August 23, 2011
Vincentians reclaim aspects of their Garifuna heritage

The Vincentian public was treated to a piece of Garifuna heritage on Saturday August 20, at the Peace Memorial Hall as the Garifuna Cultural Retrieval Programme climaxed with a free display of Garifuna music, poetry and language.{{more}}

The show, which was dubbed ‘Habinaha Garinagu Yurumein 2011’ featured a cast of thirty of the programme’s participants who have since July 29 this year been partaking in a process which organizers say is the retrieval of the true Vincentian identity.

The committee responsible for putting the project together was James Cordice, Trish St Hill, Verna Arthur and Kylla Herbert.

The team also included Eleanor Bullock and James Lovell, two Belizean Garifuna artists who have been facilitating the workshop.

Members of the team are all based in the United States, but say that they were drawn together with one common goal – that of bringing back the Garifuna language, culture and heritage to where it originated.

James Cordice, President of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Organisation of Pennsylvania (SVGOP) and one of the organizers told SEARCHLIGHT that discussion about coming to teach the Garifuna heritage here started a few years ago when he met James Lovell.

Cordice said that they both shared an interest in coming to teach the young children the heritage that had been lost.

“The idea that only a few Vincentians speak the Garifuna language and when we have other countries – Nicaragua, Belize, Honduras – where it is spoken well and it was started here, we thought there was an urgency to bring the culture back to St Vincent and the Grenadines,” he explained.

The programme has attracted a number of young people Cordice said adding that the intention was to have the workshop geared towards young people aged 14 to 18.

But they have been seeing young children from the age of 5 Cordice reported.

“So we decided that we weren’t going to turn them away,” he said.

It is anticipated that the programme will be held annually, but while Cordice said that he is pleased with the involvement of some local entities, there is an appeal for more local enterprises to get on board.

He did give the assurance that even if local business houses are slow to get on with the programme, he is committed to the project.

“We are going to be relentless about this. Personally if I am involved in something I am doing it,” Cordice said.

The plan for future projects according to Cordice is to take the workshop outside of Kingstown.

Hence why there was an appeal for more financial support.

“We are not asking for money, but we are bringing something to St Vincent and we are not asking to be paid for it, but if you can provide some monetary assistance.”

During the few weeks that the participants were in attendance, Cordice explained that already they were able to sing the national anthem and a few other songs in Garifuna.

The language was lost because it became illegal to speak Garifuna after the people were displaced, Trish St Hill, Vincentian author and member of the organizing committee explained.

“We thought it important to bring the language back and we are trying to instill that there is something to be proud of in being Garifuna,” St Hill said.

She added that St Vincent was one of the few Caribbean territories with its own language and it was a pity that people did not know it.

“I want little boys and girls to say that they are singing in Garifuna, I want them to learn those things,” St Hill told SEARCHLIGHT.

James Lovell, Garifuna Artiste and facilitator said that he looked at being Garifuna as a lifestyle.

“I am a Garifuna artist and I am very passionate about my culture and I know how to speak it and I have made up my mind to assist in procuring and assisting in the retrieval and teaching and that is the reason why I am here,” he said.

The experience has been one of learning Lovell explained.

“The children have taught me that if there is an environment where they can learn a language, I believe that if they taught Garifuna in the schools it will take off.”

He made the point as he raised the issue of sustainability and continuity saying that it was a problem when projects like this come, have an impact and then after everyone leaves it goes dormant.

He said that he believed that if people in positions to impact on the school’s curriculum made an effort, it could work. (DD)