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Apr 13, 2021

Garifuna Leaders Defend Ancestral Communal Lands

The first Garifuna settlement in Belize was established back in November of 1802, but now there are challenges to the communal lands settled by the ancestors in southern Belize.  Add to that are the changing attitudes towards being tied to the land by the younger generation.  News Five’s reporter Paul Lopez looks at the Garinagu community’s centuries-old fight to find a place of their own.


Paul Lopez, Reporting

The Garinagu or Garifuna people make up some six of Belize’s population, accounting for approximately twenty-four thousand Belizeans. Belizean Garinagu, for the most part, occupy land in the southern part of the country. But, below the surface of their modernization in Belize, the Garifuna people may in some ways still be  fighting a battle for land that dates back to the early sixteenth century.


Sandra Miranda-George

Sandra Miranda-George, President National Garifuna Council

“You might know about the Black Carib wars, or you have heard about the black Carib wars. Well, we were the Black Caribs. That is the name the British gave us. But traditionally, from then we were Garinagu. We had to fight to keep our land. And that fight lasted over five years. That war lasted over five years. And that is how far we would go to fight for what we own.”


Following that war, approximately five thousand Garinagu were exiled to Roatan, an island of the coast of Honduras.


Sandra Miranda-George

“Yesterday was two hundred and twenty-fourth years, since we landed in Roatan from that exile. From March eleventh to April twelfth. It was not voluntary. We did not go willfully or happily, but we were forced.”


While some Garinagu’s decided to remain in Roatan, others made their way inland to Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize. On November nineteenth, 1802 the first group of Garinagu’s arrived in Belize. At the time, the Garifuna people were primarily fishermen, farmers and hunters.


Sheena Zuniga

Sheena Zuniga, Secretary, National Garifuna Council

“The land for us as Garinagu is very important because that is apart of our livelihood. When we were in Saint Vincent and in Honduras and in Belize, we eat what we plant. So it is very important. And it has become more important now with the economic situation that we are going through. Food going up, cost of living going up. So it very important that we have land that we can use to work to plant cassava, yams and plantain to provide for family. And, that is part of being Garifuna. We share with our neighbors and our family.”


Recently, predominantly Garinagu communities like George Town, Seine Bights and Barranco have been faced with challenges to the original border markings established by their ancestors. The latest of these comes out of the Barranco Village, where the indigenous Mayas of Midway are reportedly developing land Barranco residents claim.


Sandra Miranda-George

“The Midway Village council chairman is using the C.C.J. consent order to intimidate the villagers of Barranco. And while they are also using, they are getting closer and closer and using land that are for Barranco, the Barranco villagers cannot get anywhere near their village. But, History knows it that Midway is on Barranco farm land. And I think there should be some levels of respect there.”


Miranda-George says villagers in Barranco as seeking to amicably resolve that issue. Simultaneously, the National Garifuna Council has launched an agriculture project which seeks to define and map out land that the first Garinagu farmed in Belize.


Sandra Miranda-George

“We are working with that on all our Garifuna communities which are down south. Mainly we are working with Hopkins, George Town, Seine Bights, Barranco, Punta Gorda and Dangriga. Then we have phase two to that project which is to approach Government then give them our findings.”


As the struggle to control the land continues, the question also arises: is the next generation of Garinagu in a position to continue cultivating the land that their ancestors established in Southern Belize? Many of the Garinagu women who once worked the fields are now off the schools and employed outside of their communities.


Sheena Zuniga

“As a young Garifuna woman, I feel that our relationship with the land has completely changed. We changed around with the times. So most of the women now are not depending on the men like we did when we just arrived. We are now geared towards being educated and producing for our family. It is no longer the sense of having the men as the head of the household as it was back then. Back in those times the men would have been one of the main providers and the women would have gone into the farms to work the land.”


Reporting for News Five, Paul Lopez.


On March thirtieth, the Commissioner of Indigenous Affairs Greg Ch’oc met with leaders of Barranco and Midway villages to discuss an amicable solution to the land conflict between those two communities. Reports coming out of that meeting indicate that Midway leaders presented a proposal to the leaders of Barranco for the establishment of a mutually agreed to border line.  Barranco is expected to present a counter proposal at an upcoming meeting.

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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