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Garifuna history taking centre stage in the academic arena

Garifuna history taking centre stage in the academic arena

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IN JAMAICA – The true story of the Garifuna people and their struggles is finally taking centre stage in the academic area, thanks to two students of the Mona Campus, University of the West Indies (UWI), Vincentian journalist Nadia Slater and Ifasina Efunyemi a journalist from Belize.

“Let’s Talk Garifuna: Our Story, Not His-Story”, a symposium staged by the students at the Undercroft of the Senate Building, Mona Campus, last Saturday evening, sparked an interest in the topic never witnessed before among the university’s community.{{more}}

Slater and Efunyemi, supported by the Vincentian Student Association (VINSA) and the Belize Student Association, made the event a memorable one by conveying their messages through cultural Garifuna songs and dances, which left the audience comprising of lecturers and students in awe.

Amidst the excitement that filled the atmosphere and the celebration of a resilience against annihilation it was clear that there were mixed emotions more so from the Garifuna students of Belize, as they reminisced the cruelty meted out to their forefathers on the isle of Balliceaux just before they were exiled to Central America.

Sylvia Cayetano, a student from Belize in her welcoming remarks described the survival of the Garifunas as a miracle. She implored the students to rid themselves of xenophobia and strive to learn as much as they can about other cultures.

At right: Belizean student at exhibition featuring Garifuna culture at UWI Mona

Slater credited the fruition of the symposium to divine intervention. She disclosed that interest in the topic was spurred while on an Agency for Public Information (API) assignment on Balliceaux relating to the topic of Garifuna. The Social Marketing student majoring in Media and Communications later led a campaign in Belize during the last summer. While Slater was expressing interest in the topic Efunyemi was doing the same and as soon as their paths crossed they joined forces to promote the Garifuna heritage.

At Saturday’s event, Slater expressed dissatisfaction with the way history is taught in the schools. A call was made by the young woman for the Garifuna history to be a part of the CXC Curriculum and she vowed to make this project a reality. Already, Slater is spearheading a project in St Vincent and the Grenadines where she will use the community radio station at Sandy Bay to retrieve and revive the Garifuna language and culture.

Efunyemi, on the other hand recalled instances of discrimination, which she experienced while growing up in Belize as a consequence of her Garifuna heritage. She said the British fueled division between the Garifuna and the Creoles of Belize by instilling in the latter negative stories about the people that originated from St Vincent and the Grenadines.

“Colonialism fostered division between the Garifuna and the Creole people. Some Garifuna didn’t identify themselves as Garifuna for fear of not getting a job, for fear of not fitting in,” said Efunyemi, expressing the desire “to start a process to write our own stories”.

Addresses were also delivered by Vincentian Radio lecturer at the UWI, Pam Barbour, Dr Velma Pollard, Professors Carolyn Cooper and Hubert Devonish.

After aggressively fighting the British they were exiled from St.Vincent in 1797 and shipped to Honduras. Those who remained were not allowed to practice the culture.

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