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Garifuna delegation visits the University of London


The Institute of Languages, Cultures and Societies (ILCS) at the School of Advanced Study (SAS) recently hosted a visit from a delegation from the Garifuna community, an Afro-indigenous people that live primarily in Central America.

The Garifuna delegation with IMLR and CLACS staff

The Garifuna have a rich history and culture that reflects their African and indigenous Kalinago-Taino (Carib-Arawak) heritage. The countries in which the Garifuna community is located include Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Belize, and the United States.

Professor Charles Burdett, Director of the ILCS, and Dr Ainhoa Montoya, Director of the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS), welcomed the guests to Senate House on Monday 5 September.

Mirtha Colon, President of the Garifuna diaspora organization Central American Black Organization (CABO), led the delegation, while Andoni Castillo Perez was instrumental in arranging the visit.

The main purpose of the delegation’s visit was to share information about the language, culture, and history of the Garifuna people with UoL staff and students, as well as to explore possibilities for collaboration.

The Garifuna community face a number of challenges today, including the fight for land rights as well as access to healthcare and education. Many of the delegates described the Garifuna language as endangered.

“Our language is something that we need to preserve, this decade is a decade of indigenous languages,” said Sandra Miranda George, a delegation member from Belize.

"Our greatest hope is that at the end of the decade we have preserved our language. I say preserve because it is not totally lost. There are some of us who are still speaking Garifuna, but among the youth there are only a few and that is our greatest challenge."

Drumming plays a central role in Garifuna culture and spirituality and is used to invoke the community’s ancestors, Andoni Castillo Perez explained to the meeting attendees. Staff were treated to a traditional and passionate rendition of the Garifuna’s de facto national anthem featuring drums.

Professor Burdett, Dr Montoya, and delegation members had a highly constructive conversation about the practical ways in which the University can collaborate with the Garifuna community in the UK and abroad to help preserve its heritage and language.

"Our meeting with the CABO delegation was a unique opportunity to learn about and discuss the historical and contemporary exclusion of populations of African descent in the Americas, the historical transnational connections of the Garifuna people with the UK, and their efforts to preserve their cultural and linguistic heritage," said Dr Montoya.

“CABO’s efforts to promote cultural and linguistic diversity and inclusion are very much at the core of the ILCS’s agenda and we will be meeting again with members of this organisation to continue discussing potential avenues for collaboration on this front through the Institute's Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.”

The event exemplifies the role of CLACS as a leading UK centre for the academic study of Latin America and the Caribbean. The Centre regularly facilitates events such as the Garifuna visit, as well as other academic and public activities, sometimes in partnership with other institutions and organisations.

Members of the delegation perform a song during their visit