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Film about Garifuna culture highlights African diaspora in the Caribbean

Garifuna theater performance COURTESY IMAGE

Garifuna theater performance
COURTESY IMAGE

By Steve Furay
Special to the Michigan Citizen

“Garifuna in Peril,” a provocative new film detailing African Diaspora culture and its struggle to survive is scheduled to premier in Detroit Nov. 16 at 4 p.m. at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. The film is presented in partnership with the Belize Garifuna Cultural Organization of Michigan and will feature an interview with co-director Ruben Reyes.

The film depicts the threat of the Garifuna culture, created by descendents of West Africans, Caribs and Arawaks living in the pre-Colombian Caribbean, being lost amongst a generation of youth disconnected to their history in the aftermath displacement by Europeans. “We are now facing imminent danger. (W)e could eventually lose our land, our culture, our identity and just become simple workers,” Reyes told the Michigan Citizen. “They are coming in to try to recolonize the area we inhabit, and call it neo-colonialism.”

“Garifuna in Peril” was co-written, produced and directed by filmmakers Ali Allie and Reyes, and filmed in both California and Honduras. Reyes, who plays the film’s lead character, Ricardo, is a scholar of the Garifuna language. Allie, who had already made a film in Honduras about the Garifuna people, was an ideal collaborator for him.

The dialogue is in English, Garifuna and Spanish, with English subtitles, illustrating the importance of language to culture and heritage. Reyes’ character, Ricardo, instructs the Garifuna language while living in Los Angeles, raising children with his wife and dedicating himself to preserving the Garifuna culture.  His goal is to build a Garifuna language school in Honduras, though the expansion of a tourist resort along the nation’s north coast threatens his property rights. His son, meanwhile, is rehearsing for a play about General Paramount Chief Joseph Satuyé and his army’s last stand against the British on the island of St. Vincent.

England was the first European nation to claim the Garifuna-populated island of Saint Vincent in the year 1627; later, French settlers made plantations, which profited from African slave labor. In 1796, Britain defeated the natives in war, deporting more than 5,000 to an island off the coast of Honduras. The Garifuna spread along the Caribbean coast, including Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua, with Diaspora communities later developing in New York, Los Angeles and other major U.S. cities.

COURTESY IMAGE

COURTESY IMAGE

“This film was a learning experience and kind of a wake-up call for us,” said Allie. “We went to cast the movie and were shocked that there was almost no one under 18 years old who spoke the language, and that was something we were kind of in denial about. And that’s when the film took on more urgency, and that’s when we came up with the title, ‘Garifuna In Peril.’”

“It’s related to all indigenous cultures,” said Allie, “and at different screenings we’ve had people stand up and make comments. We’ve had a Native American woman stand up and say ‘thank you for telling this story; this is my story.’ A Mayan women in Honduras said ‘this is also our story.’ It’s specific to Garifuna in one sense, but these are the issues — the cultural loss, the economic problems and the land grab — really relevant to all indigenous peoples.”

Some believe the colonial displacement of the Garifuna directly relates to the condition of others under colonial rule. Today, many people view the private management of Detroit by a non-elected appointee as a continuation of colonization, with private companies absorbing valuable public resources including land.

“The Garifuna, we’re not an exception from the atrocities and abuses that are happening,” said Reyes. “The fact is now the government and the rich people see our land as the lifeline of the country, where we should no longer live so it (can be set aside) for tourists.”

Reyes and Allie have been greatly encouraged by the public’s response to “Garifuna In Peril,” which has been viewed in film festivals in several countries since its release in 2012. “We see in Belize, Honduras and Guatemala, the people have embraced the message of the film because they can relate directly to their lives in their struggle,” said Reyes.

“It wasn’t just a showcasing of the culture and history, but it was really a wake-up call. The film became about how we educate the kids about this culture,” said Allie. “We’ve heard reports from parents who are taking their kids (to the movie), and their kids are becoming more interested, like, ‘I really want to learn this.’”

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