The history of the Garifuna (also known as Garinagu) begins before the year 1635 on the island of St. Vincent in the eastern Caribbean. St. Vincent was inhabited by a peaceful tribe of Indians who called themselves Arawaks. The Kalipuna tribe from mainland South America invaded St. Vincent and conquered the Arawaks. The Arawak men were all killed and the Kalipuna warriors took the Arawak women as wives. The inhabitants of the island were then the union of these two tribes. The Spanish called these people "Caribes" (Caribs) which means cannibals and that is the word from which "Caribbean" is derived.
                              Garifuna Dancers during "Yurumei" re-enactment
The Garifuna story begins in 1635 with the shipwreck of two Spanish slave Ships near the island of San Vicente. The ships were carrying West African slaves, probably from Nigeria (but I believe from Gold Coast now Ghana as their matrilineal inheritance system shows is a typical Akan Fante tradition and so also is their dancing styles and their staple food being cassava makes them to be more of Akan Fantes than Nigerians) to be used as slaves in the British colonies in the area of Martinica, Santa Lucia, Granada, Dominica, and Barbados. The slaves swam to freedom on the island of San Vicente. 

                                     The Garifuna, also known as Garinagu 
A subsequent shipwreck in 1675 along with slaves fleeing neighboring islands, especially from the colonial plantations in Barbados, produced a rapid influx of Africans to the island. At first, the Spanish, Africans and Kalipuna fought one another but later these Africans rapidly became part of the Arawakan Indian society. Soon after the African men began to marry the Arawakan, or Caribe, women, mixing the two cultures. From this union come a new population of black Caribbean to compete for land and power with the original Arawakan Caribes. This new population of black Caribes is what today is known as the Garifuna people. The word "Garifuna", which means "cassava eating people", is probably descended from "Kalipuna".
   ( Fruit market at st Vincent:The Sunday market was a focal point for plantation society in St Vincent. Apart from its obvious commercial appeal it provided a significant moment of liberation for the enslaved. It allowed them to engage in enterprise for their own benefit, selling produce from their garden plots to obtain money with which to purchase sundry goods such coloured cloth, jewelry and basic utensils for personal adornment and use. In other paintings Brunias has featured more crowded market scenes but in this engraving, "The Fruit Market at St Vincent" it appears more as an encounter with vendors on their way to the main market in Kingstown. As in the engraving of "a Negro festival", Brunias uses fruit and luxuriant vegetation on the right of the picture to conjour up an image of tropical plenty. A melon is proffered to a mulatto mistress and her companion while a man, most likely her slave carrying her basket, observes the transaction. Two other vendors, baskets loaded with fruit, are nearby.)

By the year 1750, the Garifunas or Black Caribes, were both numerous and prosperous. The men dedicated themselves to hunting and fishing, and traveling to nearby island to barter tobacco and baskets for weapons, ammunition and other European products, while the women took charge of domestic labors and the greater part of the agricultural work.

Soon, however, French colonists began to arrive on the island, eventually taking over a section of it for them. The British also continued their colonization in the area, arriving in San Vicente around 1763 with desires to obtain by trick, persuasion, cunning, or purchase, the fertile lands belonging to the Garifunas. The British wished to use the Garifunas' land to plan sugar cane, and when the Garifunas refused to give up their lands, the British provoked them to open war.

The British desire to obtain the Garifunas' land by force produced a 32-year conflict, with the French siding with the black Caribes. In 1775, the British decided to take a more active approach and take over the entire island, even that part which belonged to the French.

" In 1795, with the country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, under
the governership of James Seton, the Caribs began the two years of
attack known as the Second Carib War. With the aid of French rebels
from Martinique, the Caribs plotted the removal of the British.
Chatoyer and DuValle (the two main Carib chiefs) planned that
Chatoyer would lead the rebellion on the Leeward side and DuValle
would lead on the Windward side. News came to Kingstown on March
8th that war had broken out.

Chatoyer directed his fury at the settlers themselves rather than
destroying their property. His belief was that the land would be
extremely useful to the Caribs after the removal of the British. He
worked his way along the Leeward, joined in battle by the French at
Chateaublair, to unite with DuValle at Dorsetshire Hill. The
amalgamated forces then set their sights on Kingstown.
                     Chatoyer, the Chief of the Black Charaibes in St Vincent with his five wives, from: Bryan Edwards. The history, civil and commercial, of the British colonies in the West Indies. London: printed for John Stockdale, Piccadilly, 1807 [FCO Historical Collection F2131 EDW]

A battalion of British soldiers from recently arrived warships marched
towards Dorsetshire Hill on March 14th. On this night, Chatoyer was
killed by Major Alexander Leith. Considered a hero to the nation, a monument in
Chatoyer’s honor is placed at Dorsetshire Hill. Battles raged throughout St. Vincent
over the nex tyear with both sides bearing heavy losses. The final battle took place
at Vigie on June 10th, 1796. After a night of arduous fighting the Caribs approach
the British with a truce flag. "In 1796 the French finally surrendered, but the Garifunas and Arawakan Caribes continued to fight. The British proceeded to burn the Caribes houses, canoes and crops. The Garifunas, sick and almost dead from hunger, finally surrendered."
     *(Like the "Negro Festival", the engraving entitled "Pacification of Maroon Negroes" has been the centre of some controversy. The original painting from which it is taken depicts, what is believed to be the climax of the First Carib War, when in February 1773 a treaty was made between the British and the main Black Carib chiefs, Chatoyer prominent among them. British soldiers are encamped on the right, while the eleven men due to take an oath of allegiance to King George III stand to the left listening as an interpreter, probably Chatoyer's chief advisor, Jean Baptiste, explains the terms dictated by the British. As demanded in Article 2 of the treaty to "lay down their arms", the guns, swords and bows of the Black Caribs lie on the ground between them. At the extreme right a British officer holds a map of St Vincent, which would have had the respective boundaries of Carib and plantation land delineated on it. Another officer reads from a paper, which contains the twenty-four articles of the treaty. There is some disagreement as to who is the senior officer seated with his arm extended in a classic gesture of peace. Some have it to be Major General Dalrymple leader of the expedition of 1772. Others are convinced that it is Sir William Young himself, painted as heroic peacemaker by his loyal artist. A comparison of Sir William, painted by Zoffany and Sir William as painted by Brunias would favour the view that it is Young. But by the time the painting was transferred into an engraving it could be any white official and in its printed form this scene took on a life of its own. It has been used to depict scenes of maroon confrontation in Jamaica and Dominica as well as at its point of genesis in St Vincent. In Bryan Edwards' history it is captioned "Pacification with Maroon Negroes" without any direct reference to the text, which mainly covers the Jamaican maroon campaigns. Printed at the time of the Haitian revolution and its aftermath it became also a symbol of British order and control in comparison to the disastrous French collapse in St Domingue. Brunias had once again provided visual reinforcement of the security and contentment under British rule at a time when the British Empire was expanding its vision to India and Africa beyond its early focus in the West Indies.)*

The British now had a problem. The Garifuna were free men with black skin and St.Vincent was populated by slave-owning Europeans. The idea of a group of free black men living among them on the island posed an unacceptable threat to the British who decided to expel the Garifuna from the island. The British hunted down and rounded up the Garifuna, killing hundreds in the process and destroying their homes and culture. The remaining 4,300 Garifuna were forcibly removed and shipped to Balliceaux, a tiny uninhabited island off of Bequia’s northeast coast, where half of them died of yellow fever.

The Exile of the Garifunas
Submission terms were negotiated and during the next four months over 5,000
Caribs surrendered. The Caribs were exiled to the neighboring island of Balliceaux
and in February 1797, the defeated Caribs were loaded onto a convoy of eight
vessels and transported to the coast of Honduras, where they arrived on April 12th.
The few remaining Caribs scattered to the north of the island near Sandy Bay where
their descendants can still be found.
                                                old garifuna man
The most recent development in this quest for reclaiming identity and
reconstructing their history took place on March 14, 2002 when the Great Carib
(Garifuna) Chief, Chatoyer, was declared first National Hero of St. Vincent and the
Grenadines, and the day made a national holiday. Chatoyer, who is also revered by
the Garifuna people in Central America, was Paramount Chief at a very critical
period in the struggle to retain the independence of St. Vincent and to preserve the
lands on which his people lived. He died in 1795 during the battle that led to the
final defeat of the Caribs. The recognition of the importance of the Carib Chief to
the life and struggles of his people has long been recognized. The British have
established a monument in a prominent place in the Anglican Cathedral to their
Major Leith who, it was alleged, had killed Chatoyer in a duel. The account of his
                         Decendents of Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer
death given by the British has been disputed, and is believed to have been part of
efforts at psychological warfare Chatoyer was also immortalized in a play, the
“Drama of King Shotaway” , that was performed in New York in 1823, twenty-eight
years after his death. The play was written by Mr. Browne, whose first name is
unknown. It is believed that he was a Garifuna member who had experienced the
battle of 1795 in which Chatoyer was killed. Mr. Browne is regarded as the Father
of BlackTheatre in the United States of America and this play is said to be the first
about a black person.
           the Chief Joseph Chatoyer Garifuna Folkloric Ballet of New York
The recognition given on March 14 to this leading figure in the history of the
Garifuna/Black Carib people will undoubtedly focus attention on his and his people’s
contribution to the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. They had held the
might of Europe at bay for centuries, St. Vincent being among the last of the
Caribbean countries to be colonized. It will also contribute to restoring the
confidence and reconstructing the identity of a people who had been victims of a
colonial past and who have had over the years to face the accusation of being
cannibals that had been widely propagated in colonial history.

The Black Carib/Garifuna population in St. Vincent that remained following the
exile, had for long lived on the margin of society, many of them in communities
that had been devastated by volcanic eruptions in 1812 and 1902 and had, to all
intents and purposes, been cut off from mainstream Vincentian life. A lot has
changed over the years, a result of political developments and the growing
consciousness of the people. The reconnection of the people, among other things,
will help in the reclaiming of their history, identity and pride; and in reconstructing
and restoring their central place in the eady history and development of St.
Vincent, or Yuremi as it is known in Garifuna language The history, artifacts and
other symbols of the Black Caribs (Garifuna people) are essential parts of the
history and culture of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Many of the forts and places
where the different encounters took place remain and tell their own story, among
them the cannons at Fort Charlotte that point inland. Beside the information they
provide to the Vincentian people, they also add to the rich heritage and culturaltourism
infrastructure. Sections of the Central American Garifuna community are
developing a case for reparations and are seeking ‘symbolic’ citizenship of this
country. The story of the Garifuna people is a unique one that needs to be told,
since among other things, it is pivotal to understanding their position in Central
America and also the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines; and indeed the rest
of the Caribbean region in which St. Vincent was one of the last outposts of Carib

In 1797, ruling power Britain exiled the surviving Garifuna by shipping them to Roatan, in the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras. Along the way, the Spanish captured one of the British ships, which was taken to Trujillo, Honduras where the captured Garifuna did well. Later, the Spanish captured Roatan Island from the British. The Spanish rounded up 1,700 Caribs on the island and brought them to Trujillo where laborers were much needed. The Spanish were not good farmers and Trujillo suffered accordingly. On the other hand, the Garifuna were very skillful at farming so they went to work and did very well in Trujillo. Some of the Garifuna were conscripted into the Spanish army where they served with distinction.
Nicaragua and have maintained a strong cultural identity for the past 210 years.
     The landing Garifuna people in their boats


With the help of the Spanish, the Honduras Garifuna community originally relocated from Roatan, the largest of the Honduras Bay Islands, to the Honduran mainland.  Today, Honduras’ population of roughly 100,000 Garifunas can be found living mostly in towns and villages along the country’s northern coast, from Masca, Cortes to Plaplaya, Gracias a Dios.  Travelers looking to experience elements of present-day and traditional Garifuna culture in Honduras can consider visiting Garifuna communities in the Tela and La Ceiba areas, Trujillo and Bataya.

                Garifuna drumming and dancing in Honduras


The first Garifuna to arrive on the coast of Belize were brought there as woodcutters by the Spanish in 1802. They were put ashore in the area near Stann Creek and what is now Punta Gorda. At the time, Belize was held by the British and was called British Honduras. The Garifuna continued to serve the Spanish army with distinction, earning medals of valor. At one point, the fortress at San Felipe was commanded by a Garifuna. Gradually more Garifuna moved to the Stann Creek area in British Honduras.
                                     Garifuna child in Cayos Cochinos

Because of their alignment with the Spanish, the Garifuna found themselves on the wrong side of the political fence when Central America achieved independence from Spain. Those Garifuna in Trujillo found themselves in the new country of Honduras where sentiments against Spain were strong. Large numbers of Garifuna fled to the coast of Belize where other Garifuna already lived in numbers. It is this migration that is celebrated annually as Garifuna Settlement Day. This is a major holiday in Garifuna communities such as Dangriga and is celebrated on November 19th. Dangriga is the second largest town in Belize and was settled by the Garifuna.


he small, remote town of Livingston on Guatemala’s Caribbean coast is the main home to the country’s population of Garifunas.  Prior to the construction of Puerto Barrios, Livingston served as Guatemala’s main port on the Caribbean Sea.  Surrounded by jungle and only reachable by boat, Livingston is better known these days as a place to experience Guatemala’s Garifuna culture and a travel destination for visitors in search of a native Caribbean vibe.

                   Garifuna girls walking on the street of livingstone

Guatemalan Food, Tapado - Livingston, Guatemala

Tapado is a traditional dish of the Garifuna (Black Caribs) people who live in Livingston, Guatemala. Made from coconut milk, fresh seafood and shellfish, plantain and a variety of herbs like basil or cilantro, this dish is incredibly rich and absolutely delicious. Kind of like the bouillabaisse of the tropics


Nicaragua’s population of around 8,000 Garifunas mainly live on Corn Island in the Caribbean Sea and in the area around Laguna de Perlas, northeast of Bluefields, capital of the Region Autonoma del Atlantico Sur (RAAS).  The Garifunas reportedly first made their way to Nicaragua around 1912, when a Garifuna leader, Joseph Sambola, founded the community of Orinoco.
                                 Garifruna fishermen in Nicaragua

Garifuna Diaspora in the U.S.

Many Garifunas have chosen to migrate to the U.S. in search of better economic opportunities than those available to them in their hometowns and countries.  Members of the Garifuna diaspora in the U.S. can be found living mostly in a number of major cities, including: Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans and New York.  Something on the order of 100,000 Garifunas are thought to live in New York City alone.  Money sent home by Garifunas living and working in the U.S. helps support relatives and Garifuna communities in Central America.
                                                         Garifuna dancers 
Despite the culture destroying influence of Western religion, the Garifuna culture is very strong with great emphasis on music, dance and story-telling and with its own brand of religion consisting of a mix of Catholicism, African and Indian beliefs. Because of their difference and independence, over the years the Garifuna have been feared and discriminated against and variously accused of devil-worship, polygamy, voodoo and speaking a secret language.
                       Garifuna village

Despite their tragic history, the Garifuna have survived and thrived, spreading their unique culture along the entire Mosquito Coast; migrating from Roatan to the mainland of Honduras, south to Nicaragua and north to Guatemala and Belize. During the last century, Garifuna served on US and British merchant vessels during World War II and settled around the world. As a result, there are now small communities of Garifuna in Los Angeles, New Orleans and New York City. The Garifuna culture is a unique treasure that is worth exploring.

Garifuna Society Today

        A dancer warms up in celebration of a planned tourism development that could employ some Garífuna people but some members fear could further erode their culture. About 35 Garífuna families had to give up their properties to make way for the resort. (Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald)

Read more here:

Culture: Their social and cultural characteristics are manifested in their archaic family and social structures, which have suffered very little changes. They still share their dialect, circular dances, religious practices, Punta dance, tales, banana cultivation, and rooster and pig sacrifices with the indigenous people of the Amazon.
Their ways of production are still based in subsistence farming. Among the different communities there is a great potential of production, and in most cases the land is very fertile for farming, however the only people involved are the elders because young people believe farming is not a great source of income. Youngsters are mostly dedicated to fishing, because most of the fish are set for sale and produce an immediate source of income. Youngsters show little or no interest in participating in social reunions with the rest of their community; elders and the women are usually the ones who interact with these reunions. It can be concluded that young Garifunas seem to be more interested in immigrating to North America.
                                   Garifuna Drummers
Location: The Garifuna population that lives in the Atlantic Coast, between Belize and Nicaragua, is distributed in 43 towns and villages. Approximately 98,000 Garifunas live in Honduras, and they are mostly concentrated along the North coast from Masca, Cortés to Plaplaya, Gracias a Dios. Among other villages are: Santa Rosa de Aguan, Tornabé, Limón, Nueva Armenia, San Juán, Cosuna, Triunfo de la Cruz, and Baja Mar.
        A Garífuna woman cleans dishes at a window of her home in the Honduran community of La Ensenada. The settlements are touted to tourists, but residents see little help from government agencies. (Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald)

Health: Garifuna are subject to poor sanitary conditions throughout most of the area. The lack of clinical establishments, basic infrastructure projects, illness prevention programs, and nutrition programs greatly affect Garifunas. We can conclude that about 78% of the children under 12 years of age suffer from malnutrition, and that 3 out of 10 will die before they are 2 years old.

Housing: their housing consist of small huts with walls made of royal palm, sugar cane and of cement blocks. The ceiling is commonly made of hay, however they also use zinc as a ceiling too. There is a great tendency to replace their traditional style of housing for more modern types; however, these changes have helped improve their health conditions.

Politics: Garifunas do not believe in politics, they believe that they are too peaceful and that they can handle their personal problems without the intervention of any legal force; however, in some areas a governor is in charge of providing justice between the people. Only Garifunas that had the opportunity of being well educated are the ones that occupy government positions today.

Language: Most Garifunas not only speak Spanish, but also use the Igñeri dialect that is a combination of Arahuaco, French, Swahili, and Bantu.
          Members of the Garifuna ethnic group dance during a celebration in honor of the Virgin of Suyapa inside the Basilica of Suyapa in Tegucigalpa Honduras, Feb. 2. Thousands of Catholics came from all over Central America to honor the religious icon during the three-day festival. The Virgin of Suyapa is a venerated miniature figurine of the patron saint of Honduras. (Edgard Garrido/Reuters) # 

Religion: Garifunas still maintain their own religious system that is a mixture of African and Amerindian traditions to which they have incorporated Catholic elements. Of great importance is the Garifuna religious system called Gubida that is the conception of the dreams and possession rituals as altered states of conscience considered, by the participants and believers, to be caused by the possession of a spiritual entity.
    "With reverence, joy, and a sense of duty women from one extended family wade out to meet returning fishing boats as part of a ritual called the dügü—the most sacred ceremony of the Garífuna religion." 

—From "The Garífuna: Weaving a Future From a Tangled Past," September, 2001,National Geographic magazine

              Fire Festival Parade, photo: Juventud Rebelde 

Education: 72% of the population is illiterate or semi-illiterate. Not enough schools are provided for them in he nearby areas; and villages that have schools, only have teachers to provide them with enough education to reach a 3rd grade level and sometimes a 6th grade level if they are lucky. Only 10% of the Garifunas who finish elementary school continue with their studies, another percentage immigrates to the United States, and the rest just integrate their community life and eventually become illiterates again because of the lack of practice.

                              Garifunas in Livingstone

Throughout Central America, Garifuna culture is typically associated with a sensual dance style known as the Punta, exotic foods like machuca, rice and beans and cazabe, and the infectious and mesmerising drumming that can be heard up and down the isthmus’ Caribbean coast.
The survival of Garifuna culture over the centuries is a testament to the community’s strength of spirit. Despite the experience of intense physical hardship and strong acculturation pressures, the Garifuna maintain a distinct identity embodied in their unique language, religion and traditions. Their religion is a case in point. A mix of Roman Catholicism and traditional African and indigenous beliefs, Garifuna religious traditions have survived condemnation and attacks by outsiders, who accused the Garifuna population of involvement in practices ranging from devil worship to polygamy.

Today, the Garifuna population is more vibrant and dynamic than ever. In addition to their traditional communities along the Caribbean coast of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, approximately 100,000 live in the United States, where they continue to maintain strong links with their homeland.
                          Pounding Hudut just like how Fufu is done among Ghanaians and Nigerians

      Hudut (popular Garifuna Meal) is a very common traditional meal. Hudut consists of fish cooked in a coconut broth (called sere) and served with mashed plantains or yams.


This ritual dance is used as a means for the living to communicate with he dead. It is also performed on the feast day of Saint Isidore the Farmer (San Isidro Labrador), which is typically marked by the Garifuna with a street dance and other events.

A dance with strong erotic undertones, this dance was traditionally performed exclusively by women, for whom it was a response to the objectification and humiliation they suffered at the hands of Europeans during the colonial era.

The best known of all Garifuna dances, the Punta is traditionally performed accompanied by the sound of drums (garajü) and maracas (sinsira).
                                         Garifuna Folklore Punta Dance
This dance tells the story of how Garífuna women, dressed in men's clothing, defeated a force of European soldiers at a time when their menfolk were afraid to go into battle. Male dancers honor the women's bravery by donning female attire, while the Europeans are represented by dancers wearing white costumes and masks.

Wanaragua: Garífuna Masked Warrior Dance

The warlike Wanaragua dance, also known as Máscaro in Spanish or John Canoe in English, is performed during Garífuna Christmas festivities and patron saint celebrations. With strong knee and open arm movements, the dancer grabs and shakes ribbons dangling from his headdress. The flashy dance, requiring skill and energy, is accompanied by two drums and shells tied to the dancer’s knees.
New Years Tradition of the Wanaragua Dance in Honduras
A Wanaragua Dancer in Cusuna, Honduras, from OFRANEH

The History of the Wanaragua Dance

The origin of this masked dance dates back to the epoch in which the Garífuna inhabited Saint Vincent Island (XVII-XIX century). In those days, the British colonizers infiltrated the island, setting their sight on the huge expansions of land and the local work force, the Black Carib. These Garífuna ancestors resisted imperialist attacks and engaged in armed conflict with the British. This dance readopts the disguise that the Garífuna warrior utilized as a strategic defense against British forces. It is a celebration of their military victories.
used in the documentary "Play, Jonkunu, Play"According to Garífuna oral tradition, Barauda, the wife of the legendary Garífuna chief, Satuye, insulted her husband for not “being enough of a man” to avenge the British. The British were invading their communities and burning their cassava fields. She says, “Women, we are going to have to dress as men and fight against the British. Meanwhile, men, you had better dress as women. Because the only thing you do is flee each time the British come near our villages.”
In response, Satuye developed a strategy whereby Garífuna men disguised themselves in women’s clothing. The British entered the Garífuna towns unprepared, not expecting male resistance. They assumed that only women were at home in the villages. Dressed as women, the male warriors assaulted the British and took the troops off guard. That is how the Garífuna cleverly deceived the British.

Wanaragua Dance Costumes

In the Wanaragua, the dancer is always male but wears an elaborate women’s costume. The dress reaches the knees or below. Some see it as a disguise that covers and hides the body. It is very showy with its ample colored ribbons, mirrors, golden papers, and decorated shells. The costume consists of three principal elements: the mask, the headdress, and the women’s dress. Two additions are of a particular importance. They include the colored ribbons in the back part of the dress and the small rattles attached to the calves.
New Years Dance of Wanaragua
New Years Ritual Masked Dance at Cusuna, Honduras - from OFRANEH
The dancer uses these colored ribbons to accent the arm gestures and the breaks in rhythm such as the turns. The rattles also stress the rhythm that is marked by the footsteps. The dancer uses these instruments in his relationship and dialogue with the drummer. The drummer follows the dancer and adjusts the beating to favor the dance.
Generally speaking, the mask is made of metallic silk and is painted with realistic human features. The edges are covered with cloth so that the dancer’s skin is not harmed. Recently, some mask-makers have created new, fantastical masks. They are by all means true, artistic creations.

The headdress is normally made out of cardboard. It is coated with aluminum paper, golden paper, spectacles, metallic paper strips, flashy colored ribbons. The imagination and creativity of the maker has free reign. Frequently, its size and danger of falling determines how the dancer positions his head. It is a simple women’s dress with small designs and bright, vivid colors such as yellow and red.
           Garifuna women in Belize

Synonymous with celebration, the Parranda is performed at almost every Garifuna holiday.


With the introduction of modern building materials, Garifuna villages typically include houses built of both concrete and thatched palm. Traditionally, however, all houses would have been built using exclusively local products, including logs for use as wall supports and hay that would provide thatch for the roof. Such houses were built without using a single nail.

                             Garifuna man in Guatemala



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