, and state ideology that Honduras is a homogenous mestizo nation, where race is not an issue of social concern. Pressured by indigenous and black activism from below, and by an international political arena from above increasingly sympathetic to the plight of "indigenous and tribal" peoples in the world, the Honduran state has responded with a series of gestures towards recognizing Honduras as a multi-ethnic nation and towards protecting the economic, cultural, and human rights of ethnic peoples.
Though "ethnic rights" have been extended to all of the eight groups considered to be ethnic in Honduras (this includes six indigenous groups, the Garifuna, and the Bay Island Black Creoles), the place of blacks in the ideological debate around cultural difference and national identity in Honduras has been ambivalent and contradictory due to the persistence of an ideology of mestizaje that has tried to erase blackness from the national identity. Though Honduran mestizaje recognizes Africans as one of the three racial confluence present in the colonial period contributing to the modern mestizo, this element of the national racial/cultural subject is
minimized. Rather, the Honduran national subject is presented as primarily a result of the fusion of the indigenous with the Spanish, generating an "indo-hispanic mestizaje" that promotes a celebration of the indigenous/autocthonous as the roots of the national identity. This notion of being the original inhabitants, the roots of the nation is currently the basis upon which ethnic groups in Honduras are able to claim rights to land and cultural autonomy vis-à-vis a state that is trying to reinscribe multiculturalism into a new nationalist project. This has interesting consequences for Afro-Hondurans who are organizing alongside indigenous peoples, claiming rights as ethnic "nations" with roots in the nation-state of Honduras, while simultaneously
stressing their alliance with a global racial identity of blackness. As the Minister of Culture's comments imply, locating Garifuna roots in Africa or St. Vincent proves risky for claiming rights in a country where blackness is still located outside of the national identity. Consequently, the way that Garifuna organizations have articulated their identity vis-à-vis Honduran national society and state reactions to these discourses of identity provide an interesting case for understanding the multiple and contradictory ways that mestizaje operates as a nationalist
discourse in Honduras.
In this paper we trace the politics of identity among Honduran Garifuna social movements, comparing it with those of indigenous groups and other Afro-Hondurans. We argue that the debates around Garifuna identity reveal tensions between the tropes of "indianness," "blackness," "mestizaje," and "hondureño" as metaphors of sameness and difference, state nationalism and ethnic nationalism, belonging and exclusion. Each of these tropes is mobilized at different moments in the negotiation of rights vis-à-vis the Honduran state and international
organizations. We argue that because state discourses of Honduran mestizaje have tried to erase blackness from the national identity, Garifuna and other Afro-Honduran social movements have been forced to articulate their demands vis-à-vis the state in terms of "autocthony." At the same time, the experience of being racialized as "black" throughout the transnational space of the Garifuna diaspora, has contributed to the persistence of an identification with a global racial blackness. This leads to two competing notions of blackness among contemporary Garifuna: that of a traditional people, bearers of an authentic tradition inherited from Africa; and that of a modern people, participants in a global black popular culture. Both versions challenge Honduran indo-hispanic mestizaje, but carry different political implications in the struggle for empowerment in an age of globalization in which local identities and political consciousness are formed within both national and transnational spaces.
Before discussing the specifics of Garifuna social movements, it is helpful to understand the complexity of Afro-Honduran history as a whole. Though the word "negro" is usually assumed to denote the Garifuna because they are the largest and most visible group, AfroHondurans are actually quite diverse representing several different histories of arrival to Honduras, levels of assimilation to mestizo society, and current configurations of culture and
language. The first Africans to arrive to Honduras were brought as early as 1540 as slaves to replace the rapidly declining population of indigenous slaves working in the mines of the interior (Leiva Vivas 1987). By the 1600s, many of these African slaves had escaped and mixed in with other "uprooted" elements of the population (indigenous peoples dispossessed of land, poor whites, and freed blacks) to form a group the colonial administration referred to as the castas- a range of all the possible mixtures of these three races including ladinos, mestizos, mulatos, and zambos (McLeod 1973). This free-floating population was generally hired as muleteers, plantation overseers, cattle-herders, and other positions that placed them on the margins of both the colonial power of the Spaniards and the "closed corporate communities" of the remaining indigenous peoples. Honduran historians have generally used this uprooted condition to explain both the "natural" miscegenation of the population during the colonial period and the eventual formation of a homogeneous mestizo culture (cf. Arancibia 1991, Barahona 1991, Otero 1963). "Ladino" referred to the mixed population in general that had acculturated to the Spanish language and culture. "Mestizo" referred to a mixture of indigenous and Spanish, "mulato" to black and Spanish, and "zambo" to indigenous and black. Though these early arrivals from African are assumed to have assimilated completely, today there are a sizable number of people in the department of Olancho (a center of gold mining and cattle ranching) that would be considered black by US standards. They do not however identify as such but rather as mestizo (Bueso in Centeno 1997, Lang 1951).
The Relocation, Resistance and Dance:http://alethonews.wordpress.com/tag/gregor-macgregor/
A second important stream of Africans arriving to Honduras were brought by British settlers to the Bay of Honduras in the 1600 and 1700s. Though British activity in the Bay of Honduras was mainly centered around trade with the indigenous population and logging, there were a few attempts at settling on the islands and the Caribbean coast for plantation and subsistence agriculture (Naylor 1989). This introduced slaves onto the north coast, many of whom mixed with the Miskito Indians, forming a group referred to as the Zambo Miskito. Today
the Miskito consider themselves to be purely indigenous, denying this African heritage (Helms 1977). A more important group arriving as a result of Anglo presence were the ancestors of the people today referred to as the Negros de Habla Ingles (Black Creoles) inhabiting the Bay Islands. These blacks were freedmen from the Cayman Islands who migrated to the Bay Islands in the 1840s, following on the heels of a number of white Cayman Islanders (Davidson 1974). In 1860 Honduras was given sovereignty over the Bay Islands by the British, but it was not until the middle of the 1990s that the islands began to be "hispanicized" through state assimilationist policies and mestizo migration to the islands (Davidson 1984). The Black Creoles of the Bay
Islands are today distinguished as an ethnic group for their racial difference from the mestizos as blacks, and their cultural difference as English-speaking Protestants. There has been practically no ethnographic research conducted with this population.
The third major stream is that constituted by the Garifuna. Born of the fusion of African maroons and Carib Indians on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent in the 1600s, the Garifuna (or Black Caribs as they were known) were exiled from that island in 1797 by the British. They were then dumped on Roatan, one of the Bay Islands, from which they made their way to the mainland and established villages all along the coast from Belize to Nicaragua. In the 1800s, Anglo travelers described Garifuna villages as "jealously guarded" spaces of cultural autonomy where8 the economic and cultural life of St. Vincent was reproduced (Young 1971). Women
cultivated plantains, manioc, and other tubers, while men engaged in fishing and artesanry. On this relatively isolated coast, Garifuna were able to continue to speak the Garifuna language, practice polygyny, ancestor rituals involving trance and possession, and other cultural practices that Honduran state functionaries and missionaries evidently found distasteful and primitive (Beaucage 1970, Coehlo 1955, Alvarado Garcia 1958, Gonzalez 1988). At the same time, however, Garifuna men were increasingly drawn into wage labor in British logging camps in the Mosquitia and Belize, and later in the 1900s to the banana plantations and ports of the multinational fruit companies in Honduras. In the 1940s many Garifuna men were hired as merchant marines by the United Fruit Co. which took them to countries around the world and to such US port cities as New Orleans, New York, Boston, and Houston (Gonzalez 1988). In the 1960s many Honduran Garifuna settled in these cities,
primarily New York, and later brought their wives and children, initiating the current transnational migration circuit between the US and Central America. Today the majority of Honduran Garifuna transmigrants live in Black Harlem and the Hispanic Caribbean-dominated South Bronx. Many men in Honduras continue to work on tourist ships and fishing boats that travel throughout the Caribbean and the north coast port cities. As a result, Garifuna society has generally been more outwardly oriented towards the Caribbean and the US than inwardly
towards Honduran national society (Beaucage 1989), forming a part of what Gilroy (1993) calls the Black Atlantic.
Despite this historically outward orientation, Garifuna are more hispanicized and integrated into national life now than before the 1950s when only a handful of Garifuna lived in the capital city and before much state infrastructure had reached the villages. Today more men and women reside in the cities of Honduras where they work in the service sector and increasingly as professionals as more are able to seek higher education financed in large part by remittances sent by family in the US. Similarly, villages are much less isolated as they become connected to the rest of the country through infrastructure, increasing mestizo migration to the north coast, and the growing Caribbean coast tourist industry. Yet this integration into national society has not resulted in the disappearance of Garifuna language and culture nor in an erasure of an aesthetic and political identification with blackness.
The final stream contributing to the Afro-Honduran population is that of the West Indian Blacks brought to work on the plantations of the multinational fruit companies at the turn of this century. Like Bay Island Creoles they speak English and are Protestant, but unlike Creoles and Garifuna they were present in Honduras as temporary workers, vulnerable to the immigration policies of the Honduran state. These workers were protected only by the Anglo companies that had brought them there, companies famous for mobilizing racial ideologies in order to segregate the racially diverse work force and prevent worker unity (Bourgois 1989, Echeverri-Gent 1992). During the 1930s world depression when production was reduced, many of the West Indian workers were repatriated. Some, however, settled in the port towns of Tela, Cortez, and La Ceiba, and a few settled as farmers and ranchers around Garifuna villages. In the 1950s many migrated to New York City through fruit company connections, leaving few remaining in Honduras.
(In May 2011, the U.S. Embassy in Honduras held the “Portraits of My People: Afro-Hondurans” photo contest, honoring the U.N. International Year for People of African Descent. Contest entries explored the unique cultures of Afro-Honduran/mixed indigenous peoples. Afro-Hondurans, mostly found in communities along the Atlantic Coast, “live lives suffused by the joy and power of the sea,” says photographer Arturo Sosa. Here are 10 contest entries that tell their stories.http://iipdigital.ait.org.tw/st/english/gallery/2011/06/20110621162826nerual0.6041071.html#axzz2AG8Ke2sz)
These children were photographed by Angelica Maria Paz in a remote Honduran village.
These children were photographed by Angelica Maria Paz in a remote Honduran village.
Today the Garifuna and the Bay Island Black Creoles are the only Afro-Hondurans onsidered to be ethnic groups who have preserved a racial and cultural difference from the mestizo and are associated with particular "ancestral" territories. In the realm of identity politics, the relation of the Garifuna to the Black Creoles has been one of affinity and distance revealing the "inescapable difference of the black subject" despite ideas of essential racial affiliation (Gilroy 1991). As Afro-Hondurans the two groups have a history of organizing together against
racial discrimination. Indeed the seeds of Afro-Honduran activism can be found as early as 1958 when workers active in the north coast unions founded La Sociedad Cultural Abraham Lincoln in La Ceiba in order to defend the rights of students and workers who felt they had been the victims of racial discrimination. In the 1970s some of the prominant members of La Sociedad Lincoln founded La Organización Fraternal Negro Hondureño (OFRANEH) (Fraternal Black Honduran Organization) which is still active. Both La Sociedad Lincoln and OFRANEH articulated Garifuna identity clearly in terms of being black and were heavily influenced by the US Civil
Rights movement and later African-American struggle (Centeno 1997). NB;(This is probably due to the fact that many Garifuna merchant marines in the 1950s and 1960s were based out of the US southern ports like New Orleans and Mobile where they experienced segregation and the milieu of the civil rights movement. Later, many of these same Garifuna settled in Harlem in the 1970s during the time of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. Most of the older Garifuna migrants and merchant marines I interviewed said they never were directly involved in these struggles, however information about the racism of the US and African-American struggle necessarily spread.)
Despite this common experience of being consistently racialized as blacks, relations between the two groups have also been ambivalent. As plantation workers and stevedores in the port cities, Garifuna and Black Creoles often competed for jobs and the favor of the fruit companies. In both Honduras and Belize, ethnographers have noted the persistence of ethnic stereotypes among the two groups, where the Black Creoles consider the rural lifestyle, indigenous language, and religious practices of the Garifuna to be more primitive than their own
Anglicized culture. The Garifuna, on the other hand, see the Black Creoles as inauthentic blacks who have taken on the culture of the colonizer (Beaucage 1989, Coehlo 1955, Cosminsky and Scrimshaw 1976). Though both groups have suffered racial discrimination in mestizo nationstates whose erasure of blackness from the national identity has led these organizations to locate their roots and identity in Africa rather than within the national societies of their residence, the Garifuna consider their connection to Africa to be more direct than other blacks. In fact some Garifuna leaders, influenced by the work of Ivan Van Sertima (1976), have argued that the
Garifuna are actually the descendants of Africans who arrived to the Caribbean in the 1300s of their own accord, thereby placing them squarely within pre-Colombian history and bypassing the creolization process suffered by other Africans in the Americas. In this way they can claim to be both of the African Diaspora, and yet models of African cultural authenticity.Ironically it is this very same ability to claim "pure" culture and language, conserved and unassimilated, what Garifuna leaders refer to as a "cultura autóctona" as opposed to a "cultura adquirida" (which is what they claim Black Creoles and mestizos have) that has also enabled them to claim autocthonous status in Central America. Unlike other Afro-Hondurans the Garifuna has been classified as indigenous at least since the 1860s when they are listed (as morenos) along with other "indios selváticos" of the north coast and the Mosquitia in legislation promoting their integration into national society (Alvarado Garcia 1958: 19-20). At the same time, however, their blackness, history of association with the British, orientation towards the Caribbean, and involvement in wage labor in the plantations and abroad differentiates Garifuna from the model of the isolated and primordial Indian. As a result they have an ambivalent place within Honduran national ideology of mestizaje where "indianness" and "blackness" carry
different connotations for national identity. Garifuna slip in and out of these two categories, sometimes inscribed within nationalist discourse and sometimes excluded, revealing the multiple and contradictory meanings of mestizaje.
The Honduran is, ethnically, the result of a total and complete fusion of the three races: Spanish, autocthonous, and African, who have populated the territory of Honduras, which has contributed to giving the Honduran a great racial and spiritual homogeneity, and, as a consequence, has favored national integration, without there being, as in other iberoamerican countries, an 'Indian problem', that is to say, the assimilation of the autocthonous race. [The results of mestizaje have been] that race has stopped being a differential factor not only in the political arena, but also in the economic arena and also in the social arena such that the pigmentation of the skin as a means of differentiation is something totally alien to the Honduran mentality (Otero 1963: 21-22).
Hay pues en la historia primitiva ocultos tesoros mentales, que hoy debemos buscar como diamantes perdidos entre los despojos aletargados de tan ilustre prosapia. Tal elemento indígena, que encierra una interrogación aún no contestada por los etnólogos, es en nuestro país el elemento predominante de la constitución de la Patria Hondureña (original emphasis). Por otra parte, la sangre española, hidalga, valiente y generosa, que ha escrito páginas immortales, gloriosas e inimitables en la cultural mundial, constituye la otra columna (original emphasis) en que descansa en Honduras y en la mayoría de los países hispano-americanos la estructura de la nacionalidad (Dr. Aguilar Paz, Decano de la Facultad de Farmacia y Ciencias Quimicas de la Universidad Autonoma de Honduras, quoted in Lang 1951:210).
No contentos [las companias bananeras] con arrebatar el salario y hacer vivir en pésimas condiciones a nuestros hermanos, nos vienen a introducir una raza inferior y nociva a nuestra causa; por el honor, por patriotismo y por el bien de nuestro hermoso suelo que en breve será todo negro, si no se toma enérgicasmedidas. Deben los poderes públicos tomar medidas drásticas, a fin de rechazar esos imigrantes onerosos en todo sentido para el país. El sindicato de "Zapateros y Talabarteros" celoso defensor de los intereses del trabajador nacional protesta enérgicamente contra semajante atentado, y nos disponemos, si para ello hubiera necesidad a lanzar esa langosta negra (quoted in Posas 1981:7).
Honduras, Garifuna people - Cayo Chachahuate
As in other Latin American countries, mestizaje is the dominant nationalist ideology in Honduras, constructed by elite at the turn of the 20th century embroiled in the process of nation-building. The mestizo is posited as resulting from the "natural" miscegenation of the three races (European, Indian, and African) during the colonial period leading to the formation of a racially and culturally homogeneous nation long before the formation of the Honduran state. Though this mestizaje includes Africans as having contributed to the racial make-up of the population, the ideological place of "blackness" and "indianness" within this nationalist ideology is different due
to hegemonic European notions of race, nation, and modernity.
Latin American elite saw both Indians and Africans as embodying savagery and lack of civilization, living in a permanent state of backwardness as opposed to the image of the rational, civilized, progressive European. These characteristics were seen as connected to blood, inherited and unchangeable except through a miscegenation that would lead to the gradual whitening of the population (C. Smith 1997, Wade 1993, Williams 1991). In the wake of debates about the effects of this racial diversity on national identity, Latin American elite initially argued for white immigration to improve the nation with the blood of a people who they accepted as naturally
inclined towards modernity and progress. Yet this blatant mimicry of Anglo ideologies of racial superiority came to be contested in a post-colonial era of nation formation where it was understood that to be legitimate, each nation-state should arise from a primordial cultural and racial identity corresponding to the territory of the state (A. Smith 1986, Chatterjee 1986). As Wade (1993) has argued, the challenge for the Latin American elite was how to be considered modern within the international hierarchy of nations in which modernity is considered to be
innately linked to European blood and culture, while at the same time to have an autocthonous identity that arises from the very national territory itself. This modernist dilemma was resolved in many Latin American nations by promoting the idea of mestizaje- a racial and cultural identity that is uniquely Latin American where "blacks and especially indians were romanticized as part of a more or less glorious past, but the future held for them paternalistic guidance towards integration, which also ideally meant more race mixture and perhaps the eventual erasure of blackness and indianness from the nation" (Wade 1993: 11). Thus mestizaje is both an ideology
of racial democracy, inclusive of all races in the formation of a homogeneous nation; and simultaneously an ideology of discrimination as this homogeneous nation is to ideally be whiter rather than darker, with indigenous and black racial and cultural difference reduced to mere emblems of the nation, relegated to a distant past superseded by the modern mestizo. Wade also points out that even though both Africans and Indians are accorded a place in mestizaje, the indigenous is usually privileged as the primary emblem of the roots of national
identity. This is useful to nation-building because it unites the autocthony of the Indian (linking the nation to the national territory), with the culture of the European (linking the state to the culture of western civilization and modernity). Blacks were more problematic as national symbols because at the time they were neither seen to represent modernity nor autocthony, and their history of dislocation from Africa means they have no great pre-Colombian civilization in the Americas to call upon as symbols of a glorious past. Thus Latin American states often end up with a primarily "indo-hispanic" mestizaje where the Indian is privileged as the roots of the nation and blackness is either minimized (as in Colombia cf. Wade 1993) or erased completely (as in Mexico cf. Knight 1990).
Dario Euraque (1997) argues that government efforts to present the Honduran population as a homogenous mestizo nation with little racial and cultural diversity began in the late 1920s and early 1930s in the context of the growing economic and political power of the Anglodominated multinational fruit companies. He shows that the 1910 national census included a wide range of racialized categories such as ladino (61.1%), indios (16.2%), mestizos (9.6%), blancos (5%), negros (3.4%), mulatos (3.3%), and amarillos (1.3%) reflecting both the racialdiversity inherited from the colonial period and the growing number of immigrants attracted to the north coast by employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in the enclaves of the fruit companies (Euraque 1997:154). In the 1920s this racial diversity became an issue of national debate, especially around those races perceived of as undesirable. Black West Indians especially bore the brunt of an incipient racialized nationalist discourse articulated by both mestizo
Honduran president Lobo talking to a member of Indigenous Peoples and Afro-Descendants of Honduras (Secretaría de Pueblos Indígenas y Afrodescendientes de Honduras – SEDINAFROH)
-The main exceptions to this are (Brazil and Cuba, where there has been more glorification of African ancestry and integration of blackness into national identity in a manner parallel to indigenismo in other Latin American countries (Wade 1993: 34)- plantation workers with whom they competed for jobs, and by Honduran elite balking at the imperialistic power of the fruit companies. Both sectors argued that blacks were not only a threat to employment opportunities for "Honduran" (mestizo) workers but also were a threat to the "blood" of the nation and to the image of Honduras in the "world community of nations." This resulted in strikes lead by mestizo-dominated unions demanding the repatriation of West Indians workers and to restrictions on further immigration of blacks, Arabs, and "coolies" often stated in explicitly racist language (Argueta 1992, Echeverri-Gent 1992, Euraque 1997, Posas 1981). In 1930 this racial diversity was "sanitized" by removing the categories of ladino and
mulato and collapsing those who had been in those categories into the category of mestizo, such that the term mestizo came to represent the majority of the population. Euraque argues that the term ladino originally meant anyone of any mixture of races who had been acculturated to Spanish culture and language, but in collapsing it into the category of mestizo (hegemonically understood as combination of indigenous and Spanish blood), the two terms become synonymous. He sees this as evidence of the elite promotion of an indo-hispanic mestizaje,
where indígena becomes the only officially recognized signifier of racial difference from the mestizo, effectively erasing blackness and other racial diversity from the national identity. This indo-hispanic mestizaje is clearly articulated by Dr. Aguilar Paz in the quote above in which he presents indigenous peoples and Spaniards as the two columns of Honduran national identity, leaving no space for the African element. Indeed the primary national symbols of Honduras have until recently been the indigenous cacique Lempira who is presented as having died valiantly fighting the oppressive Spaniards (and for whom Honduran currency was named in 1926) and
the Mayan ruins of Copan. These symbols of indigenous identity are obviously glorifications of an indigenous past, not a recognition of an indigenous present. Indeed most histories of Honduras represent indigenous peoples as a purely pre-Colombian and colonial phenomenon, disappearing before the Republican period through miscegenation, and subsumed into the poor campesinado. (In 1984 Cruz Sandoval wrote that the last time indigenous peoples had been included in the census was 1945!). Even indigenistas arguing for the continued presence of "pure" and isolated indigenous communities and the predominance of Indian blood and culture in
the make-up of the mestizo nation (minimizing that of the Spanish) see the persistence of these communities as problems of national unity (cf. Lang 1951).
Afro-honduran Sambo dancers
There are, however, other formulations of mestizaje in which Africans are included as contributing to the racial make-up of the population, especially where arguments are being made for the existence of racial democracy (cf. Otero 1963). In this instance, the term mestizo can simply mean "mixed" which may or may not include blacks. The implication is that no matter what the particular mix, race is not an issue in Honduras, because everyone is mestizo. Though this may seem to be evidence of racial democracy in that it accepts all racial confluence, it
actually reinforces intolerance to cultural and racial difference by implying that the existence of "pure" ethnic groups would "naturally" lead to conflict. Unity of the nation can only be achieved through homogeneity (cf. Barahona 1991:64). The important point then is that the inclusion of blacks in Honduran national identity generally refers to those who assimilated to the mestizo population during the colonial period, not to those who continue to identify with blackness. African blood may be recognized as flowing in the veins of Hondurans, but blackness (as in black culture, music, affinity with Africa) has not been celebrated as part of the national identity.
The primary representation of Honduras as an indo-hispanic nation has had consequences for the current mobilization of indigenous and black organizations where any cultural and racial difference from the mestizo has come to be conflated with autocthony. In other words, the notion of "ethnicity" is hegemonically understood not only as racial, cultural, and linguistic difference from the mestizo national subject, but also carries the connotations of a population that has a primordial link to the territory of the nation, occupying land "ancestrally" (that is continuously
For example in 1951 Honduran anthropologist Julio Lang argued for a recognition that many indigenous communities still remained, their isolation contributing to the conservation of a pure race and culture where the "lost diamonds" of a glorious past could still be found. Yet he simultaneously represents their cultural purity and isolated communities as evidence of a static, ahistoric past existing outside of modernity, reminders of the lack of development of the Honduran nation, that need to be "incorporated into the cultural environment of the nation so that they will have a clearly defined feeling that they belong to this nation and not just to their community" (Lang 1951: 217) from the pre-colonial era to the present). Thus the terms "pueblos autóctonos" and "pueblos
étnicos" are synonymous in Honduras (cf. Wade 1995 on similarities in Colombia). Within this hegemonic construction of ethnicity, the Garifuna are legally and anthroplogically defined as a "pueblo autóctono," though their blackness is generally noted as making them an exceptional kind of "pueblo autóctono" that can claim indigenous heritage but simultaneously identifies as black (Cruz 1984, Rivas 1993).
The ability of Garifuna to claim autocthonous status has important implications in the current era of ethnic mobilization in the Americas where Latin American states are being pushed from above and from below to confer special rights to indigenous peoples with "primordial" ties to the national territory. This is challenging assimilationist models of mestizaje and leading to reconfigurations of nationalism that recognize ethnic difference as part of the national identity. Once again, however, the place of blacks within this political moment is ambivalent because they do not neatly fit into models of autocthony which are used to justify the special status of indigenous peoples as "nations" within the nation-state. In the next section we show how discourses of autocthony and blackness are negotiated by Garifuna organizations mainly around issues of land and state recognition of multiculturalism. We argue that the careful use of the term autocthonous as opposed to indigenous- with its connotations of biological sameness- allows Garifuna to make primordial claims to rights isomorphic to indigenous groups, while maintaining a racial distinction as black.
Analysts of "new social movements" mobilized around ethnic identity in Latin America argue that despite the assimilationist rhetoric of mestizaje, Latin American states have largely failed to integrate the nation economically, politically, and culturally, thus creating the space for alternative identities to arise and take on political force (Escobar and Alvarez 1992, Stavenhagen 1992, Varese 1994). These movements are based on struggles, not only for rights to cultural difference, but also to land, territory, health care, education, and economic self-sufficiency. Though there is a long history in Latin America of peasants and the urban poor struggling for land and basic state infrastructure, the difference in recent mobilizations is that rather than
legitimate claims to these rights only as citizens of the state, ethnic social movements legitimate their claims also through their difference from the nation-state. In other words, indigenous and ethnic peoples claim their rights to land through their "primordial" ties to that territory prior to the existence of the state; they claim their rights to cultural sovereignty and bilingual education precisely due to their cultural difference from the national subject; and they claim their rights to economic sufficiency, health care, and other social benefits as universal human rights, rather than only as the rights of citizens of a particular nation-state. Such a recognition of "ethnic rights" has not only grown out of local experiences and contexts of struggle, but has also been legitimized in the international arena through a multitude of NGOs, international organizations, and international accords that are pressuring nation-states to protect the territory and human rights of indigenous and ethnic populations (Mato 1996, Rogers 1996). Much of this was given international force and attention in the wake of the anticelebration of the Quincentenary of 1992 that brought together pan-indigenous and pan-AfricanAmerican organizations throughout the Americas demanding recognition of their particular histories of cultural and racial oppression from both the political left and right (Hale 1994).
Though these movements have been in the name of "lo indígena, negro, y popular" (indigenous,
blacks, and popular movements, i.e. peasants and workers) indigenous identity has had the most
political salience thus far due to their "primordial" link to the Americas as an "autocthonous" population.
For example, the 1996 Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries #169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) was written to pressure nation-states to enact special legislation for the rights of "indigenous and tribal peoples" to land, bilingual education, political and economic autonomy, and fair labor practices. Article 1 defines the beneficiaries as "tribal peoples" and "peoples regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country...at the time of the conquest or18
colonization or the establishment of present state boundaries and who,...retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural, and political institutions" and with "self -identification as indigenous or tribal" (ILO 1996:325). Here cultural conservation and consciousness of cultural difference are criteria for special rights, coupled with the notion that this difference is linked to geographical separation in a territory occupied "ancestrally" or pre colonially.
This image of autocthony is especially critical around issues of land. Both indigenous and black communities have experienced a long history of encroachment on their agricultural lands by peasant colonos escaping land concentration in other parts of Honduras, cattle ranchers, agribusiness, and most recently on the north coast, the tourist industry. This encroachment has been facilitated by Agrarian Reform laws favoring the titling of lands to those who engage in market production as opposed to subsistence (such as the swidden horticulture of the Garifuna) and more recent neoliberal agrarian laws favoring large-scale investment and production by
individuals. Article 13 of the ILO Convention states that indigenous and tribal lands must be understood as "territories" reflecting the collective spiritual relationship of the people to the land, in contrast to individualist, capitalist models of land ownership and production (ILO 1996: 328).
In Honduras organizations such as the Consejo Asesor Hondureño para el Desarrollo de las Etnias Autóctonas (CAHDEA) (Honduran Counsel for the Development of Autocthonous Peoples) (within which Garifuna are represented) and the Confederación de Pueblos Autóctonos de Honduras (CONPAH) (Confederation of Autocthonous Peoples of Honduras) argue for the rights of autocthonous peoples to receive titles to territories that would include space not only for capitalist agricultural production, but also their "functional habitat"- that is (in the case of the Garifuna) the rivers, swamps, lagoons, forests, and beaches necessary for the "traditional"
extraction of resources for the construction of houses and artesanry (canoes, implements of making cassava brea). Cassava bread is made from the cassava root and is similar to that made by the peoples of the Caribbean islands and South America. In Garifuna it is called ereba and is considered to be an ethnic marker of the Garifuna in Honduras) fishing, hunting, and the collection of medicinal plants. This is supported by programs such as the United Nations Rescate Cultural Ecológico in which Indigenous and autocthonous peoples are represented as naturally "rooted" to the land and as such are "natural conservationists" of the local resources. Throughout many centuries, we ethnic autocthonous peoples have lived in our communities in permanent harmony with each other, with those who visit us, and with nature; maintaining the ecological equilibrium that our mother nature wisely gave us, and for which our natural resources have awakened the greed of cattle ranchers, the military, and economically powerful people, who, using all kinds of deceit are trying to remove us from the lands that historically and legally belong to us (Public Letter to the President of the Republic, signed by 36 Garifuna community leaders at a meeting of Rescate Cultural Ecológico, 1995).
Afro-Honduran youths activists forum
Throughout the decade of the 1990s Garifuna grassroots organizations in Honduras have stressed this indigenous trope of the autocthonous, timeless culture and primordial link to the land, consciously counterpoising this identity to the image of the culturally and racially mixed, mobile and "rootless" (desarraigado) mestizo population who have been settling around Garifuna villages, and who they see as treating the land as a mere commodity to be exploited: The problem with ladinos is that you can't trust them, because they don't love the land,
they don't have any roots. They sell their own land and then they come here to the North coast and take our land and sell it to just anybody. If you ask a ladino where they're from, they can't even tell you because they move around so much. They are rootless so they don't care about la madre tierra (President of the Garifuna movement Iseri Lidawamari at a seminar on indigenous rights violations in Tegucigalpa sponsored by CAHDEA, 1993,
Afro-Honduran man and his child
Though Garifuna organizations often present themselves in the language of autocthony and claim rights isomorphic to indigenous peoples, blackness is still a differential factor such that current Garifuna organizations rarely claim to be indigenous, even though their history could allow them that claim. For example, in 1992, the year of the Quincentenary, the Organización de Desarrollo Etnico Comunitario (ODECO) (Organization of Comunal Ethnic Development) organized a protest march in La Ceiba on October 12, Día de la Raza, uniting Garifuna, indigenous, and popular groups in demanding the ratification of the ILO Convention #169 and protesting the celebration of the Quincentenary. The flyer listing the demands of the march reveals the multiple ways that ethnic terminology is used to connote political affiliation and racial difference between indigenous and blacks, and racial affiliation and cultural difference between Garifuna and other "negros." Note that when referring to primordial rights to land, Garifuna are specified, however when referring to multicultural education, the more inclusive
word "negros" is used.
After five centuries, we continue without social, political, or economic justice. 12 of October 1492- 12 of October 1993. The injustice continues...and the struggle continues. In the International Year of Indigenous Peoples. To the government of the republic we demand:
1) The ratification and implementation of the Convention 169 of the ILO, for the rights of indigenous (indígenas) and tribal (tribales) peoples.
2) The return of all the lands that have been plundered from the Indians (indios) and Garifunas (garifunas) of Honduras, because they are the legitimate owners.
3) The effective reform of Article 6 of the Constitution of the Republic, so that the languages of the ethnic groups (pueblos étnicos) be considered official languages.
4) Our participatory representation in the different powers of the state.
5) That the human, cultural, historical, and linguistic values of the Indians (indios) and Blacks (negros) be inserted into the plans of national education.
6) Modify the economic measures that sharpen the poverty of the popular sectors.
Such mobilizations of indigenous and black groups in Honduras have brought these issues of land tenure, bilingual education, racism, and multiculturalism to the foreground of public debate, eroding the hegemony of mestizaje as a national identity, and seriously challenging integrationist economic and political policies as human rights violations. Since the United Nations declared the Decade of Indigenous Peoples in 1993, indigenous groups and Garifuna have marched on the capital many times demanding the titling of indigenous and
Garifuna lands, the resolution of land conflicts with mestizo settlers, and the conviction of the assassins of indigenous and Garifuna leaders. This mobilization, combined with pressure from international organizations, led to the signing of the ILO Convention #169 by President Carlos Roberto Reina in 1994; to the establishment of an Attorney-General of the Ethnic Groups (Fiscal de las Etnias) whose purpose is to represent and protect the rights of ethnic groups vis-à-vis the state and powerful private interests in accordance with the Convention #169; and to the formation of programs such as Nuestras Raizes (Our Roots) that channel international funding into autocthonous communities for small development projects. This has reinforced the political salience of being "indigenous" or "tribal" or "autocthonous" as defined in the Convention #169. For example, in the opening address of a 1996 ceremony celebrating the accomplishments of Nuestras Raizes attended by leaders from all of the ethnic groups and President Reina, the minister of the Fondo Hondureño de Inversion Social (FHIS) (Honduran
Fund for Social Investment) that administers the Nuestras Raizes program, justified the program in this way:
Here we encounter many indigenous groups, Miskito, Garifuna, English-speaking
Natives- the autocthonous peoples of Honduras. Here we are gathered for the first time
in history with precise instructions from this administration because we know that you
represent the most genuine and authentic element of our nationality because your
communities and your ancestors were the first inhabitants of this continent. The highest
levels of illiteracy, lack of income, lack of access to markets and production are all
common factors facing the autocthonous peoples. These peoples by right of possession
are historically the owners of the best of the nation, yet today they are the poorest peoples
in the country. If any people have rights in this country, here they are this morning
(Manuel Zelaya 1996, my translation).
Though Garifuna were unproblematically referred to as part of "our roots," fitting them within this indigenous/autocthonous discourse has not always gone uncontested. The Attorney General of the Etnias, Eduardo Villanueva told me in an interview that there are those who have tried to discredit Garifuna claims to "territory" because they are not actually indigenous to Honduras.
The Dancer,Garifuna musicians and dancers, Yubu, Roatan, Honduras
English-speaking Natives (Nativos de habla ingles) was the term used to refer to the Black Creoles at this meeting. This is the first time I had ever seen them referred to in this way. The use of the term "nativos" for a population that has no claim to indigenous heritage is further proof of the ideological conflation of ethnicity with autocthony.
It doesn't seem just to me to say that blacks are not indigenous because their primordial antecedents are in Africa. Indigenous is that which is original to this country, and the origins of this country are when it gained independence and set up its actual borders. So the Convention 169 favors those peoples who were already here before the formation of the state. In 1821 the Garifuna had already been here for many years. They
came against their will, uprooted from their original country. This is a historical fact, and we cannot change that. But when I say indigenous I mean to include the Garifuna in the concept because they were here when the state was organized. So even the Garifuna and Black Creoles are just as Honduran as any mestizo (1996, my translation).
This kind of explanation reflects the way that "ethnic" (understood as culturally and racially different from the mestizos) and "autocthonous" (understood as being the original inhabitants of the Americas) are conflated. Because Garifuna were present before the formation of the state, he argues that they are just as Honduran as any mestizo or Indian. This then establishes their right to be represented equally by the state of Honduras. But having existed "on the margins of mestizo society" and having "conserved their own social, economic, cultural, and political institutions, or part of them" as outlined in the Convention #169 is also the basis for a set of special rights. Both representatives of the state (Villanueva and Zelaya) are simultaneously claiming the rights of ethnic peoples based on sameness (Honduran citizens, roots of national identity) and difference (ethnic, marginalized by mestizo society) couched in the hegemonic language of autocthony. This newer vision Honduran national identity that the state refers to as multicultural, recognizes difference, but still contains this difference within the bounds of Honduran nationalism.
As in previous formulations of mestizaje, blacks are recognized as part of the national society, but blackness itself is not celebrated as part of the national identity. The Garifuna, and even the Black Creoles are recognized in this new state discourse of multiculturalism based on their ties to the land and territory of Honduras, as autocthonous, not based on a cultural and racial identity in St. Vincent or Africa. This is because blackness as an identity is still seen as emanating from elsewhere
, West Bay Beach The entrance to the beach from the Mayan Princess Hotel in Roatan Honduras.
little African blood) or the category of autocthonous.it cannot be contained within the "roots of the nation" framework unless it is subsumed under the category of the mestizo (todos somos mestizos, we all have a
Kenia Martinez,Miss Honduras 2010
In the 1990s Garifuna organizations in Honduras have used the language of autocthony and allied themselves with indigenous groups, yet an identification with blackness has also always been present. In daily practice Garifuna mainly self-identify as blacks and have certainly adopted a self-conscious African-American aesthetic in their style of dress and music, jarring common assumptions of what an "autocthonous" population "conserving their native culture" ought to look like. This has as much to do with their persistent racialization as blacks in
Honduras, as with their experiences as transmigrants in the US where they have come to identify as "ethnic immigrant blacks," associated with the modernity of global Black popular culture. This aspect of blackness has actually become quite popular in Honduras, especially on the north coast among Garifuna and mestizo youth. At the same time, Garifuna organizations are beginning to stress a greater identification with the Black diaspora and with Africa in political terms, emphasizing common experiences of colonization, slavery, and racism. Both the popular and political emphasis on blackness pose a challenge to mestizaje not only by pointing to a racial
difference from the mestizo, but also by locating this difference within a global arena of racial identification with other Blacks that cannot be contained within the bounds of Honduran nationalism in the same way that autocthony can. In the struggle for rights vis-à-vis the Honduran state, however, blackness as a political identity is still precarious and as a result often continues to carry connotations of primordiality and autocthony, even while popular blackness identifies Garifuna as standard bearers of a modern global culture.
Young Afro-Honduran activist
Despite the complexity of notions of autocthony and mestizaje, for most Garifuna not involved in organizations being black is a simple affair. That is, in Honduras being Garifuna and being black are generally understood as being the same thing, constructed in contrast to the main “other” who Garifuna deal with on a daily basis- the mestizo (or who the president of OFRANEH calls “los dicen ser blancos.”) Garifuna is almost universally acknowledged as the correct and proper term used to refer to themselves as an ethnic group, to differentiate
themselves from other blacks when necessary. “Negro” is seen as more highly charged because it can be used as a derogatory term by mestizos (or even worse “negritos”), yet it is a term of sisterhood and brotherhood when employed among the Garifuna themselves. When asked which term was preferable one young male informant replied:
“Negro, that’s my color and that’s how I am represented at the level of the world. I’m of
the Black race. You know. That’s my representation...I’m of the Garifuna race but I’m
black. I’m Black. My color is Black. My language is what changes...Garifuna is my
language. My color is Black.”
While he uses the word "race" to denote both Garifuna and Black, Garifuna is understood as one kind of Black, that is a member of the global black race who happens to have Garifuna language and culture. His preference to define himself as Black is echoed by many other young men and women who say the color represents “all the Black race of the world” and that they identify with other blacks “for the simple fact of being Black.” Through what they call color,
Community Organizer Celeo Alvarez Casildo at the Satuye Cultural Center that ODECO rose up from a vacant lot in the Isla barrio of La Ceiba. D.R.
Garifuna articulate a sense of diasporic identification, linking their sense of self in Honduras and
imagined sense elsewhere to the status and fate of Blacks everywhere.
At the same time, it is clear that the focus of much of their attention is the United States and the Black American, especially the hip hop style. From the Malcolm X and Free Mike Tyson t-shirts worn by young men and old women alike, to the reggae, hip hop, and soul music blasting from palm-thatched homes, to the video collections that include Boyz in the Hood, Menace II Society, and New Jack City, to the peppering of conversations (even those in Garifuna) with English phrases such as “chillin” and “nigga” and “bro”-- an identification with "things Black American" is prevalent especially among the Garifuna youth. This heavy “traffic in blackness” is not merely the logical outcome of the fact of heavy migration to Harlem, the South Bronx, and
other US inner city neighborhoods, but is also an assertion of difference from the racial/cultural norms of mestizo nationalism. In appropriating the signs of Black America, Garifuna participate in its first world modernity and thereby elevate their own individual and collective status within Honduras. Garifuna, particularly young men, eschew the old image of a most backward people in a backward land for a cosmopolitan image as the standard bearers of a modern popular. That they make this modern popular decidedly black can be seen as the result of many things: the increased predominance and marketing of US Black culture within national and global circuits; a yearning among Garifuna to both preserve and transform their own racial and cultural identity; and their embrace of postures of defiance and resistance characteristic of so much of AfricanAmerican style and gesture. The affirmation of a first world blackness thus allows Garifuna to claim a status as modern and to assert their racial and cultural difference against the normative presumptions of both mestizo Honduras and the White west.
That this identification with blackness is not merely a result of “afroamericanization” (acculturation and mimicry of African-Americans) as some have suggested (Ghidinelli and Massajoli 1984, Gonzalez 1988), is further evidenced by the relation that Garifuna have to blackness in the US where that identification is not defined in a binary relation of Black and white (mestizo) but rather vis-a-vis multiple others, including multiple other blacks. Whereas in Honduras, being black and Garifuna are easily coterminous, in New York City, being black and yet speaking Spanish and being from a Hispanic country, makes this identification less simple. The mestizo is no longer the main “other” against which their identity as Black is defined. Rather, in New York City they encounter a multitude of ethnic/racial categories against which and within which they define themselves, including Caribbean Hispanics, West Indians, Africans, African-Americans, and Whites. In this milieu, Garifuna slide in and out of the racial and ethnic categories of Black, Hispanic, Afro-Latino, and Garifuna.
Whether Garifuna choose to classify themselves as Black, Hispanic, or Other on official forms again reveals the ambiguity of notions of race versus ethnicity. During interviews, transmigrants who identified as African-American (41%) often articulated their reasoning in the language of race-- "we are black no matter what language we speak"-- whereas those who claimed hispanic identity (38%) justified it as a matter of language, culture, and national origin--"African-American is just for those blacks who are from here, we are from Honduras so we are
hispanic." Those who mark “other” and write in "Garifuna" (16%) also justified it as a matter of language, culture, and origin- but pointing to a Garifuna ethnic nationalist identity located in St. Vincent as opposed to Central American citizenship.
Garifuna identification with blackness in the US as a racial affiliation results from many of the same processes occurring in Honduras: experiences of being racialized as blacks on the streets of New York where they are assumed to be African-American until they speak, experiences of discrimination from mestizos-hispanics (in addition to whites and Asians), and an identification with Black leaders as icons of struggle against discrimination. On the other hand, like many other immigrant blacks, Garifuna often seek to avoid the low status that assimilating to African-American culture carries with it (Basch 1987, Waters 1994). The proliferation of
Garifuna organizations in New York City targeted at "conserving" the culture and language among the youth can be seen as an attempt to differentiate themselves from other blacks by emphasizing their ethnic identity as Garifuna. At meetings of youth groups, members often counterpoise the goals of the Garifuna youth as against the stereotype of the African-American as being lazy, living only off welfare and crime, and blaming all their problems on the system. Older Garifuna often use references to the baggy pants and other attire of the hip hop, AfricanAmerican look donned by Garifuna youth to indicate their degeneration/debasement in the inner city environment, questioning the hegemonic discourse of all localities in the US as representing development and modernity.
Culturally, the Honduran Garifuna have much in common with their Puerto Rican and Dominican neighbors, sharing favorite foods, musical styles, and the Spanish language. For those Garifuna who speak little English, these neighbors and co-workers are often their primary social circle outside of the Garifuna community. One interviewee affirmed "we are here (in the South Bronx) like all other Latinos without good jobs, not speaking English, and living in decaying neighborhoods." For this man, it is the experience of being non-English-speaking
immigrants that makes the Honduran Garifuna part of the hispanic community. Indeed, Garifuna activists prevalent at Vamos a La Peña del Bronx, a community center established and run by a Chilean couple to cater to the social needs and cultural events of the South Bronx hispanic community. Here Garifuna dance troupes joined with Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Ecuadorian groups in street fairs and parades organized to represent the hispanic cultural mosaic of the South Bronx. Garifuna organizations met with South Bronx hispanic politicians (mainly Puerto Rican and Dominican) to be included in programs for documented and undocumented immigrants.
However, once again, their physical blackness intrudes on this cultural affinity, marking them as "negritos" and "morenos" within a Caribbean hispanic population that has historically had very ambivalent feelings about their Afro-Hispanic history and identity. Relations with other Hondurans are similarly ambiguous as Garifuna and mestizo Hondurans actually have very little social contact in New York City. There are moments that Garifuna and mestizos unite under the banner of Honduran nationalism (as in Central American Independence Day parades on September 15, Catholic mass on the Dia de la Virgin de Guadelupe, and for nationality-based
soccer leagues) but most of the time their social and organizational activities are separate. This is due in part to the historic relations of animosity between the two groups (resulting from racism in Honduras) that has carried over into their relations in NYC. It is also a result of the fact that the mestizos actually are a minority of the Hondurans in NYC (estimates say Garifuna are about 70%) and are more dispersed throughout the city, less organized, and tend to melt into the general hispanic immigrant population having, as many lament, no cultural peculiarities to distinguish them from other Central Americans. Ironically, this gap between Garifuna and mestizo transmigrants is being bridged by a the increasing popularity of Garifuna culture as icons of Honduran nationalism in NYC, especially Punta Rock-a genre of music made popular by NYC-based Garifuna bands that combines
traditional rhythms and drums with electronic instrumentation and lyrics sung (or rapped) in Garifuna, Spanish, and English. This music, which is both decidedly Black (influenced greatlyby Soca and other Anglo-Caribbean music) and Hispanic (also influenced by Salsa and
Afro Hondurans resisting 2009 coup
Calculations of the number of Hondurans and of Garinagu in New York City vary tremendously due to the complications of counting a population that is mobile and often undocumented. Even the statistics of the Immigration and Naturalization Service are not very helpful because they only classify by country of origin and not by internal ethnic categories. Whatever the total number may be, most who are familiar with the New York Honduran community, such as those involved with the Federation of Honduran Organization in New York
(FEDOHNY) and the Honduran consulate, estimate that the Garinagu form 70% of Hondurans in New York City. The percentage of Garinagu versus ladinos is different in New Orleans and Los Angeles where ladinos are the majority of the Honduran community. Merengue) is becoming popular among Hondurans, serving as a marker of cultural difference from other Central Americans. The manager of one particular band- Garifuna Kids- said that
they had been called the "cultural ambassadors of Honduras," surprising even themselves that their ethnic nationalist lyrics (invoking the youth to remember their Garifuna culture) and performance style of Black masculinity (Perry 1998) had become so popular among the mestizos.
This more recent popularity of Garifuna culture as the national "folklore" (especially in the context of the expanding tourist industry on the Caribbean coast where Garifuna are common postcard material) is even more ironic in light of the fact that punta and other elements of Garifuna culture simultaneously serve as ethnic nationalist symbols of resistance against racism and mestizaje, and are claimed by some Garifuna activists to come straight from Africa (cf. Crisanto Melendez 1995, Arzu 1995). This vision of the Garifuna "race," language and culture as emanating from primordial Africa places Garifuna very much outside of Honduran nationalism
and mestizaje. Even those activists who recognize the Garifuna as a product of the New World and as African/Carib hybrids, still see Garifuna roots as emanating from St. Vincent, identifying much more with the Caribbean than with Central America. They refer to the Garifuna of Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and St. Vincent as one Garifuna Nation in Diaspora,united by a common culture, language, and ancestral homeland despite their current geographical dispersion and fragmented citizenships. They are of the ethnicity Garifuna, within the larger racial category of Africans in the Americas. Within this celebration of blackness and political
identification with the African Diaspora one is more likely to see dashikis and kente cloth than Nike, videos about Nelson Mandela rather than Eddie Murphy, and references to Marcus Garvey and the Garifuna leader Satuye as icons of black resistance.
This political identification with the African Diaspora has become apparent in the formation of several organizations that foreground the racial identity of blackness, and emphasize the historical and ideological particularities of Afro-Hispanics who have been "statistically invisible" and seen as outside of mestizo nationalism. In 1994 Garifuna became active in a hemispheric network of Black organizations initiated by the Organization of Africans in the Americas (OAA) based in Washington, D.C., Mundo Afro based in Uruguay, and
Cimarron based in Columbia (see Wade 1995 for a description of Cimarron). All three organizations were founded to meet the needs of Afro-Hispanics in the US and Latin America who have suffered a "hidden racial discrimination condoned by Latin American society and stemming from colonial practices" (from an OAA document). Aside from issues of political and economic empowerment, one of the first goals of these organizations is to make the hemispheric public aware that Afro-Hispanics do exist and are a sizable community, though they have been officially invisible. This network was instrumental in encouraging the formation of the Central American Black Organization (CABO) that unites Garifuna with Black Creole from throughout Central America, and played a significant role in the organization of the Bicentennial celebration in La Ceiba. Similarly, ODECO, which originally was formed to represent indigenous, black, and popular groups, now only claims to represent Afro-Hondurans (Garifuna and Black Creole), along with the National Coordinator of Black Organizations in Honduras.
Though these organizations privilege blackness as their main racial and political affiliation, this is still often done in the language of autocthony. That is, Garifuna are distinguished from other blacks as "authentic," as having maintained a primordial culture and language, a "cultura autóctona," as opposed to a "cultura adquirida." They have been uprooted from Africa, displaced from St. Vincent, but they have still conserved an "ancestral culture" in
ways other Blacks have not. For example the director of the Ballet Folklorico Nacional Garifuna (also known as the Grupo Afro Hondureño) explained that this dance troupe has been internationally recognized as representing the only authentic African culture in the Americas:
"In many countries we have been told that in all of Latin America, among all other Blacks, only
the Garifuna have maintained their own language; and we have been told that we are good
because we have maintained our own culture" (quoted in Lopez Garcia 1993).
This dance troupe and a spinoff of it in New York City called Wanichigu Dance Company, are very afro-centric in
their choice of costuming and social messages about rediscovering the roots of Garifuna dance and music in Africa, while at the same time they perform internationally as representatives of national Honduran folklore.
In some ways, then, this connection of Garifuna culture to primordial Africa challenges Honduran mestizaje by identifying with blackness as a "pure" racial category and by locating their history and identity outside of Honduras. At the same time the invocation of notions of "autocthony" and "ethnicity" allow Garifuna culture to be somewhat appropriated by Honduran state projects of a new multicultural nationalism. Like autocthony, blackness as a popular and political identity is a challenge to mestizaje, but the need to frame it within a political struggle that ultimately takes place vis-a-vis the Honduran state, also must leave space for its partial cooptation into Honduran nationalism.
Beautiful Afro-honduran girl
It has already become a maxim within the social sciences that racial and ethnic identities are not biological or primordial givens but are rather matters of social dispute (Omi and Winant 1994) constructed vis-a-vis multiple “others” within relations of power that have local, national, and transnational dimensions (Hall 1990, 1991). Race, with its connotation of biological and phenotypic sameness, and ethnicity, with it connotations of cultural and linguistic particularity are ambiguous categories that are at times conflated, and at others differentiated, but always connected to processes of inclusion and exclusion within political struggles. In this paper we have particularly focused on the many ways that mestizaje, blackness, and autocthony as both racial and ethnic categories are mobilized as ideologies of inclusion and exclusion within the context of Garifuna grassroots struggles vis-a-vis the Honduran state.
Mestizaje as a nationalist ideology is contradictory because it purports to be based on culture only (i.e. anyone of any race or any mixture of races can be mestizo if they acculturate to the “national” culture) yet is simultaneously racialized as mestizos of particular mixes (i.e. indohispanic) and colors (i.e. lighter) are considered more representative of the nation and modernity than others (C. Smith 1997, Wade 1993). Indigenous and black movements in Honduras arguing for the recognition that autocthonous (ethnic) peoples have conserved a racial and cultural difference from the mestizo challenges the notion of the homogeneity of mestizaje and
assimilationist and racist state policies. The state response to celebrate autocthony within a multicultural nationalism does not, however, invalidate mestizaje as a national identity because autocthony continues to be valorized and recognized mainly because it represents the roots of the mestizo and the link to the national territory. In other words, autocthony gains both its strength and weakness from being an essentially territorialized and racialized identity that can be used to argue for special rights due to primordial occupation to land and essential difference from the national subject, but can also be coopted by a territorialized state nationalism as symbolic of the nation. The idea of autocthony can be more radical when it is used to challenge the internal
sovereignty of the nation-state as in movements for territorial autonomy (cf. Hale 1994b) or when autocthony is articulated as a hemispheric or transnational identity and political affiliation rather than nation-based (cf. Kearney and Nagengast 1990, Varese 1994).
Afro-Hondurans poured out in their numbers to demonstrate against 2009 military putsch
Afro-Honduran women resisting Honduran 2009 coup
Blackness, on the other hand, is a more radical challenge to Honduran mestizaje because it is a much less territorialized identity. Though blackness can at times be essentialized as a racial affiliation emanating from primordial African roots, it is not confined to the territory of Africa, because it is also an identity of displacement, the feeling of belongingness to a community that transcends national boundaries. Thus blackness can be understood, not simply as a racial entity, but also as common experience of racialization and discrimination throughout the diaspora that unites peoples of African descent who are identified as "black" (Gilroy 1993). The global “traffic in blackness” (literally the exchange of consumer goods and images) facilitates this identification
across national borders and challenges the primacy of nationally-bounded affiliations. Yet as an effective political identity it must also recognize multiple ways of being black-- the difference of the black subject that leads to ethnic identities within the larger racial category of black. These identities form the basis of very particular local struggles that are often territorialized. In both the US and Honduras Garifuna define themselves with global racial blackness, but also as particular kinds of blacks with a particular historical and cultural configuration that links them to specific territories. This is especially crucial in the Garifuna struggle for land, and their need to negotiate vis-a-vis the Honduran state. The fact that in Honduras autocthony is, like mestizo, a slippery category that can be defined both racially (i.e. racially "pure" indigenous peoples) but also culturally (i.e. those of any race who have not assimilated to the mestizo national culture) enables the Garifuna to inhabit the ambiguous space between autocthony and blackness. Their inclusion as autocthonous, then, broadens the definition of who deserves "ethnic" rights, and creates a space for the inclusion of blackness in the national identity of
Afro- Honduran children playing
To say that Garifuna negotiate these identities within their political struggles is not to saythat these identities are not “real” to them. Garifuna leaders do not necessarily see being black and being autocthonous as contradictory or as contrived categories. Rather the multiplicity and ambiguity of Garifuna racial and ethnic identity can be more fruitfully understood as resulting from the complex intersection between daily experiences of identity construction vis-a-vis neighbors, state bureaucracies, and the media, with the ways that international organizations and nation-states decide the basis upon which to draw boundaries around groups and confer rights to them. This fluidity of Garifuna identity allows organizations to form alliances with a wide range
of social groups, including peoples of the Black Atlantic, indigenous peoples of the world, and Hispanic immigrants in the US. Though the struggle for specific rights takes place vis-a-vis a particular state and nationalism, the identity politics involved in this struggle have local, national, and transnational dimensions. This points to the ways that globalization facilitates the articulation of broad racial categories and political affiliations that transcend national borders, while local struggles and peculiarities of identity still remain important.
the Garifuna. Miriam discusses how police and paramilitary death squads in Honduras violently oppress them for control of their ancestral lands.(source:http://188.8.131.52/ar/libros/lasa98/England-Anderson.pdf)
garifuna fishermen of honduras
Afro-Honduran Garifuna kids
GARIFUNA LADY from HONDURAS DANCING while the VINCENTIAN CONTINGENT SANG in the GARIFUNA LANGUAGE on the island of BALLICEAUX.
Omar Suazo,Afro-honduran garifuna folks songs super-star
Members of the Garifuna community near Tela, Honduras. The Garifuna people are of mixed African, Arawak and Carib ancestry and native to the Caribbean Coast in Central America. UN Photo/Chris Sattlberger
Tela, Honduras Triunfo de la Cruz Beach at Tela, Honduras
A Garifuna-lady in Tela - Tela. A Garifuna-lady in Tela
Afro-Honduran woman swimming
KENIA MARTINEZ,AFRO-HONDURAN MISS UNIVERS
West Bay, Roatan, Honduras