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Nov 15, 2002

Garifuna Buyeis: chosen by the spirits

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On Wednesday of this week a groundbreaking was held in Dangriga for the Buyei Juan Lambey Institute. The institute is a community organisation dedicated to the advancement of Garifuna spirituality, and is headed by the current Buyei, John Mariano. In 1989 we were fortunate to speak to Mariano–at the time he was home on a visit from New York–along with the then Buyei of the community, Sarah Gonguez. The show was Belize All Over, the correspondent was Jacqueline Gray, and the occasion was Miss Sarah’s conducting of a Mali ceremony.

Jacqueline Gray, Reporting

The worshippers first bring offerings into the temple; traditional foods, a live rooster and rum. The offerings are brought to the alter of the inner temple, presided over by resident Buyei Sarah Gonguez, accompanied by her cousin, John Marion, visiting from New York.

Jacqueline Gray

“How did you become the spiritual healer, did you have to study, were you chosen?”

Sarah Gonguez

“No, I was chosen.”

Jacqueline Gray

“By whom?”

Sarah Gonguez

“By the spirit.

Jacqueline Gray

“The Mali ceremony, how does a person decide that they need spiritual healing?”

Sarah Gonguez

“Well you have to contact the spirit, then they will tell what the old ancestors want. So then, we go by what they told us to do.”

Jon Mariano

“Well you see, in most cases people have been sick for many, many years. Sometimes months, and they have been to the doctors and to them they don’t feel any better, so they take the second choice of coming to the temple. Then when they reach here Sarah contact her spirit and he told her exactly what is wrong with the person. And that’s the time she would know whether if it is the ancestors or if it is just natural sickness. If it’s a natural sickness we give them a choice whether if they want to go to the doctor again or if they want to be healed here at the temple.”

In the Mali, time and space are brought together. The living represented by the drums, the dead represented by the ground, and God represented by the maracas, also the badge of the Buyei, are capture within the walls of the temple.

Jacqueline Gray

“What do you pass through to become a Buyei?”

John Mariano

“First, the number one, the sickness.”

Jacqueline Gray

“What sickness?”

John Mariano

“I was sick, I got sick in New York and I was hospitalised. At the beginning the doctor said it was heart problems, then when I questioned the doctor again he said that they thought it was the heart and it wasn’t the heart, and I remain sick. And finally, one day I dropped down while I was in a store and they called the ambulance, they took me to the hospital again. And while I was in the hospital, I heard somebody whispered into my ears, telling me go home, if you stay here you will pass out. So I told the doctor I’m going home and he asked me the reason why. Well I never explain to him, all that I tell him is that I want to go home. Then I went home, and from home I come to Dangriga.”

Jacqueline Gray

“Sarah, did you have any similar experiences?”

Sarah Gonguez

“Yes, I do.”

Jacqueline Gray

“What was your experience like?”

Sarah Gonguez

“Well my heart too. I was having heart problems, and I go to doctor, many doctors and they couldn’t tell me what’s wrong with me. Until one night when the spirit appeared to me and tell me what he wants.”

Jacqueline Gray

“Do you think there is any reason why you two were chosen?”

Sarah Gonguez

“Well, yes. I can say that my great grandfather was a spirit man.”

Jacqueline Gray

“And he decided that you could carry on the work?”

Sarah Gonguez

“Yes. But I didn’t know the man before, but after I have known how to speak to them, then one day he told me that if I know that he was my great grandfather.”

Time goes on, and the spirits of the ancestors are now present. The tempo of the dancing increases. (Women dancing)

Jacqueline Gray

“Often times it is believed that a Buyei is the same thing as an obeah woman…”

Sarah Gonguez

“No.”

Jacqueline Gray

“What can you say about this?”

John Mariano

“It’s two different things between a Buyei and an obeah person. An obeah person generally learns from some black magic book. To be a Buyei, you have to be a chosen person; you are not trained by any other living person besides the spirit itself. So actually, a Buyei does not practise obeah. I for one, if I ever find out any Buyei trying to learn obeah I would go and criticize them, because to me, a Buyei should be a clean person at all times, he shouldn’t practice that. An even the spirit itself told the Buyeis that they are not to fool with those type of things.”

Jacqueline Gray

“Sarah, I see you have here a lot of Christian statues. Is there any relationship between the work you do as a healer and the church?”

Sarah Gonguez

“Yes. With my work…

John Mariano

“As a matter of fact, before we start doing any work here in this temple, we pray. Secondly, if you notice, most of the time we went to church.”

Sarah Gonguez

“And once you is a spirit person, you have to attend to your church most of the time.”

Jacqueline Gray

“When you say attend to your church, what do you mean?”

Sarah Gonguez

“You go to church and then you stay with one man. One man only…”

Jacqueline Gray

“A partner in life?”

Sarah Gonguez

“Yes, one man or else no dice.”

By this time, the spirits have taken possession of several of the worshippers. Their bodies, often in a trance, are then used by the ancestral spirits to speak to the living.

Sarah Gonguez

“When I see them first, I was afraid of them, I won’t tell you no lie. And I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid of them, sometimes I take my hammock and cover myself with it. And when I do realise I’m sleeping and I jump up, and when I count them, twelve of them was still remain, holding on the beam of the house.”

Jacqueline Gray

“You’re talking about spirits.”

Sarah Gonguez

Yes, spirits.”

Jacqueline Gray

“So there’s no getting away from them?”

Sarah Gonguez

“No, you can’t.”

Sarah Gonguez died in 1999.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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