100 young Vincentians to be taught Garifuna traditions, customs, language
SVG to be part of Garifuna Indigenous Language Retrieval project.
August 8, 2023

100 young Vincentians to be taught Garifuna traditions, customs, language

One hundred young people in St Vincent and the Grenadines will be involved in a performing arts workshop this month as part of a Garifuna Indigenous Language Retrieval project.

The project is part of the mission of the International organization Garifuna Arts Medicine Agriculture and Education (GAMAE) to save the Garifuna language and culture from extinction.

During the performing arts workshop, Garifuna traditions, customs, and language will be passed onto the next generation in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The young people, aged 6 to 17, will be given the opportunity to learn traditional Garifuna music, songs, dance, drama, storytelling, and rituals, resulting in an inspiring performance for friends, family, and the wider public.

The project hopes to safeguard the rich Garifuna heritage and language and share its joys and value with the descendants of those who created it.

St Vincent is the homeland of the Garifuna language and culture, which were born from an assimilation of West/Central Africans who escaped the slave trade and the island’s Indigenous Carib-Arawak population. In the 18th century, the Garifuna people were exiled and forced to leave St Vincent, the subject of persecution, genocide, and deportation by the British. They scattered across Central America – Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, and Nicaragua – and the United States.

Following centuries of economic migration, discrimination, and neglect by the school system, the Garifuna language is now at risk of dying.

In 2001, UNESCO registered the language as endangered, and in the same year, recognized Garifuna culture – including its music, dance, and language – as a ‘Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’.

Through its Habinaha Garinagu Yurumein 2023 – Dance Garifuna SVG 2023 Garifuna Language Retrieval Performing Arts Workshop Program, GAMAE will help the young people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines connect with their cultural heritage.

They will learn about their history while using artistic expression to raise their self-esteem, improve their academic and creative skills and cultivate their leadership and public speaking potential. Stories and songs will be translated into English, allowing the participants and audiences to connect with the history of the Garifuna people as well as the struggles of their ancestors.

Eleanor Castillo-Bullock, Director of the GAMAE Arts and Culture Department, said: “In 1968, my siblings and I migrated from Dangriga, Belize to the United States of America. Before our migration, I clearly remember our friends speaking mostly Garifuna to each other. Five years later, I returned with my family and discovered that, in this short time, the children and youth had stopped speaking Garifuna. They were all speaking Creole, which was gradually replacing the Garifuna language in Southern Belize. I returned to the US, crying and feeling devastated. This is what propelled me to promote the Garifuna culture in the way that I do.

“I genuinely believe that through GAMAE, we can reverse the UNESCO proclamation that the Garifuna language is ‘endangered and facing extinction’. I have made a commitment to upholding, preserving, and safeguarding the Garifuna culture. At GAMAE Arts and Culture, we work to revive the Garifuna culture by sharing it with young people through the arts. Learning Garifuna music, songs, dance, drama, storytelling, and rituals binds the youth together as a community. Our projects are essential to safeguarding this cultural identity and preserving the precious Garifuna heritage and language.”