Sunday, August 15, 2010

Katei san Garifuna? = What Is Garifuna?

What is Garifuna like?

The answer to the question, "What is ___ language like?" is found in the history of the people who speak it.

Let's begin in northeastern South America, where the notoriously warlike Carib people began migrating north toward the Caribbean. They reached what is present-day St. Vincent Island (see map below), inhabited by the pacific Arawaks. Carib men killed Arawak men and took their women, which led to a creole (mix) between both languages. Men's speech resembed the Carib language and women's Arawak.

During the 17th century, ships carrying Africans sunk off the coast of St. Vincent, and those who escaped to the mainland were integrated into Carib society. Since they were from different regions of Africa and did not share a common language, they learned what was spoken on the island. However, the influence of African languages did lead to some changes in pronunciation.

In the meantime, St. Vincent was considered as territory belonging to France, and, through commerce, words in French were incorporated into Garifuna. Later, the British gained control of the island, and English words became part of Garifuna. After struggling to subdue the Garifuna people, the British sent many of them to Honduras.

When they arrived, Honduras was still under Spanish rule, and, as with French and English, the Garifuna language has many words adapted from Spanish. Garifuna people settled along the Caribbean coast of Central America and currently live in Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras; many have also immigrated to the U.S.

As I learn the language, I am reminded of this history through:
  • Differences in men's and women's speech.
  • Arawakan grammatical structure (Garifuna belongs to an Amerindian language family).
  • Many vocabulary words assimilated from French, English, and Spanish.

Also, the Garifuna culture reflects this mix:
  • Food related to what indigenous people in South America eat.
  • Music and dance based on African rhythms and drumming.
  • Festivals and holidays according to Catholic tradition.

Until next time... Binilabu Bungiu! (God bless you!) =)

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