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Garifuna Settlement Day Brings An Indigenous Community Together

Jessica Moulite |
November 17, 2014 | 6:06 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

The Garifuna colors are yellow, black and white. (Jessica Moulite/Neon Tommy)
The Garifuna colors are yellow, black and white. (Jessica Moulite/Neon Tommy)
Buck Ciego carefully eyeballed eight tables filled with beaded and wooden crafts before checking the music set-up.

After greeting a group of women in traditional Garifuna garb, he adjusted his black and yellow baseball cap onto his head — a sign the Los Angeles Garifuna Settlement Day festivities were underway. 

Ciego, an organizer of the event, describes himself as a proud member of the Garifuna community.  

“You’re not being an alien if you’re a Garifuna.” 

Though knowledge of the existence of Garifuna people may be foreign and new to some, the culture and history of the group dates back to the 17th century. 

Garinagu, the plural of Garifuna, originate from Central America and are the descendants of Carib and Arawak peoples, as well as African captives that escaped slavery after a shipwreck along the coast of St. Vincent. 

Internationally, large populations of Garinagu exist in Belize, Honduras and Guatemala, while in the United States communities are in New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans. 

“I’ve never traveled to all the states, but I think we have the strongest Garifuna community in the United States here in Los Angeles,” said Ciego. 

Many Garinagu celebrate Garifuna Settlement Day on November 19 to remember “the arrival of the first Garinagu to Belize by dory (dug-out canoe)” after exile from the Grenadines, as stated by the National Garifuna Council of Belize

SEE ALSO: Columbus Day Viewed In New Light 

For Ruthline Ellis Locario, the day is even more special. Her grandfather, Pantaleon Hernandez, was one of the founders of Garifuna Settlement Day. 

“It’s more than just a day of celebration, it’s a way of life,” said Locario.  

Although her grandfather cofounded the Garifuna holiday, Locario's first language is Spanish since she was born in Honduras. And having lived in the United States for 43 years, she said her children were not raised in the Garifuna way of life.

“It’s one of my biggest regrets that I didn’t teach them to speak Garifuna,” said Locario. 

Garifuna people tell time using words instead of numbers. (Jessica Moulite/Neon Tommy)
Garifuna people tell time using words instead of numbers. (Jessica Moulite/Neon Tommy)
First generation American Garinagu not learning the language is a common concern some have for the future of the indigenous group.

“We also face the issues of losing our identity, losing our culture, our language,” said Ruben Reyes, President of Garifuna Hope Foundation. He added, “We all have united together to face these issues and be able to do something about it.”

Organizations like the Garifuna Hope Foundation and Garifuna Heritage Foundation host cultural preservation events and other activities to keep the younger members of the Garifuna community involved.

But Ciego said preserving the Garifuna culture cannot be left to the youth alone. 

“We have to adapt because that’s what’s going on in the world today. And if we want to keep up, we have to make sure that we get involved in that kind of stuff, “ said Ciego referring to material items like massive ”TVs” and “iPods” in a culture that appreciates the “simple life” of fewer possessions. 

Even with the uncertainty the group faces about its future, Reyes believes in one thing for sure. 

“The world has the obligation to make sure that Garifuna preserves its right to exist.”

Locario also still has hope for the Garifuna language and culture. 

“I think it’s on its way to being more recognized and more reinforced,” said Locario. 

Reach Staff Reporter Jessica Moulite here. Follow her on Twitter.



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