By Hwaa Irfan
If one had to identify one tradition that emanated from the soil of South America; that the rest of the world has embraced and innovated from, regardless of what status one has, that tradition would be Latin American music. This genre of music has inspired many people of the world, regardless of knowledge of its purpose in the history of a people who it arose from. The many forms of Latin American music can be found infused with other traditions from pop, rock, to Indian and Arab classical music. Few may explore its origins, but many would enjoy the music that has a strong element of liberation. How ironic that, that feeling of liberation should enjoyed by those who live in less oppressive regions of the world without knowledge of its roots in the Doctrine of Discovery, the Discovery that serves as the foundation of colonialism and neo-colonialism.
As part of the ‘outreach’ program of the Vatican’s Doctrine of Discovery, instead of the diplomatic missions of countries like the U.S. today, in the 17th century it was missionary work. In becoming familiar with the terrain of his mission, Jesuit priest Frere Antonio Vieira described Brazil as having:
“… the body of America and the soul of Africa’, because of the enormous impact that Africa had on the country through enslavement and colonialism.”
The legacy of that period of enslavement and colonialism today is the Garifuna people of Honduras, descendents of the Caribbean people of St. Vincent with a strong African, Arawak, and Carib Indian heritage. After being shipped from Africa to the Caribbean island of Grenada in 1635 on Spanish ships, they escaped the abomination of the primary workforce of capitalism, slavery, and were deported to Honduras in 1797, and since then their culture of resistance has been ongoing.
The ruling entity in Honduras is fully supported by the military. Honduras like a growing number of countries around the world has been observing a growing resistance consciously or subconsciously to the failing mechanisms of globalization. Last month, March 28th 2011, Miriam Miranda, a Garifuna was shot in the stomach by police with tear gas canisters, and illegally detained for 3 days in a peaceful demonstration against the privatization of public education. Yet, when Miriam was released she was back marching with her people.
For the Garifuna, the drums represent cultural resistance, and they have been beating those drums, and stamping that resistance for 214 years! It was no April’s Fool day for the Garifuna as they continued to drum and dance the resistance as 01st April 214 years ago was when they arrived in Honduras as a result of a process of ethnic cleansing of the Caribbean island of St. Vincent by the Spanish, which today still remains black. Dubbing 2011 as the International Year of Afro-Descendents, and April as the African Heritage Month, they marched and beat 214 drums, while singing and dancing in the capital of Honduras, Tegucigalpa. They were joined by the indigenous Lenca of the Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras.
In August 2010, the police and military became seriously violent against the public school teachers who had been protesting for 3 weeks demanding that the ruling Pepe Lobo regime return the missing 4 billion lempiras ($U.S200mn) that belongs to IMPREMA, which manages the pension fund for the teachers. University students had occupied the National Autonomous University to demand the reinstatement of 180 employees, and the resignation of Juliet Castrellano, director of the university.
On April Fool’s Day 2011, Miriam, Coordinator of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras addressed the crowd as follows:
“Today we are here, present in the capital, not just so people can watch us dance. We do not want to maintain this idea that Garifuna are only useful to dance. As well, we will not be used to help legitimize a government that carried out a coup d’etat.
“We are here as Garifuna so we can make visible the problems of the Garifuna people. So that people will realize, on a national and international level, that the Garifuna people are here to reclaim their historical rights.
“We are here on the 1st of April, inaugurating the International Year of the Afro-descendents named by the United Nations.
“Today we can say that we are facing the second expulsion of our territories that is why we’re here.
“The Garifuna people have inhabited Honduras and resisted for more than 214 years. It is not true that we are just able to dance. That is why we are here. We are here with our identity, our spirituality, our culture, because we have a culture of resistance. Even before a system that wants to eliminate all of the value of our culture. All the value that we are as Garifuna people. We are proud to be Garifuna. The Garifuna culture is a culture of milleniums. The Garifuna people just like the Lenca people, Pech, Mosquito, and Tolipan, all the indigenous and black peoples, we have been resisting against a monoculture, one culture that they are trying to create and say that we are.
“We are here to say that we are not interested in speaking with [President] Pepe Lobo because he is not in charge. We want to tell the world that yes, we are present. We do not want them to receive us in the Presidential House … when he [Pepe Lobo} will not dialogue with the teachers when he is repressing the people. Because of this we are here to say we are present!”
Feeling present in the world is the means by which one says “I exist”, and “I am”, and to be means claiming all of one’s self not just physically, but also emotionally, and spiritually. If ones presence represents “the other” then it can either be embraced or rejected depending on the level of insecurity of that that claims all. This is a feeling that we have all felt at some point in our lives, and for many throughout their lives that is never ever being fully accepted.
For 214 years the Garifuna have been “the other” and “to be” they had to embrace themselves. They acknowledge their own richness and how it ‘decorates’ through their: agriculture, their hunting, their dances, their medicine, their religion, their architectural environment, their crafts, and themselves. They commemorate, and not celebrate because they remember the genocide of their people from Africa to St. Vincent; and those mutilated from Africa, to St. Vincent, to Balliceu, to Port Royal in Honduras. They commemorate the 3, 000 who were murdered in Balliceu, and those who lost their lives against the English. Of the 200 hundred that escaped the genocide, their descendents to this fight to stay on their land, to obtain collective deeds, and to own property despite the fact that it is legally recognized in most Latin American countries that they, the descendents of Africans who were shipped there have indigenous rights, and if one knows anything about indigenous rights, it is an ongoing battle with the descendents of the colonialists, and those they refer to as pseudo-leaders, leaders who according to an Honduran blog are:
“… imported from western models, converted into instruments of destruction, division, effervescence of small conflicts, directed at weakening the harmony, the peace and the co-existence of solidarity inherited from Satuyé, Barauda and Wamulugu.”
Under Article 107, Honduras also recognizes the indigenous rights of the Garifuna, but unfortunately the Honduran government is the third most corrupt Latin American government according to Claritas. Their love of the Garifuna is indicative of the local governmental action in 1937 when they massacred a San Juan community killing 25 people, and casing others to flee. Through the course of time, The Garifuna have learned to always be prepared.
The battle over Garifuna land is as a result of the same problem that the uncontacted tribes of the Amazon are facing – foreign investment and tourism of which there is no benefit to the people who live on those lands like the Honduran Land Project financed by the World Bank. The Garifunas are not interested in serving tourists or running small businesses dependent on tourists though they are being forced to as their land from colonialistic practices (international debt) experiences degradation along with the devastation of Hurricane Mitch of 1998, speculators, and ongoing drought.
The Drums Speaks
The underlying rhythm of the African drum beat has always been the rhythm of the heart that beats, as it did in the Two Hundred Year War of resistance against slavery. Amongst many forms of resistance, it began with an enslaved Coromantee group from Ghana (then the Gold Coast) in the Caribbean island of Antigua with the ‘ikem’ – a mass military shield dance which was allowed them to ‘assess’ the situation. After this, all forms of African drums and ceremonies were banned, and the dye was cast. Resistance was not always about revolts, but a refusal to give up on one’s values and traditions.
Just as for the Garifuna the beating of the 214 drums represented the spirits of those who died in passage from Africa – Caribbean – South America, the drum beats for those died in Surinam, Brazil, Jamaica, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama and others. Music was the only medium left through which and frustration could be expressed. Drumming became the sound that dispelled self hatred, and rejection of self by rejecting one’s origins. When drumming and the ceremonies that went with them were banned, the bird of passage Sankofa renewed the call to move on, but that move was and is conditional on reclaiming one’s past to understand the present, and to be in the present enough to emancipate the conscience so that one could reclaim humanity. Therefore, it is not surprising to see the drums of resistance re-manifest itself in other forms in order to survive: the candomblé, the beguine, the salsa, the bossa nova (with the most soul reaching bossa nova I have ever heard being played by an Egyptian Sufi), reggae, and hip hop, all and more taken up by the youth of the Middle East and North Africa, as means of expression, and liberation.
And we return to South American soil, where the root has not been patented in the form of Candombe the purpose of which still remains to be resistance. The rhythm of Candombe came with the enslaved Africans to Uruguay the meaning of which is “place and dance of Africans.” The rhythm was used to communicate with each other when there was no common language between the different tribal members, and to defy the colonialists. Candombe lives today in the working class areas of Uruguay, namely Montevideo’. With heavy feet the drummers walk very slowly, symbolizing the heavy metal shackles that were placed on the feet of the enslaved Africans. Candombe was used as a means of cultural resistance against the military junta 1973 – 1984, and as the Uruguayans of African descent represent only 6% of the population today, Candombe continues to mean resistance in a discriminating society.
“March of the Drums: There is Nothing to Celebrate.” http://hondurasresists.blogspot.com/2011/04/march-of-drums-there-is-nothing-to.html
Osório, L. Trade and Tourism Threaten the Garífuna People Housing Rights.”
Rice, A. “Slave Resistance, Rebellions and the Haitian Revolution.” http://www.revealinghistories.org.uk/who-resisted-and-campaigned-for-abolition/articles/slave-resistance-rebellions-and-the-haitian-revolution.html
Spring, K. “Honduras: Banging The Drums Of Resistance To The Repression.” http://indigenouspeoplesissues.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=9732%3Ahonduras-banging-the-drums-of-resistance-to-the-repression&catid=60%3Acentral-american-and-caribbean-indigenous-peoples&Itemid=82&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+IndigenousPeoplesResources+%28Indigenous+Peoples+Issues+%26+Resources%29
Spring, K. “Repression in Honduras Continues, Unabated.” http://banboseshango.webs.com/honduras.htm
Trigona, M. “Uruguay: Spirit of Afro Resistance Alive in Candombe.” http://upsidedownworld.org/main/uruguay-archives-48/1145-uruguay-spirit-of-afro-resistance-alive-in-candombe