Do you know the Garifuna History?

History of the Garifuna People in Belize


One of the most exciting topics we have learned about revolves around the Garifuna people. The history begins almost 400 years ago, making it so vibrant, expansive, and impressive. Garifuna history is one filled with migration, intermarriage, and lots of culture. It is an integral part of Belize’s history.


Where It All Began

The first bit of history regarding the Garifuna people states that ancestors migrated way before the arrival of the Europeans. The Arawak Indians migrated from Venezuela, Surinam, and Guyana - they settled in the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean.

A second ancestor, the Carb Indians, began to migrate from Orinoco Delta in 1220 A.D to the Lesser Antilles. Both these ancestors began to form relationships and were the beginning of Garifuna history.

The Europeans

Of course, we have to mention where Europeans come into the history of the Caribbean. Though it might not be the most desirable part of world history, it is an essential part!

In 1635, two Spanish ships found their way to the island of St Vincent - they were carrying hundreds of indentured Nigerians. Many surviving slaves, fortunately, they found refugee on the island, which further added to the ethnic diversity. An all-around positive thing.

In 1660, the British broke a treaty, which meant that they claimed the island as a colonial possession. By the mid-1700s, the Garifuna people proved to be a force with which to be reckoned.

They continually tried to threaten the colonial mission, so much so that the British had to send more representatives to the island.

Garifuna Young Man Today

Garifuna Young Man Today

The Fightback and Deportation

In 1796, the Garifuna people desperately sought to find a solution to the enslavement. An intended raid resulted in a defeat for the Garifuna - the small number of those that survived were deported to the Honduran island of Roatan. Here, the Garifuna flourished and multiplied impressively. In 1832, Alejo Beni (a charismatic and ambitious leader), led a large number of Garifuna to what is now the southern Belize coastline.

Something amazing and beautiful about this period - despite all the setbacks, tribulations and hardships, the Garifuna people still showed optimism and strength. This remained even as they entered Belize. We like to think this attitude still actually remains today. Proof of resilience, positivity, and a thirst for life. That’s why we love the many different peoples of this region.

Celebrating Garifuna Day

Celebrating Garifuna Day

Modern Day

Let’s enter the 2000s - a bit of recent day history for you to ponder on.

In 2001 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared that Garifuna culture was a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity. Today, in Belize the culture and people still mirror this same attitude.

Various locations in Belize are classed as World Heritage sites. And rightly so.

Thomas Vincent Ramos

We do have to mention Thomas Vincent Ramos in our overview of Garifuna history. Ramos was born in 1887 and migrated to Belize in 1920 with his wide Elise Marian Fuentes. He was a visionary leader. One that shaped Belize as we know it today.

He founded the famous Carib Development and Sick Aid Society, and later the Carib International Society. The Carib Development Center focused on helping those who were sick and assist in those who needed any help with burying their lost relatives.

He was also registered as a member of the Arrival Fund Committee - created for the benefit of all the Caribs in Central America. Ramos was focused on the preservation of Garifuna cultural heritage. He dedicated his time, effort, and talent into making sure that no culture of tradition was lost over the years.

Ramos was also a voluntary Social Worker, which made him even more interesting and special than he already was. He also started the celebration of Carib Settlement Day in Stan Creek, in 1941. This was extended to Toledo.  This is just a small example of Ramos’ impact in the world. Thomas Vincent Ramos died at the age of 68 In 1944. Ever since a torchlight parade has been held on his death anniversary yearly. He is an iconic symbol of Belize.

We love this beautiful country and are always learning about the culture and the way of life here in Belize! We love researching and finding out more about Garifuna and all types of cultures that migrated to this small country. Garifuna is one that is rich in culture, heritage, and fascinating people - it still remains this way, too.

If you visit Belize, you will likely stumble across heritage sites, stories from the locals, and hints at centuries-old traditions. It’s a truly magical place to be. We love this country and everything about it - finding out about history only makes us appreciate it even more.

Life in BelizeBeth Biersdorf