Ernesta "Neta" Castillo: Garífuna Singer
  Neta (left) with Sylvie Duran (right) of the InCorpore Cultural Association. Triunfo de la Cruz, Honduras. Photo credit: Drew Irwin.  
I Was Born Singing
I'm a woman that has loved being an artist ever since I was a young girl. I remember when I was in school and my teacher held civic ceremonies, I always won first prize in music and singing contests. Ever since I was ten years old, I started singing. All of my relatives had dance groups in Corozal. This is a community near La Ceiba, where I grew up. I learned a lot from my relatives, performing these dances. They also let us girls form dance groups, and taught us all different kinds of Garífuna songs.

The time came when I married and left the community with my husband. But, I didn't lose my habit of singing. My husband was a vocalist with a musical group, and he taught me many songs. There were times at night when we sat outside - he played the guitar and queued me when to start singing. The time also came when I was alone. My mother moved to Triunfo de la Cruz, and I decided to follow her. I wanted a change of environment since I had just separated from my husband.

Songs of Women's Sacrifice
When I arrived here at Triunfo de la Cruz, I noticed that there were dance groups. But, they were only for adults. It turns out that a lady, Isolina Arzú, had a saint, who was commemorated every 15th of July. This saint revealed to her in a dream that he wanted the
children to have an artistic group. One day, when the youngsters were rehearsing for the festival, I saw that they didn't sing very well. Very humbly, I asked the woman if they would allow me to sing with them. She said yes, when I came that night. When I arrived, the drummers played a tune for me, and I started to sing. And that's how we spent the year and how we formed our group.

  Listen as former members of Women of Group Sacrifice (above) sing traditional Garífuna songs. Credits: Drew Irwin, InCorpore Cultural Association©.  
I became the vocalist and group coordinator. We improved the next year and more young people joined the group. We searched for a group name and chose, "Group Sacrifice." Many people asked us why we chose that name. We chose 'sacrifice' because we are all women and the women's work in the Garífuna community is very sacrificial. The Garífuna woman works and works - she goes to the fields, harvests yucca, makes and sells casave, and looks for firewood. We are the ones who struggle to support our children. Most of us are single mothers - that's why we called ourselves, "The Women of Group Sacrifice."

When I was with Group Sacrifice, we only danced here in the community during Christmas, New Year's, and patron saint day celebrations. I never thought that I could be an artist - not until Dr. Rafael Selva Murillo arrived in town and we formed the group, Lánigiü Müa. Truly, no other person of Garífuna heritage has done what Dr. Rafael Selva Murillo has done on behalf of the Garífuna people. I say this because - although this is my heritage and I live it in my community - I had never seen it demonstrated in such a marvelous form. The people in my community also admired this quality of work.

Dreams of a Woman Artist
When I toured as an artist, I felt like an artist and this changed my life. I never thought that I could board an airplane, that I could work on such a large stage, and that I could be in a theater with many lights. I never dreamed of this. It was a life-changing experience for me. Most of all, it changed my economic situation. For the first time in my life, I could buy souvenirs for my daughters. This is because we Garífuna suffer a terrible economic crisis in our communities.

Being an artist has changed my life in the community. I am now respected here. The people say, "Gees, Neta is now a woman artist. This woman should be respected because she has great support." Whatever the problem is in my community, whether it deals with songs or something else, the people come looking for me. The youngsters ask me for help and for instructions with their rehearsals. They say, "Neta, we want to put on a show. How can we do it?" This gives me pride. My neighbors are not only proud of me, but of all of the artists who are in the Lánigiü Müa Group. We have set an example here in the community and now everyone, all of the young people, want to be artists.

  Women of Lánigiü Müa dance the parranda. Panchi Ranch, Triunfo de la Cruz, Honduras. June 1998. Credit: Drew Irwin and Klaus Staffa, InCorpore Cultural Association©.  
I hope that as a result many opportunities will arise for the children. I am a forty-year old woman. Perhaps, I will grow senile in the next ten years. So, what I learn, I teach to my daughters. I have hope that one of my four daughters will take over my position. I always tell them why I am an artist, and what is so wonderful about being an artist. There are many people who say that a woman artist is 'a lady of the night.' I tell my daughters, "Those are utter lies. Women artists are decent women, who are always struggling to move forward and get ahead in life."

When you go abroad and wander around foreign lands, you gain a lot of experience. You see the good and the bad in the world and dream about many things. I always return home and say, "Gees, it is wonderful being an artist." I hope that one of my daughters will replace me down the road, so that she can have this experience - because being an artist is the most beautiful thing there is in the world. So, I am very happy, and I will continue being an artist with the support of InCorpore Cultural Association, Dr. Rafael Selva Murillo, and Lánigiü Müa. We are always united. May God help us, and we will forge ahead.
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Credit: Interview and transcription by InCorpore Cultural Association© with Ernesta "Neta" Castillo; Triunfo de la Cruz, Honduras; July 1998. All rights reserved. Edited and translated by K.Stevens, Stanford Center for Latin American Studies, 3/1/00. Please note that the Group grew out of "The Women of Group Sacrifice."