Round Table with Oscar
October 14, 2016

The empire between us

The observation that has drawn me to focus on the persistent presence and influence of ‘Empire’ on the Garifuna experience is the simple refusal of the ‘Home’ community to embrace the name ‘GARIF’ NA, and our decision to rechristen our people as GARIFUNA. This compulsion to rename ‘subaltern’ people is what an empire does, it is an imperial prerogative, even an imperative that keeps the door shut against their joining ‘us’ as equals in the one community. {{more}}When we relate with each other using an imperial perspective, which some may regard as merely a subconscious ‘slip of the tongue’, and when we fail to recognize other features of the imperial world insinuated in our relationships, the empire reigns within us, easily.

For us to replace the name with which a community identifies itself, i.e. “Garif’ na”, is to disrespect that community. In addition, we proclaim our authority as a body that has a position of social, spiritual and political superiority over it. We mimic the colonizers. Evidently, the Garifuna community was formed as a political bonding of Kalina and African ancestries. It became definitive, even hegemonic and forceful as Kalinago and African along with European populations constructed their collaborative and antagonistic positions and visions, Garifuna were then the leading section of the native and patriotic people of Yurumein. It is they who gave decisive moral and strategic resources to the waging of the People’s War for the integrity of Yurumein. In the period of early colonialization therefore, the Garifuna stand as purveyors of our Independence, and First Hero, Joseph Chatoyer, the consistent standard bearer of our defiance against Empire. The ironic and hideous outcome of the Empire’s military/territorial offensive on the Garifuna was that three developments took place:

The Empire’s intentional physical annihilation of Garifuna;

The Empire’s moral/epistemological onslaught on the remnants;

The Garifuna cultivation of the nation’s germ bank reserves.


The fragmenting of the emerging Yurumein community in two basic pieces was an outcome of long colonial siege and war. The yurumein ‘Pulverisation’ i.e. genocide cum expulsion and obliteration, was one strategy to free up the space for the creation and culturing of a more efficient British slave colony. These two fragments of Yurumein were spread across the Caribbean Sea, one in the eastern Caribbean, the other in the west. The Empire defined one as Home and the other as Nothing. For decades, the empire denied to each fragment the existence of and the access to the other, privileging the ‘Home’ as the proud authentic/British product. Empire divided us and kept us in its darkness, but Garifuna has rescued us, beginning the reconciliation and redemption of our nation community.

In my view, we dare not continue to view and approach each other through the perspective of the empire. In our national reconnection, we must devise a strategy to dislodge the empire between us. Already, we have had the imperial and dismissive declaration of Garifuna as alien by Prime Minister Gonsalves. The home Garifuna community owe it to the nation to adopt Garif’ na as the name that our nation knows, rather than distort it with imperial arrogance. As a start, while we identify and dislodge more and more of the empire that stand between us.