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Garifuna People of St. Vincent: Ethnic & Cultural Groups

The Garifuna people are people that reside in the island of St. Vincent in the Carribean. The Garifunas are also known as the “Black Caribs”. The Caribs preferred living near the sea because
they relied mainly on fishing, also, living on the coast meant they could see
oncoming attackers. The Caribs life was heavily influenced by war, and they
made success in battle a key part for manhood, initiation, and respect.

Research indicates that Africans came even before Columbus
and settled in St. Vincent. The Caribs of St. Vincent were joined by Caribs
from other islands that were fleeing European attack. Through intermarriage, a
new group of African and Carib heritage developed and became known as the
“Black Caribs” or “Garifuna”.  The word “Garifuna” means
“cassava eating people.”
Eventually the Garifuna outnumbered the original inhabitants, called,
the “Yellow Caribs”, and the “Yellow Caribs” negotiated to try and shift
power from the Garifuna.

Garifuna culture closely identifies with music and
dance.  Garifuna music styles are known for being percussion heavy and their
distinctive drumming patterns, which combines the beats of primero (tenor) and
segunda (bass) drums.  Garifuna drums are
generally made from hollowed-out hardwoods such as mahogany or

All decisions for running the community were made by men,
therefore only men held ruling positions. The Ubutu, or War Leader, was always
a male whose position was not hereditary (or passed down); he was chosen by the
elders of his village. He had to be a good warrior, prove that he was
physically strong, brave, and highly skilled in battle. When he was chosen, he
had to carry out a raid, if the raid was successful his positioned was

Men and women had different roles in society. Men were the
warriors, priests, leaders, builders of houses and boats, craftsmen and hunters.
The women cultivated the land, collected firewood, bartered produce, made
hammocks, participated in weaving, did household chores, and brought up the

Over the years, Garifuna people migrated and established
fishing  villages in Belize, Guatemala,
Honduras and Nicaragua. Many Garifunas have migrated to the U.S.  Members of the Garifuna diaspora in the U.S.
can be found in major cities, including: Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami,
New Orleans and New York. In New York City alone, there are approximately
100,000 Garifunas residing there!

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