The Garifuna people are a group of mixed racial ancestry living in Central America, especially in Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Around half a million people are considered members of this cultural group, with some Central American governments offering special protections to the Garifuna people in a desire to protect their culture and heritage. Like many minority ethnic groups, the Garifuna struggle with social and racial prejudice.
This group originated in the Caribbean, particularly on the island of Saint Vincent. The Garifuna people are descended from African slaves who intermarried with native Carib and Arawak Indians, leading some people to refer to them as “Black Caribs” historically. Much of the African heritage in the Garifuna comes from escaped slaves, who used intermarriage with native people to protect themselves from being recaptured and sold. The Garifuna also claim some French and Spanish ancestry, illustrating the complex racial miscegenation which was common in the region during the colonial era.
In the late 1700s, the Garifuna were forcibly removed from Saint Vincent, because they were viewed as a political threat. They were essentially set adrift and pointed roughly in the direction of the mainland, settling as they landed and establishing small communities. Some of these communities endure today, while others have since broken up. A diaspora from Central America has led many of the Garifuna to settle in American cities like Los Angeles.
These people are culturally distinct from the other racial and ethnic groups in Central America. While their mixed heritage is not terribly unusual, their cultural traditions reflect a unique blend of African, Indian, and Catholic beliefs that have been preserved over the centuries since their expulsion. The Garifuna also have a rich tradition of dance, music, and storytelling which has been heavily influenced by African traditions, and they are generally a very peaceful group.
Because of their mixed heritage, the Garifuna people have dealt with discrimination from a number of other groups. In Central America, many Garifuna settlements are on land of poor quality, reflecting their relatively impoverished state, and many of the Garifuna lack access to education and other tools which could be used to improve their living conditions. Some organizations and governments have attempted to remedy this by promoting anti-discrimination legislation and providing rural healthcare, education, and other programs which are supposed to help improve the lot of the Garifuna. Some Garifuna have chosen to relocate to other areas of the world, rather than deal with conditions in Central America.