KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent:- A group of Garifunas from Central and North American left for their adopted homelands Thursday morning after a five-day pilgrimage to this country, considered their ancestral home.
About 2248 Garifunas, called “Caribs” locally, were exiled to Rotan Island off Honduras in 1797, two years after their chief, Joseph Chatoyer, was killed by the British.
Chatoyer is a national hero here, where elements of the culture have survived the language, both of which are alive in the diaspora, mainly concentrated in Honduras, Nicaragua and Belize.
The group included this country’s Honorary Consul General in Los Angeles Dr. Cadrin Gill, who is of Garifuna extraction and came to the country as part of “Vincy Homecoming 2009”.
“Vincy Homecoming 2009” encourages Vincentians in the diaspora to return home for this country’s 30th anniversary of independence in October.
The pilgrims laid wreath at the Chatoyer monument, an obelisk in Dorsetshire Hill, a community overlooking this city, where Chatoyer fell 200 years ago.
On Tuesday, a pilgrimage to Balliceax, the small, undeveloped island to which the Garifunas were exiled, was cancelled because of inclement weather.
On Wednesday, the group visited “Carib country”, the communities in North Windward, on the northeastern-most tip of St. Vincent, where local Garifunas are concentrated.
“It’s no lie that in 1797 we were shipped from here. We were in denial about our home. We were embarrassed because of what happened here, the war, the struggle, the assassination of Chatoyer. We could not deal with it,” Honduran Dionisia Amaya said after the trip.
The 76 year-old woman was the oldest member of the delegation and battled ill-health, including diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, lower back pain and knee pain to visit this country.
“I am overwhelmed. It is like coming back home to the land of my ancestors. I got more than I expected. I’m telling you it is incredible. This is very emotional but this is how I feel now. My dreams have become a reality, total reality,” she said.
During the trip to North Windward, the pilgrims had lunch with Garifuna brethren in Fancy, the northern-most community in this country,
They were guests of the North Windward Tourism Association, which prepared traditional Garifuna and Vincentian dishes, including calaloo soup, fish broth, potato pudding, madongo bakes, and cassava bread.
“Everything is similar to what we have back home,” Deysi Guity, 26, the youngest member of the contingent, said of the food.
Maxwell “Tajo” Francis of the North Windward Tourism Association said he was pleased to welcome his brethren home.
He said he met Garifunas in Belize two years ago and experienced their joy at meeting Garifunas from St. Vincent.
“It is quite a feeling. It is very emotional and it really touches you to know that people who were from here, who were placed in exile, would have kept that place in their heart in terms of love for their homeland and would want to make such an effort to really visit St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
And while Francis said that his organization was working hard to preserve the elements of the Garifuna heritage that have survived in St. Vincent, he bemoaned the loss of the language.
“I really feel it when people come from overseas who are Garifuna in exile and can speak the language well and all of what we have has been lost. We cannot afford to allow our culture to be lost to foreign cultures… It is sad that we have lost our language,” he said.
The group was treated to a spirited cultural presentation in Sandy Bay that included dancing, drumming and Cassian Lavia singing the song that won her the crown at this year’s Junior Calypso Competition.
In welcoming the group to Sandy Bay, Alida Cordice said that the Garifunas faced many troubles but have not forgotten their homeland. She said that they hold with pride the name St. Vincent and regard the country as an important part of their heritage.
“Welcome to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, welcome to your homeland!” she said.