We will feature a Belizean or Garifuna person monthly. We want to showcase our talents and show our appreciation to them for their contribution to life. The thought is that we will be inspired or our children will be inspired to aspire to greatness. The previous Personality of the Month can be found in the archives. Archives is found under In the News by hovering over the link in the left column 'In the News'.
Godsman Celestino Ellis, born November 9th, 1929 was the son of Santiaga Miguel and Donald Ellis. His parents were recent Honduran migrants of poor economic means. Despite these adversities, Godsman was nurtured by his grandmother Clotillda Joseph and his older sister Ortilia. Garifuna was the first language in the home but he was also fluent in English and Spanish.
Growing up in the small Garifuna town of Dangriga(Stann Creek) in southern Belize he attended Sacred Heart School. At an early age his brilliance shone forth and as was the trend of the early colonial times, the talented young man was granted a work scholarship for further education in Belize City.
It was a young Godsman that left his secure hometown to attend the Jesuit institution: St John’s College in Belize City. Working while going to high school he graduated in 1949. He taught in the Catholic schools, repaying the “tuition loan” that had allowed him to be educated. Mr. Ellis’ “obligatory scholarship” entailed apprentice teaching in the Mestizo villages of Belize. At 20 years he started teaching in the village of Augustine Pine Ridge (Orange Walk District) 1951-53 and Succotz (Cayo , 1954). The broad responsibilities thrust on this young man involved being the sole teacher for the entire primary school and promoting the doctrines of the Catholic Church in the community. In 1954 before continuing his training as the first graduating class of St John’s Teacher’s College in Belize City. With his keen aptitude for learning, Godsman Celestino received a scholarship to study Agriculture at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture in 1961.
Reflecting on his academic passage outside of Dangriga typical of the Garifuna community Godsman states ,” talented youths were forced to leave for Belize City to continue their training and education, which resulted in an alienation from their roots.” this led to a economic and cultural destabilization of the South”.
When, Mr. Ellis returned to Belize, in 1961, it was the year of the devastating Hurricane Hattie. Belize was in need of more sustainability and food production. Influenced by the expansive agricultural developments in Western, Canada, he envisioned a self sufficient Belize. Godsman was intent in reestablishing Pride in the local farmer. This visionary saw that the “green revolution of Belize could become a reality. Stationed at Central Far the main government training station, Godsman initiated the first Agricultural show in San Ignacio; this was the seed for other Agricultural Shows throughout the country, as farmers proudly developed new techniques that allowed greater yield.
He rallied behind the national pride of the farmer, reflected in 1966 when at the National Day celebration in Belize City the Agriculture Department won first Prize with its float” from Rags to Riches through Agriculture”.
“Farming for Progress” a weekly radio show for farming communities was created and produced by this young patriot with a definite sense of purpose in building Belizean Pride.
Mr. Godsman Ellis, through the Ministry of Agriculture in Corozal 1965, worked with the sugar cane industry as they pushed to increase yield. Mr. Ellis the administrator, while Principal Agricultural Officer 1966-1974, later established the Belize School of Agriculture a Certificate program later incorporated into the University of Belize.
An exemplary Belizean
Godsman Ellis a statesman, initiator, conservationist entrepreneur visionary, and an avenger. A true Ambassador Mr. Ellis worked tirelessly for the preservation of Belize. He served as
President of BTIA (Belize Tourism Industry Association)
Mr. Ellis was an advocate for education initiatives through the organization Belize Institute for Environmental Law and Policy.
Godsman Ellis, a conservationist as the elected chairman of Baconga headed the delegation to the Privy Council the highest Court of Appeal of the British Commonwealth, in London England. There in a landmark international case “Godsman Celestino Ellis, the Garifuna youth from Stann Creek, the Cayo elder, the hotelier, eloquently challenged Fortis (a Canadian conglomerate which had the support of the Belize government) on the building of the Macal River Hydroelectric Dam, the Challillo Dam. Their mandate was to show that without adequate feasibility studies, the impact on the environment that this Hydroelectric development presented was not in the best interest of the Belizean people.
In the Central American region Godsman he was a strong advocate for indigenous rights and human rights
Has been the vice-president of the Human Rights Commission for over 10 years and has led delegations worldwide in regional and international forums. Mr. Ellis entrepreneur, produced organic peanut butter GABELA peanut butter, and launched the PIACHE ENTERPRISE.
A GARIFUNA LIFE OF SERVICE
Godsman, the son of recent immigrants from Honduras, was exposed to people from both countries. This international bond allowed him to see the universality of the plight of the oppressed. Growing up in Dangriga of the 1940’s he was exposed to the early advocates for Garifuna Pride: including TV Ramos, and Mr. Simeon Sampson. The Belize of the 1940s was fresh with the stigma of the “PASS” that mandatory document carried by all Garifuna when in Belize City, and which allowed a curfew to be imposed. The 1940’s and 50’s in British Honduras was a time when Garifuna women took the boat to the city to sell their mangoes and starch and were often mocked and chased in the streets of the City. This was the everyday reality for the young Godsman as he started his high school career.
Sensitive to this racism and oppression, Godsman Celestino at the tender age of 18 years composed the song “Their hate for slavery made them free”, referring to the Garinagu struggles, a song which is still popular in Belize and the USA. as a theme for the nationalist movement.
Propelled by his exposure to the First Nation/Inuit of British Columbia, it was a fervent Godsman that spearheaded the First Garifuna Convention that was held in 1964 in the Garifuna community of Georgetown, Stann Creek District. This convention was attended by Austin Flores, Clifford Palacio, Eric Lopez, James Sambula, Eugene Hernandez, and other young Garifuna Nationalists. This was later to be the foundation for the National Garifuna Council, a grassroots organization representing the Garifuna people of Belize. This community based group works to promote and preserve the recognition and respect of the Garifuna Culture. Godsman Ellis continued to work in the Garifuna community in initiating and developing the Banana Industry in the Stann Creek District and launched the Belize banana industry into the international market. Shortly after in 1979 he retired from the civil service.
Throughout his illustrious career with the civil service, Mr. Ellis worked for the enhancement of the Garinagu and all Belizeans. It has been questioned why he was not allowed to work in the South and whether it was the intention of home government to discourage Nationalism among the highly educated Garifuna people. How did it benefit the Garifuna people: In later reflections Godsman ponders on the South and “development”: how can the South be once again self- sustaining? Farmers are now pawns to the recommended agricultural practices these carry there packages of equipment formulas and marketing. He goes on “the industry he sees blooming in his own backyard but he does not own it. The ‘developers” come from outside and at best he is employed by them not in using the skills he learned from the elders, but rather he must learn customer service or banana packing shed activities”.
On December 28th, 1952 Godsman and Ethel were united in marriage. His immediate offspring include: Claudine(Wilfred, Bernard, Melissa ,Stacey), Cynthia(Keisha, Nehanda, Amiel, Harriot, Wentworth), Herbert(Melanie, Stephanie, Herbert, Godsman), Lucia(Melinda, Orion, Christophe,Adrian), Zoila (Andre, Kalina, Hasani), Sandra(Aggrey), Kenroy(Kenna) and Jacqueline(Ajani, Kobe). Godsman has been blessed with many grandchildren and great grandchildren. His siblings are Albert (d), John, Jose, Gerald, Francis, and Sarita. He resides at Piache and continues to be an inspiration to us all. In 1997, Godsman Ellis wrote a booklet to promote the education of the youth about the Garinagu people in his “The Garifuna people in Belize”. This reprinted edition is dedicated to the Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren of GODSMAN CELESTINO ELLIS.
By Dr. Sandra Ellis