Monday, April 5, 2010

Who Are The Garifuna People?

Garifuna-American Heritage Month

When researching family histories we rarely come across familiar forms (i.e. census) with unfamiliar data that sends us to our resource books. However, about five years ago, I came across a small community of men in New York recorded as Garifuna. Through research I learned that Garifuna (ga-ree-FOO-nah) references the language, but Garingu (ga-REEN-a-goo) defines the people. In the USA the Garinagu's are often classified as African Americans; however, most speak Spanish or their native tongue.

Who are the Garinagu?
The Garinagu, or Black Caribs, are descendents of escaped West African and Orinoco area slaves, who intermarried with the Carib Indians of St. Vincent in the West Indies beginning in 1635. History tells us that they were originally cargo for sale on two wrecked Spanish slave ships, but when they escaped to St. Vincent they assimilated and became unified with the Carib community.

The Language
The Garinagu are the only descendents of the Carib tribe remaining, but most do not speak their traditional Arawak language, referred to as Garifuna.

By 1802 the Garifuna people migrated to Belize and Honduras and other settlements on the Atlantic Coast due to wars and turmoil. There, the settlements often adopted the local languages of Spanish or English (Belize).

Migration to United States of America
Although Garifuna families now extend from Belize to the upper northwest of the USA, the migration of the people has only been significant in the past ten years or so. However, the Garifuna men have visited ports as seamen and become residents in the USA for the past three generations due to work demands.

How Many Survive?
Although an approximation of how many Garifuna still exist in the world is between 200,000 and 500,000, there are between 75,000 to 100,000 living in the USA today [1]. Although Central America still has the largest population of Garifuna people, New York City can boasts the largest USA population of the Garinagu. 
[1] Data arrived from a compilation of sources, but best explained in Garifuna Settlement and Migration Patterns Accurate numbers are not available.

Garifuna-American Heritage Month
March 11 - April 12, 2010 has been declared Garifuna-American Heritage Month in the Bronx to celebrate the 213th anniversary of the exile of the Garifuna poeple from St. Vincent on March 11, 1797 and their settlement in Central America on April 12, 1797.    

For More Information
National Geographic.Com


Garifuna Settlement in New York: A New Frontier, Gonzalez, Nancie L., University of Maryland;


  1. Interesting information on Garifuna which I never knew anything about. Your research has peaked my interest and hopefully one day I get to research and read more about them.

  2. There are a lot of theories and information on the Garifuna, however, I have shared the most historical factual one in this post.

  3. Pretty fascinating, Kathleen. I always learn something new on your blog. Thanks for sharing this information.