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Jun 12, 2018

Garifuna Language Made Easier to Teach

Over the past century, around four hundred languages have gone extinct and most linguists estimate that more than fifty percent of the world’s remaining six thousand five hundred languages will be gone by the end of this century.  And while languages are dying, many others are endangered or threatened, most being in the Americas.  Back in 2003, Belize signed on to UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and since then, the National Garifuna Council and local agencies have been actively engaging in initiatives to preserve the Garifuna language and its culture. While it is also spoken in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras, in the past two decades, there has been a decline in the use of the language, even in Belize. Now, a local organisation hopes to make its own mark in safeguarding the language and other intangible elements of the culture. On Monday, they started a training workshop in Belize City, which was prefaced with a week of similar training in Dangriga. Andrea Polanco shares more.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

It is said that Garifuna is one of over six thousand indigenous languages that exist. But that language, although rich with history and an intrinsic part of the culture, is being spoken less and less even within Garifuna communities. Garifuna people accounting for about six to seven percent of the population, some estimates say that about fifteen thousand persons can speak the language but many don’t speak it every day and neither do they teach the children. But one local NGO called BELADA Caribe wants to change that. They’ve created this book called Garifuna Made Easy to help preserve the Garifuna language, and by extension the culture.


Abdul Nunez

Abdul Nunez, President, BELADA CARIBE

“We’ve created this booklet that teaches basic Garifuna for non-speaking Garifuna and it can also be used a refresher. Our plan is to, in collaboration with NGC, UWI Open Campus, to make Garifuna language into a certified course and to teacher teachers the techniques of teaching Garifuna language, spirituality and culture.”


The book was published to complement language workshops where teachers are being trained to teach the language. The National Garifuna Council says that this project is in line with their agenda to preserve the language – something they see a need for even within in Garifuna communities.


Sandra Miranda

Sandra Miranda, President, National Garifuna Council

“The young people in Dangriga are no longer speaking Garifuna. Everybody is into speaking Creole. At home they are not speaking Garifuna and so this is good to show them the importance and some of them are like, ‘wow, why didn’t our mommy speak to us in Garifuna?’ So, that a different awareness is coming from the youths and it is very encouraging and makes you realize that they still want to learn Garifuna but because we, the parents, are not talking to them in their very own language they are losing. But it is not totally lost because most of the parents are still speaking Garifuna. So, this gives us another way to look at it. Yes, we are going through the books and from the books we start to practice and the next thing is to encourage the young people and the children to talk to each other in Garifuna.”


The initiative is also being supported by the National Institute of Culture and History – as Nigel Encalada of the Institute of Social and Cultural Research explains, preserving the language is safeguarding one of Belize’s cultures.


Nigel Encalada

Nigel Encalada, Director, Institute of Social and Cultural Research

“The language is the means through which cultural norms and practices are continued from one generation to the next. So, the trick with these kinds of things is that it is sustained over time. Because there is this recognition from around the world even that cultures are endangered, in particular, one of the first things to go, is language and then there is the international interference through tourism and other things. And then what happens is that you end up with a situation where the culture begins to be lost. Though in Belize while that is the case, there are some important initiatives that have taken place for the safeguarding of the language. There is the Gulisi School, for example, which a part of it they use the inter-cultural bi-lingual education approach. So, that is a formal mechanism. This initiative by BELADA CARIBE is a less formal mechanism but it seeks to identify community stakeholders who can help with the transmission of the cultural practices through language, so it is a trainer of trainers.”


Apart from learning the language, the teachers are being immersed in the culture from dance, to music, to art – they will get a first hand introduction to the way of life of the Garifuna people. Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.


The workshop continues all of this week at the UWI Campus in Belize City. According to the organizers, they will also be piloting the project in other parts of the City. If you would like a copy of the Garifuna Made Easy book, you can get it for twenty-five U.S. dollars on Amazon or you can check with the National Garifuna Council. 

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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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