By Aaron Humes
Norwegian Cruise Lines’ interest in a US$50 million development on the island of Harvest Caye just south of the Big Creek Port in the South Stann Creek District is causing disquiet for the Garifuna and Maya communities, whom project director Hugh Darley said will get the chance to have their stories told to visiting cruise ship passengers in an eco-park as well as conducting tours of popular attractions.
Despite the safeguards assured by Government for the direct benefit of the Maya and Garifuna people of the South – first choice of jobs aboard the cruise ship and in association with the project, first service of businesses and operations within and without the development, and an emphasis on Belizean products and people, the National Garifuna Council (NGC) has already spoken out against a suggestion by Darley that the sacred spiritual rite of the Garinagu, the dugu ceremony, may be an attraction at the park.
Executive Director of Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM), Greg Ch’oc, was asked after Wednesday’s court case what discussion there has been among his people on the matter.
He replied that the matter is being discussed among the Maya and Garifuna people and their leaders intend to speak to the company and the Government on the issue.
Ch’oc seemed to be neutral, noting that “I think there are potential opportunities but there is also the opportunity for the exploitation of the cultures of both people and that has to be discussed in some way or the other, whether it is with government or with Norwegian Cruise Lines.”
Pressed as to why the Maya would not take the opportunity to show their culture to the world, Ch’oc noted the balance already taken between promotion and preservation. The just-conlcuded case in court, he said, was an instance of “trying to preserve our culture. The land defines our culture and we are here in court to try and preserve what constitute our culture. So in one hand the government can’t be promoting cultural tourism and on the other hand, denying us the right to exercise our culture.”
Nevertheless, the Maya leader said that the conversation continues and “the Garifuna and the Maya people are looking at it with an open and progressive thinking. I’m hoping that it will resolve in a win-win situation.”
The Belize Tourism Board (BTB) has promised widespread consultation in the area prior to the implementation of the project.