The first evidence of the presence of the Garinagu (originally called Black Carib) in this part of the world occurred in 1675 when a boar carrying hundreds of African Negro slaves was shipwrecked on the island of St. Vincent in the Caribbean. They joined the Carib Indians there to exterminate the Europeans, and for a while lived together in harmony, even intermarrying among them.
Garinagu arrived on the island of Roatan, Honduras, in 1797 after some 5000 of them who survived a civil war in St. Vincent, were shipped to Roatan and Bonaca by the British. During the course of their dispersal along the coast of the adjacent mainland, by 1802 about 150 Garinagu were found in southern Belize. The largest group, and from which their arrival in Belize is historically dated and celebrated annually, came on 19th November in 1823 when the first settlement was founded in Dangriga (then Stann Creek Town), by those fleeing from disturbances in Honduras.
During the 1800s, the Garinagu in Belize consolidated their settlements along the coast of Hopkins, Seine Bight, Punta Gorda, Barranco, and more recently inland at Georgetown. Some of the men worked in the mahogany camps, while others fished, and cleared the bush for the women to plant cassava and other root crops.
In the 1840s, the Garinagu were described as a very friendly, reliable and honest people. Their gifts for languages were especially good, many of them being able to speak English, Spanish, French, Mosquito, and Maya. They have their own language also, which has absorbed the different elements of their past, including Arawak and African.
Mainly because of their reputation in St. Vincent as a vicious and warlike people, the Garinagu were at first unwelcome in Belize. In time, the fears dissipated, and they were left to pursue and predominate in the educational field as schoolteachers, as policemen, government employees, politicians, artisans, and priests. Up to the end of the 1800s, other immigrants trickled in, but since then, organized immigration has stopped and the increases noted in population have been due mostly to natural reproduction.
Living largely in exclusive societies, the Garinagu comprise of about six percent of Belize’s total population. Despite all changes in physical environment, they have held on to most of their traditions, especially retaining their attachment to the sea.
The cultural pattern of everyday life, in terms of shelter and dress, conforms to that of their closest ethnic kin – the Creole. Their food style comprises mainly of fish, cassava, and plantains prepared in a variety of ways. They have been known to inter-marry into non-Garinagu communities, but this practice is still very rare. Several dance styles, including Punta, make much use of the drum and are attributed to them.
Perhaps the greatest influence the Garinagu has exercised on the Belizean community, can be found in their ability to successfully display and preserve aspects of their culture at every available opportunity.
This article can be found on the National Library Service of Belize