The Garinagu (singular Garifuna, pronounced ‘gah-RIF-oo-na’) are descendants of Carib, Arawak and West African people. The British colonial administration used the term Black Carib and Garinagu to distinguish them from Yellow and Red Carib, the Amerindian population that did not intermarry with Africans. The Amerindians who had not intermarried with Africans are still living in the Lesser Antilles; Dominica, St. Vincent and The Grenadines, etc.
Today the Garifuna live primarily in Central America. They live along the Caribbean Coast in Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras including the mainland, and on the island of Roatán. There are also diaspora communities of Garinagu in the United States, particularly in Los Angeles, Miami, New York and other major cities.
The French missionary Raymond Breton, who arrived in the Lesser Antilles in 1635, and lived on Guadeloupe and Dominica until 1653, took ethnographic and linguistic notes of the native peoples of these islands, including St Vincent which he visited only briefly. According to oral history noted by the English governor William Young in 1795 Carib-speaking people of the Orinoco came to St. Vincent long before the arrival of Europeans to the New World, where they subdued the local inhabitants called Galibeis. They lived along with the Carib men. Young recorded the arrival of the African descended population as commencing with a wrecked slave ship from the Bight of Biafra in 1675. The survivors, members of the Mokko ethnicity from today’s Nigeria (now known as Ibibio) reached the small island of Bequia, where the Caribs brought them to Saint Vincent and ill-used them. When the Carib masters felt that the Africans were too independent in spirit, according to Young, they planned to kill all the male children. The Africans, learning of this plan revolted, killed as many Caribs as possible and withdrew to the mountains, where they joined with other runaways who had taken refuge there. From there they raided the Caribs continually until they had greatly reduced them in numbers. There are few other accounts of the island, as it was not occupied by Europeans and visitors were rare or there unofficially, hence Young’s account is the only one of the century before he wrote to provide specific details of the origins of the Garifuna.
Britain and France both laid conflicting claims on Saint Vincent from the late seventeenth century onward. French pioneers began informally cultivating plots on the island around 1710 and in 1719 the governor of Martinique sent a force to occupy it, but was repulsed by the inhabitants. A British attempt in 1723 was also repelled. In 1748, Britain and France agreed to put aside their claims and Saint Vincent was declared a neutral island, under no European sovereign. Throughout this period, however, unofficial, mostly French settlement took place on the island, especially on the Leeward side.
In 1763, the Treaty of Paris awarded Britain rule over Saint Vincent. After a series of Carib Wars, which were encouraged and supported by the French, and the death of their leader Satuye (Chatoyer), they surrendered to the British in 1796. The British considered the Black Caribs enemies and deported them to Roatán, an island off the coast of Honduras. In the process, the British separated the more African-looking Caribs from the more Amerindian-looking ones. They decided that the former were enemies who had to be deported, while the latter were merely “misled” and were allowed to remain. Five thousand Black Caribs were deported, but only about 2,500 of them survived the voyage to Roatán. Because the island was too small and infertile to support their population, the Garinagu petitioned the Spanish authorities to be allowed to settle on the mainland. The Spanish employed them, and they spread along the Caribbean coast of Central America.
In recent history, Garinagu have thrown off their British appellation and encourage others to refer to them as Garifuna (Garinagu-plural). The Garifuna population is estimated to be around 600,000 both in Central America, Yurumein (St. Vincent and The Grenadines) and the United States of America. The latter, due to heavy migration from Central America, has become the second largest hub of Garifuna people outside Central America. New York has the largest population, heavily dominated by Hondurans, Guatemalans and Belizeans. Los Angeles ranks second with Belizean Garinagu being the most populous, followed by Hondurans and Guatemalans. There is no information regarding Garinagu from Nicaragua having migrated to either the East or the West Coast of the United States. Nicaraguan Garifuna are few. They are learning the Garifuna language and acquiring the different cultural aspects.