Traveling throughout the Caribbean and especially the West Indies, one can experience the cultural influences of the Garifuna people in the food, music, dance and island traditions.  The Garifuna people are the mixed-race descendants of Carib, African and Arawak people.  When indigenous Amerindian inhabitants of these Caribbean islands, intermarried Western and Central African slaves who shipwrecked or escaped from colonial slavery on neighboring islands, their descendants became known as Black Caribs or Garifuna. The Garifuna became a larger ethnic group than the Amerindians or “Yellow Caribs” and, as a result, conflicts ensued with the British colonists who occupied St. Vincent.

Garifuna dancers and musicians.
Garifuna dancers and musicians. Photo: Woody Hibbard

At the end of the 18th century the British exiled 5,000 Black Garifuna to the island of Roatan, close to Honduras.  The Yellow Caribs were “allowed” to stay.  Although the Garifuna community has settled in Central America, this interesting ethnic group still has a deep connection to the islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and thousands travel from Central America to St. Vincent each year to celebrate their indigenous legacy.

A trip through St. Vincent and the idyllic Grenadine islands offers a unique chance to trace lineage, uncover history and enjoy this fascinating culture. The Garifuna Heritage Foundation on St. Vincent helps keep the Garifuna language and heritage alive with festivals and educational resources.  Travelers can also discover more about the Garifuna culture, language, music, dance, food, art, spiritual heritage and history by visiting the National Trust Museum in the Carnegie Building in Kingstown.  There are also paintings that share the stories of the Garifuna people that are displayed on the walls of the old barracks inside St. Vincent’s Fort Charlotte, north of Kingstown.  The Garifuna’s cultural heritage and history lessons are being preserved among Garifuna peoples and the importance of Garifuna heritage is being acknowledged worldwide.  Garifuna language, dance and music was declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2001.

Garifuna parade. Courtesy of WikiMedia

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