Report from Amalia L. Rylander, Master Programme in Indigenous Studies, University of Tromsø Project 2009/1415-15
Financial support to the project:
“Sustainability of Belizean Garifuna Communities Through Remittances Sent By Migrants Abroad”It is with gratitude to the board and faculty of the Sámi Center at the University of Tromsø that I write this report. By their generous financial support and encouragement, I was able to accomplish my fieldwork in Belize and Honduras during the summer of 2009, and to make another planned completion of the venture in the Spring of 2010.
The investigation is about the Sustainability of Belizean Garifuna Communities Through Remittances Sent By Migrants Abroad. The thesis looks into the definition of Indigenous as it relates to the Afro-Amerindians located in the regions of Southern Belize, Eastern Guatemala, and the Northern coasts of Honduras and Nicaragua. It also examines the history of the Garifunas, tracing them from the Africans shipwreck aboard Iberian vessels on the island of St. Vincent, their immersion into the local Arawaks and Orinoco Caribs, their deportation by the British across the Caribbean Sea to the far off island of Roatan, their exodus to the Isthmus of Central America, their implantation there as natives of four modern nations, the recent emigrations of their women to North America to work as teachers, clerks, restaurateurs, military personnel, housekeepers and nannies, and their maintaining of communities back home to the tune of 60 percent of the local economy.
My Garifuna interviewees in the city of La Ceiba, Honduras were retired educators who had worked in New York and Boston and who, upon the conclusion of their vocation in the USA, had built large modern American style homes in Honduras. They were pleased to have maintained their “Garifunaness” while living abroad and to have had the opportunity and the ability to send remissions home to their families. In so doing, their children and elderly were amply cared for, and their traditions and culture were able to flourish.
In the village of Corozal, Honduras, an exclusively Garifuna society, the people who had relatives abroad discussed the feasibility of accruing to their meager finances, derived from fishing and small farming, the monies sent home by sisters, aunts, and mothers who had ventured to the big world of America to serve as migrant workers for the benefit of those left behind. The festivals of home dedications to the ancestors, and the Dugu rites for the healings of infirmities, were proof of the deliberate and conscious continuance of their customs. These, I witnessed in the village of Aguan, now ravaged by the devastating 1998 Hurricane Mitch. The Dugu, an especially costly ritual in which most town members participate and therefore all individuals are fed to the full, is only one example of how lucrative funds sent home by migrant Garifunas economically support and sustain the communities as a whole, periodically feed and nourish all the inhabitants, and keeping enlivened the old practices and the culture.
Dangriga is the major Garifuna landmark in Belize, and is an excellent case in point of how the economy, education, health, and general welfare of both people and traditions are upheld and promoted by incomes derived from relatives abroad. This is the town, whose emigrated returnees have served as sources of revenues, that I was inspired to do most of my research.
It was possible to do this portion of the work through the University of Tromsø Sàmi Center’s liberal funding in the Summer of 2009.
Amalia L. Rylander