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Ambassador speaks on Vincentian history of the Garifuna at New Jersey Folk Festival

Ambassador speaks on Vincentian history of the Garifuna at New Jersey Folk Festival


Ambassador Camillo Gonsalves, on April 27, invoked the “series of miraculous events in the extraordinary history” of the Garifuna people, and traced their migration from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to Central America and North America in a speech to the New Jersey Folk Festival on the campus of Rutgers University.{{more}}

Gonsalves was a specially invited guest of Rutgers University, which decided to feature Garifuna music, culture and traditions in its annual New Jersey Folk Festival. The New Jersey Folk Festival attracts 15,000 – 20,000 attendees per year, and is part of the wider Rutgers Day celebrations, which draw over 80,000 visitors. This year’s New Jersey Folk Festival featured Garifuna musicians and dancers from Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua, as well as traditional Garifuna cuisine.

Speaking during an awards ceremony to honour activists and trailblazers of Garifuna descent, Gonsalves, who is St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told the audience of a series of “miracles” that led to the birth and continued survival of the Garifuna people. The “first two miracles in the birth of the Garinagu,” he said, were that: not only did their ancestors survive capture in Africa, the brutal 4,500-mile middle passage of the slave trade, and shipwreck, but, as luck would have it, that shipwreck happened to deposit them off the coast of one of the few free and independent indigenous nations left in the Caribbean. If the shipwreck had occurred just a few miles to the north, south or east, the Africans may have been recaptured and sold by the well-established slavers operating in St Lucia, Grenada and Barbados.

The third “miracle” outlined by Gonsalves sprung from the treaty offered by the British at the end of the “First Carib War” of 1772. This “doubly savage race” of African castaways and Kalinagos managed to secure one of the first treaties in history between the mighty British Empire and an indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere,” said Gonsalves.

The Vincentian representative also deemed miraculous the strength of the Garifuna resistance to British military over the course of two wars, their survival on the journey into exile off the coast of Honduras, and the resilience of Garifuna descendants and their language and culture, which the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has declared to be “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”

Gonsalves reflected on the New Jersey Folk Festival’s celebration of Garifuna culture, saying:

“Today, 350 years after a miraculous shipwreck, and here, 2,000 miles from both Yurumein and Roatan, in an American nation, also shaped by slavery and revolutionary resistance to colonial exploitation, we are gathered to honour the memory and celebrate the enduring culture of the glorious Garifuna people. Today is but the latest in a series of remarkable moments in the extraordinary history of a people who refuse to surrender, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.”

After delivering his well-received speech at the Folk Festival, Gonsalves and the Garifuna honourees were guests of honour at a luncheon hosted by Dean Prof. Richard L. Lewis, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs of Rutgers University, and American Studies Professor Angus K. Gillespie, one of the founders of the New Jersey Folk Festival.