The pinnacle of attention for the Garifuna people in the Belizean calendar has become the 19th of November. It has become so engrained in the Belizean mind, that all one has to say is “the 19th,” and instantly everyone around knows that you are talking about Garifuna Settlement Day.
However, apart from what has become a week of festivities, what else have the Garifuna people really gained?
The answer is, not too much. Garinagus were once some on the most educated people in the entire nation and that is a fact. They in turn, became educators and held some of the highest offices in the public service and were some of the most successful businessmen.
However, after decades and decades of both overt and covert discrimination, we have been relegated to the bottom of the totem pole in Belizean society. All blame can not be placed upon those who have discriminated against us, because as a people we are sometimes our worse enemies. We remain one of the most divisive communities in the country and probably the only time we come together as a people is around the 19th.
If we are to survive successfully, culturally and become a more integral part of Belizean society, then we must truly unite and demand more from our government and our leaders.
“The 19th,” has become an industry in itself. Ever year thousands upon thousands of dollars pour into the Belizean economy from what has become an extended celebration. I would dare to say that there is a small economic spike every November. But who ultimately benefits from this? Is it the Garifuna people? The answer is NO.
The government, the business community – which for the most part does not include the Garifuna community, and every other Tom, Dick and Harry are the only ones benefiting.
Government gains from increased tax revenue from food, alcohol, fuel and every other consumer good that see a increase in usage for the month of November.
The Mennonites benefit from the sale of vehicle parts, tires, lubricants and all the other goods that they sell. The Turks/Indians benefit from the sale of clothing and footwear purchased on the 19th. The Chinese literally gain from everything they sell in their stores. CPBL gains from increased citrus product consumption. The Mestizo farmers get in on the loot from the sale of more ground food, plantains and bananas. And the banks get a laugh from all financial transactions done countrywide, by Belizeans wanting to enjoy the festivities.
So what do the Garifuna people gain every 19th? Apart from dancing, singing and the usual consumption of a tremendous amount of alcohol, we gain minimally.
From a financial standpoint, it has become like a circus where the performers gain minimally, while the owners rake in all the profits. As a people we need to realize that for the 19th to be successful, only one race of people hold the trump card in Belize and that’s the Garifuna people. There can be no Garifuna Settlement Day without the Garifuna people. And while I am by no means advocating a boycott of the day by the people for whom this day was designated in the first place, what I am saying, is that we have to demand more from those who gain from us.
We can no longer sit by and allow economic opportunities derived from the 19th to pass us by. If the Government sees a 10% increase in tax collection associated with the 19th celebration, then it’s just right that at least 5% of that is reinvested into our communities because we surely cannot compete on equal footing with most of the other ethnic groups who run the business community in the nation.
There are racial, cultural and institutional discrimination forces working against the garifuna.
For us to survive the next decade, the Garifuna must gain economic power and it’s only through a collective effort, that this can happen. We must always bear in mind that deep down in the gutters of Belizean society, there will always be those and a certain element of the society that do not like or appreciate the Garifuna community. There is no hiding that and I would go as far as to say that there are those who are out to destroy our culture, traditions, our way of life and by extension our people. But that should just make us stronger and more determined as a people to survive.
If you have any doubt, just look at how a majority of the schools are now turning the 19th celebration into what is being masked as ‘cultural day.’ November is and has always been about the Garifuna people. There was never any such thing as cultural day. This is but a deliberate attempt at watering down the Garifuna influence in November. Still think that there are not powerful forces against us?
Wake up my people!
It’s all about the people!