Garifuna - History and Cultural Relations

Archaeologists have still not been able to sort out with precision the cultural history of the various Caribbean groups, except to note that all of them apparently derived from the tropical forests of South America, coming into the Caribbean in at least three waves, dating from about 5000 B . C . to about A . D . 1400. At the time of Columbus, the ancestors of the Garifuna occupied most of the habitable islands of the Lesser Antilles, but by the eighteenth century they were primarily found on Saint Vincent, Dominica, Saint Lucia, and Grenada. For Europeans, the term "Carib" became synonymous with "cannibal," and allegations about such activities formed the justification for killing or enslaving them in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Once agricultural plantations had been established by the various Europeans, Africans were brought in large numbers as laborers. On Saint Vincent, from the time of the first major British occupation in 1763, the Garifuna sided with the previously resident French colonists in a protracted conflict that ultimately ended in defeat for both of them. In 1797 those with the darkest skin color, (termed "Black Carib") mostly resident on Saint Vincent, were forcibly removed from that island and sent to Spanish Honduras. Many of the lighter-skinned individuals remained in the islands; most were absorbed into the local Creole populations. In Central America the Garifuna joined the Spaniards and at first fought against, but later temporarily joined, the Miskito Indians, who were firmly aligned with the British in opposition to the dominant Spanish colonization. They were quick to adopt whatever innovations they admired in other groups, so that today their culture is a new synthesis, unlike any of its immediate forbears.

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