We visited a Garifuna community this morning; they welcomed us into their circle and told us about their struggles… and their hopes. The Garifuna are black Hondurans who migrated here from the Caribbean island of St. Vincente over 200 years ago after being forced from their lands there during a struggle between the French colonizers and the indigenous peoples. They are descendants of West Africans who were taken as slaves to St. Vincente and the original inhabitants (Arawaks) with whom they formed families and communities.
After being forced from their lands in the Caribbean, the Garifuna settled along the northern Atlantic coast of Honduras and have fished the lagoon/bay waters there since. They live in simple houses built from sugar cane plants; the stalks are bound to form walls and the leaves woven into roofs and awnings. They have no electricity and use outhouses that they’ve built behind their homes, between sand dunes. This Garifuna community has for its “back yard” a glorious stretch of the coast with deep blue waves breaking and the silhouette of a mountainous island off to the left. To the rights, though, you can see the source of the community’s most recent problems— hotels and resort buildings have begun to encroach into their remaining lands.
As we joined with a few Garifuna men, Armando told us their story; it is a narrative rife with persecution, racism, and displacement. I can’t reproduce it here but I will try to summarize. Since the 1930’s, the Garifuna’s lands have been taken from them until very little is left for them to sustain themselves. It’s a history of bribes, lies, even massacres. First, U.S. banana companies wanted shipping ports. Then, palm oil producers wanted more land to plant African palms. Now, resort and hotel developers want the last bit of land. The Garifuna only want to fish the lagoons and grow rice, corn, and sugar can to sustain their families They want a simple school for their children and a church in which to gather and worship. Most of all, they want to continue to care for and conserve the land and to keep their old ways.
The 156 families who make up this community are resisting all efforts to relocate them. They’ve become increasingly limited in their activities. The latest scheme has been to designate their land as national park land. They must report in to a government office every two weeks; they can no longer fish the lagoons; they have only a few acres left to farm. In this way, the government that is supposed to be protecting and serving this community is helping foreign companies and wealthy Honduran families to force them out.
When we asked what we could do to help, these people who have so little materially asked us only to carry their stories with us. They are willing to keep resisting.