by F.Igemeri Miyanda, MBA, Bsc.

The Black Caribs of Saint Vincent and the islands of the Lesser Antilles, also known or referred to as Black Guanini or Califurnams represent a pre-Columbian Mandinga element. Their proper names Califurnam, sometimes shortened to Garifuna and Garif, is the Mande Kalifanami which representa the Arabic Khaliphatu-n-Nabi. The English translation of this is “Caliphate of the Prophet”. Garif is only a segment of the total phrase and represents the Mande Kalifa, Kal’fa, Karifa, or Kar’fa which are Arabic Khalifatu and the English ‘Caliph”. Caliph or Calif (Khalifah) means a successor of Muhammad as temporal as spiritual head of Islam and is used as a title. Califurnam and Garif were in this light the Islamic versions of the already discussed Cariba, Caniba, Canima and Calibi, which relate to ‘war and war leader”. As you can see from this etymological exercise, the word Carib has absolutely nothing to do with cannibalism which European writers tried so hard to label these people with. The power of etymology, then, must be applied, even more so now, to correct the ills of prejudice and discrimination against African and Indigenous peoples.

A popular explanation about the origins of the Black Caribs (Garifuna people) of St. Vincent is that they are the offspring of run-away slaves who escaped into the mountains of St. Vincent where they interbred with the Carib Indians. Recent scholarship proves that this story is a myth because 15th century European explorers including Columbus met the Black Caribs (Garinagu) and other Indians in the Caribbean. Some writers claim that the Black Caribs (Garinagu) may have been the descendants of the Africans who went on two Mandingo expeditions that took place between 1302 and 1313; one under the leadership of Abubakari II, Emperor of the Kingdom of Mali or the Mali Empire. Do take notice that these dates are pre-Columbian. European writers, though, are still trying so hard to hide the fact of the existence of pre-Columbian Africans in the so-called New World.

These so-called Black Caribs (Garinagu, therefore, are descendants of these original Africans, other subsequent Africans and the Island Caribs of the Caribbean. This overview is about those Africans and the Island Caribs who inhabited St. Vincent and who were finally exiled from this island as prisoners-of-war and refugees into Central America.

The Black Caribs (Garinagu), the British and the French fought amongst themeselves for the control of St. Vincent (Yurumein). The most critical and crucial period of this struggle was to last over some 27 years. Fortunately for the Black Caribs (Garinagu), their nation had achieved a surplus economy by 1763 and therefore, they were ready for war.

First, the Black Caribs (Garinagu) fought against the French and then in later years, the Garinagu and the French combined forces against the British. Under the leadership of King, Paramount Chief and military strategist, Joseph Chatoyer, the Black Caribs (Garinagu waged war against the British and in 1773, this was halted when the British was forced to negotiate a peace treaty with the Black Caribs (Garinagu). As a matter of fact, among the names of 2 Garifuna representatives, that appeared in this document, there were Chiefs of 11 Garifuna communities,namely: Grand Sables, Masirica, Rabacca, Macaricau, Byera, Coubamara, Jambou, Colonrie, Camacarabou, Ouarawarou, and Point Espagniol. The delegation was headed by Joseph Chatoyer, King and Paramount Chief and Jean Baptiste, Foreign Minister.

War broke out again after 1783 and this lasted on and off until it escalated in 1795. The war started on Tuesday, March 10, 1795 but unfortunately on Saturday, March 14 1795, Joseph Chatoyer was fatally wounded on Dorcetshire Hill. This proved to be a devastating blow to the morale of the Garifuna people, though temporary. The war continued on until July 1796 under the leadership of Duvalle, Joseph Chatoyer’s brother.

Within two and a half years after the death of Joseph Chatoyer, about 5,080 Garifuna men, women and children were taken to the small island of Baliceaux, pending their exile into Central America. About 2,900 of them died and were buried on this island while awaiting their exile. They were on this island for almost eight months from July 1796 to Sunday, March 11, 1797. On that day 2,248 Garinagu embarked on 11 ships, Experiment Sovereign (Severn), Boyton (Boyston or Boston), Topaze, Ganges, Fortitude, Prince William Henry, John and Mary, Sea Nymph, Britannia and Sally and were taken to the island of Roatan, Honduras in the Bay Islands. Of the 1,248 who embarked only 2,026 arrived and landed at Roatan on Friday, April 12, 1797 after 31 days on the Caribbean Sea and an 18 days stopover in the island of Jamaica.

Today, there are now over 500,000 Garinagu throughout the world with the majority of that number in Central America in countries such as Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Garinagu are the only African people in the western hemisphere who have maintained an African culture including the language Garifuna whose base is a combination of African languages and the Island Carib. This language is alive and well and has even invaded the New York Public School system where Garifuna speaking students now qualify for Bilingual and ESL programs and other services in the Garifuna language. The assigned language code is GF. A Garifuna dictionary and other literature in Garifina are now available for home and school use.