The Garifuna communities of Tela.

Tela, boasts seven Garifuna communities (see article: https://lempiratimes.com/2020/02/23/tela-caribbean-delight/). They are better known locally as Los Morenales. ‘Moreno‘ – interestingly, means to be ‘bronzed’ in Spain. A moreno or morena is a person of slightly darker, bronzed skin. Notably those from the hot south – Andalusia. Here in Honduras, a moreno is a kinder, more respectful term for a black-skinned person. Most people of black skin – are of Garifuna ethnicity. Others have family roots in Jamaica or nearby Belize. They prefer to be reffered to as morenos and not negros. However, this is an intriguing subject and something of a personal ‘issue’. A black person may feel offended if someone ‘Indio’ or ‘Mestizo’ calls them a ‘negro’ or ‘negra’, yet I have noticed that this is not the case if a white individual (foreigners) address their skin tone being ‘negra’ and not ‘morena’.

Perhaps the foreigner is ‘let off’. A thought of ‘they don’t know our insides and outs’ may exists. The point to make, is that the Garifuna communities are also known as morenales for the simple reason that morenos reside here in their completely and utterly beautiful, resplendant Caribbean communities.

 La Ensenada, San Juan, Triunfo De La Cruz, Miami, Tornabe, Nuevo San Juan and Rio Tinto. These are the seven communities dotted around the vast Bay of Tela. All are just as marvellous and fascinating as each other. I personally, have spent more time in some than in others.

This following extract is from an article I had published in the Havana Times. I have a weekly space on this site, for anyone further interested. This describes the community of Tornabe – where I’ve good Garifuna friends. Please see link for original article: https://havanatimes.org/diaries/ben-anson/amongst-the-garifuna/

Garifuna beach hut. Tornabe.

Tornabe.

It is an ambience of laughter, tranquillity and contentment, that thrives in the Garifuna communities of Tela; an old port on the northern coast – the Caribbean sector – Honduras.

Tornabe, is one such community (morenal) in which I have spent the Christmas holiday period.

Here I am, a white man from afar; of British nationality, immersed amongst the black Garifuna people yet treated as an equal at all times.

For me, these glorious places dotted along the Honduran coast, are pure paradises. They are to be characterized by the palm tree laden, white sanded beaches lying before the crystal blue bay whose background is complete with tropical forests and immense lagoons – all beautifully situated around the sun soaked Garifuna settlements of motley buildings (from palm thatched huts to wooden panelled whitewashed beach side villas).

Small scale hotels and restaurants are placed here and there. Exotic constructions, with names such as ‘Mariners Inn’, stand upon tall wooden foundations with grand US style porches out front (a reminder of the US presence here during the banana plantation decade) from which locals and outsiders sit upon, drinking and making merry.

The Garifuna (referred to also as the Black Caribs), are the descendants from a mix of Amerindian Arawak and Carib or Kalinapo from the Kalinago and African people. They also go by the name Garinagu – the plural of Garifuna.

It was during the early 1700s, that the French arrived upon the Caribbean island of St Vincent, whereupon they proceeded to fight skirmishes against the Garifuna before culminating on the forging of an alliance. The said alliance with the Garifuna continued in undisrupted peace for many decades.

In the year 1763 – after the Treaty of Paris, French interests in St Vincent were conceded to the British. The British however, were firmly disinterested in any cooperative relationship with the Garifuna people thus giving way to the first Carib War, which lasted from 1769 to 1773. The British lost this war to the Garinagu and reluctantly signed a Peace Treaty.

A bogus peace treaty signed by the British with the Garifuna.

The Garinagu, themselves under the bright leadership of their major chief and general Joseph Chatoyer, agreed to the treaty – through gritted teeth. However, negative consequences resulted for the Garifuna, for the shameless, devilish Brits broke the established treaty in 1795, bringing about the Second Carib War. Bearing larger numbers, new armaments and healthy finances, the British tragically overwhelmed the Garinagu.

Chatoyer.

On March 14, 1795, Joseph Chatoyer died in battle on the island of St Vincent. Without General Chatoyer and now vastly outnumbered, the Garifuna’s new French allies terminated in surrendering in June 1796. Despite the French surrender, the Garifuna refused to do so. They suffered greatly, for their rebelliousness.

The British then had the Garifuna divided on the basis of skin color. Over 5,000 individuals of darker skin were captured and harshly exiled to the nearby island of Baliceaux. The British then left the captives to perish on account of terrible malnutrition and disease.

On March 11, 1797, the few remaining Garifuna were rounded up and shipped to Roatan; the largest and one of the three Honduran Bay Islands. A sum of over 2,800 Garinagu died under the British genocide committed on Baliceaux.

Approximately 2,200 commenced the voyage, yet 200 perished en route during the grueling voyage to Roatan – lasting 31 days. On April 12, 1797, those 2,000 surviving Garifuna reached Roatan.

It was from this island, that they gradually escaped and made their way to the nearby Central American Caribbean coast. Large populations were thus established in Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, and Nicaragua. During the last decade many have moved to the United States for economic reasons.

In 2019, the global Garifuna community is estimated at over 800,000, who have been traced as descendants of the ethnic group.

At my friend’s house, I sit out in his tropical front yard, pelicans and frigates swoop by overhead; a paved street separates us from the shining, golden beach. Blue skies above… under them, on the ground, we smoke locally popular mint cigarettes, sip back on rum and converse mostly in Spanish yet at times – broken English. I’ll occasionally overhear their explosive chat in Garifuna, whilst taking in the fascinating characters who surround me.

Youth ride by on bicycles, muscular young men going to and from local basketball and football matches – their multicolored plastic combs rest in the thick Afros they sport. The boys carry speakers in their rucksacks. Dancehall booms.

“Just pull up to mi bumper
Pull up to mi bumper
Come inna yuh long black limousine
And just bend mi over
Pull up to mi bumper
Pop out yuh key an’ shove it in…”

What beautiful people, the blacks. I’ve always admired them, how could one not? How could anyone of even the slightest intelligence and open mindedness not do so? I’ve never felt so relaxed, so at peace, sipping rum and guifiti (the fiercely strong, traditional Garifuna moonshine), listening to RnB, Jamaican Dancehall, old school Hip Hop and Garifuna Punta music.

I greatly enjoy the relaxation of parking myself on the rustic wooden benches, which are placed below Tornabe’s countless palm-roofed beach huts. The white sand mixes between my toes. I gaze in silence upon the great blue bay of Tela out beyond, crystal blue waters once patrolled by buccaneers, escaped and trafficked slaves, conquistadors and US fruit vessels.

The bay boasts manatees, dolphins and whales whilst the lagoons hold crocodiles and barracuda. I love it all. Every aspect of these places.

Black is beautiful. I watch the well-endowed, gorgeous mixed race girls. Las mulatas… enchanting women of deep, fixating brown eyes, rich, curly hair and stimulating, white-toothed smiles. They dance in groups, while little boys giggle and imitate the hip swaying and ‘wining’.

RnB bellows from someone’s speakers as we sit together eating fresh, fried fish and plantain chips, washed down by Corona. A pretty young lady moves past us as we watch the street from our porch…

“Buenas tardes”.
“Good afternoon”. She smiles.

“Buena’ tarde’ amor.”
“Good afternoon love.”

“She nice bro.” Says my friend.
”Yes, She is.”

Baby, if you give it to me, I’ll give it to you
I know what you want, you know I got it.”

Caught in a peaceful trance, quite content, I hear the deep, soulful voices of these songs, to which I sit back – chilling in a hammock and chuckling alongside my Garifuna friends – thinking: “wonderful people, wonderful place.”

Just how could we have treated them with such cruelty and contempt all those centuries ago? A strong, merciless “go f*** yourself” goes out to all those ignorant bigots I know back ‘home’.

Pencos.
Morons.

Miami.

Taken from a diary I kept in 2014.

A large town (Tela), basking in the Caribbean climate with its tropical atmosphere, Tela was historically important as a place from which bananas were exported from Honduran banana plantations to New Orleans, whereupon the fruit was distributed across the USA. It is a truly unique place, with its’ interesting and peculiar blend of mixed Spanish/American style architecture and typically Caribbean surroundings, such as palm-tree-lined beaches and tropical jungles. The streets are packed every day with an onrush of people, made up of mixed ethnicities from the black Garifuna to Honduran mestizos. The restaurants and bars teem with life whilst market stalls sell all manner of things, from coconuts to striking regional clothing. It was the Garifuna though, that really captured me, as I found their culture and way of life nothing short of admirable. They are of African descent, black-skinned, and by now an indigenous group in their own right, inhabiting the coastlines of Nicaragua, Honduras and Belize. The descendents of escaped slaves, La Garifuna have a remarkable history and unique culture created over many centuries inhabiting this part of the Caribbean as a result of the Atlantic slave trade. Never have I come across a people so laid back and peaceful, it appeared that every time you passed some Garifuna, man or woman, boy or girl, they beamed great smiles at you. I will never forget the one night that I visited one such isolated Garifuna community (Miami) – for me it was definitely a ‘paradise on earth’. Still to this day, the Garifuna fight to upkeep their way of life, living in beautifully constructed split cane and palm thatched homes upon the white sanded beaches, jungle in the background, Caribbean sea out beyond. They fish and hunt extensively. During the visit, an old Garifuna man took the small group of us Hondurans and Brits on a canoe tour of his lake, which was a wonderful experience. The huge lake lay behind their homes, with the houses standing on a patch of white sanded beach plotted between the bay and the lake. We passed a wonderful evening, especially after having been made a fantastic Garifuna dish by an elderly woman, which was eaten within a candle lit hut on the beach at night. Tela, like Gracias, is an untouched place, full of character and best of all completely detached from the outside world. I sincerely hope that both places remain that way, for the impressions they made on me will surely last forever.

La Ensenada.

My favourite beaches within the Tela bay area are those of La Ensenada. The sea is calm, shallow and comfortably warm for it collects in one of the two furthermost corners of the bay – always at a low tide.

Garifuna music.

Punta.
‘Trap’ comes to the Garifuna via Tela’s urban artist ‘Menor Menor’ (a native of Triunfo De La Cruz) and Puerto Rican reggaetonero ‘Lary Over’. Riddled with Honduran slang, the video (even if the music is not to one’s personal taste) provides a most realistic insight into contemporary community life. Youth have absorbed a lot of US street culture as can be noted.

To conclude.

Visit Tela’s Garifuna communities if you are ever able to do so. No hay na’ ma’ que decir. Ain’t nothing more to say. These are truly extraordinary places inhabited by a truly extraordinary people.

Published by Ben Anson

Young writer with a passion for Latin American and Caribbean affairs.

5 thoughts on “The Garifuna communities of Tela.

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience with the Garifuna, we need more stories like this and let the whole world know that Honduras is full of great places to visit and quality people to meet. – Cheers from San Pedro Sula!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for saying so Gerardo. It pleases me that a Honduran appreciates what I share. Thank you from El Progreso!

      Like

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