The History of Garífuna Migration    

The Garífuna history has been one of constant migration and miscegenation. One of the Garífuna ancestors, the Arawak Indians, migrated from Guyana, Surinam and Venezuela around 160 A.D and settled in the Greater Antilles Islands in the Caribbean. A second ancestor, the Carib Indians, also abandoned their settlements in the Orinoco Delta in 1220 A.D. and seized the Lesser Antilles. The Carib and Arawak then mixed and engendered the Island Carib, who settled predominantly on Saint Vincent Island.

When the Spaniards arrived in the early 1500s, they introduced foreign diseases and an oppressive system of forced labor that disseminated local populations.

African slaves are therefore imported into the New World beginning in 1517. Many slaves escape from European plantations (cimarrones). Others survive two shipwrecks off the coast of Saint Vincent Island in 1635. Both are taken in by the Island Carib and their offspring are called the Black Carib, commonly known today as the Garífuna or Garinagu.

Over the next 150 years, a series of wars erupt between the Spaniards, French, British, and Black Carib. Treaties are made and broken and alliances are formed and dissolved in this all-out race for control of the land and its inhabitants. Finally, the British emerge as the victors in June of 1796. They unleash a massive man hunt, trapping and banishing 4,644 overly "rebellious" Black Carib to Baliceaux Island - where they are held on a 464 m. high cliff! Others manage to escape to South America and to the neighboring Antilles Islands. This adds to the African Diaspora.

Of those deported, the lighter-skinned "Yellow or Red Caribs" are classified as "benign" and returned to St. Vincent. Today, many Creole-speakers on St. Vincent are descendants of the Yellow/Red Carib. The remaining 2,026 captives are left on Honduras' Roatan Island with limited food and supplies on April 11, 1797. The Spaniards transport the Garífuna to the mainland and rescue them from potential starvation. The Garífuna return the favor, supplying food for the entire colony - which is dying of hunger because Spanish farming practices are not suited to the tropics.

The Garífuna soon tire of Spanish authority. As early as 1802, they join British woodcutters to log mahogany or smuggle contraband trade along the Belize, Guatemala, and Nicaragua coastlines. But a mass migration does not happen until 1832, when the Garífuna are charged with treason for supporting the Spanish royalists' failed insurrection against the Federation of Central American States. Many Garífuna flee to the remote Mosquitia region. Others, under the leadership of Alejo Beni, set sail for Belize and found the settlement of Dangriga. Today this city holds the largest Garífuna population.

Those who remain in Honduras after Central American independence tend to work on the banana plantations at the turn of the XX century. When the market collapses before World War II and banana companies shut down their operations, many Garífuna are forced to look for alternative work. Some join the U.S. and British merchant marines, who were looking for new recruits to replace those who had left for war. After completing their service, many Garífuna settle in England and the U.S., and others return to their communities with fantastic tales and fancy merchandise. This intrigues younger generations and women to seek better opportunities abroad.

Today, approximately, 300,000 Garífuna live around the world. Of this number, the largest concentration of Garífuna peoples, 100,000, are found in Honduras. Around 90,000, nearly the total Garífuna population in Honduras, are living in the U.S. They are primarily located in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and New Orleans. Many Garífuna have migrated to the U.S. because of the limited economic opportunities available in their hometowns. Today, many Garífuna communities in Honduras are kept afloat by money sent from relatives working in the U.S. Grandmothers and mothers, in particular, wait on this money to take care of the children left in their custody. New, concrete houses can now be built and furnished with televisions, stereos, and other luxuries. Dreams can be achieved. But families can be torn apart. Communities can be drained of bright leaders and entrepreneurs. And customs, values, and social structures can be altered.

Discover for yourself! Visit the above links and learn about the struggles and dreams of a few Honduran Garífuna. Listen to why some have left their communities and the impact on those who remain. See how both desire a brighter future. Consult our map illustrating the historical migration of the Garífuna peoples.

Learn how Neta has realized her dream as an artist and empowered the youth in her town.
Discover why don Andrés says that kids have been spoiled by money sent from the U.S.
Hear how Tina grew up poor and dreams of adding on to her store to provide for her family.
Learn how Calin's desire for a better life led him to set sail for the U.S. and risk his life lobster diving.
With their husbands gone in search of work, hear Garífuna women sing of their loneliness.
Listen to Popo speak of many social problems including the Garífuna's lack of political power.
  Read about the government's attempt to include the Garífuna in a megatourism project.
  Learn of Yura's great wish in life and his concern for his people's future.
  Related Links:

Garífuna World:
Black Karib
Garinagu early history.

Garinagu future.
Garinagu life in Central America.
Garinagu life overseas.
Garinagu recent history.
Nosotros los Garinagu.
Origen de la población de Honduras.


Black Karibs of Honduras, University of Maryland.
Independence and the minorities of Honduras, Honduras this Week.
The African Diaspora. University of Texas, Austin.

Credit: K.Stevens, Stanford Center for Latin American Studies, 4/14/00.


Cayetano, Sebastian R. Garífuna History, Language & Culture of Belize, Central America & The Caribbean, pp.22. S & F Cayetano: Belize, 1997.

Garinagu Early History, Garífuna World, pp.1-3. 1997.

Garinagu Future. Garífuna World, 1997.

González, Nancie. Sojourners of the Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garífuna, pp. 26, 82. University of Illinois Press: Urbana and Chicago, 1988.

Griffin, Wendy, "Garífunas prepare for 200 year anniversary bash in La Ceiba," pp. 1-2. Honduras This Week: 3/19/97.

Idiáquez, José. El culto a los ancestros en la cosmovisión de los Garífunas de Honduras. Instituto Histórico Centroamericano, Managua, Nicaragua, 1994.

Melendez, Armando Crisanto and Auyujuru Savaranga. Adeija Sisira Gererum Aguburigu Gariganu: 'El enojo de las sonajas; palabras del ancestro, " pp. 51-53. Graficentro Editores: Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 1997.

Suazo, Pablo Inés Flores. Interview with Alejandro Tosatti, InCorpore Cultural Association.