Garifuna - Orientation

Identification. The term "Garifuna," or on Dominica, "Karaphuna," is a modern adaptation of the name applied to some Amerindians of the Caribbean and South America at the time of Columbus. That term—"Garif," and its alternate, "Carib"—are derivatives of the same root. The label "Black" derives from the fact that during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries considerable admixture occurred with Africans whom they captured, or who otherwise escaped being enslaved by Europeans.

Location. Modern-day Garifuna live mostly in Central America, in a series of villages and towns along the Caribbean coastline of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Many have emigrated to the United States, where they live in large colonies in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and several other cities. Small groups survive in Trinidad, Dominica, and Saint Vincent. Although all of them recognize a distant kinship, the Central American and Caribbean groups are virtually distinct today.

Linguistic Affiliation. In spite of their name, their language is basically of the Arawakan Family, although there is a heavy overlay of Cariban, which may once have been a pidgin trading language for them. Linguists term their language Island Carib to distinguish it from Carib as it is spoken among groups ancestral to them still living in the Amazon area of South America.

Demography. Historical sources indicate that only about 2,000 Carib survived warfare with the British to become established in Central America in 1797. Because they reside in so many different countries, and because they are not counted as a distinct ethnic group except in Belize, it is difficult to state how many there may be today. Estimates vary from 200,000 to 500,000; high fertility rates and the absorption into their communities of many other Blacks in the Americas helped boost their population over the last 200 years.

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