The islands come to the mainland


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Published: May 13th 2005EDIT THIS ENTRY

Spent the last three days in this Garifuna village, apparently the second largest Garifuna village in the world. This is a side of Latin America I’ve never seen before. The Garifuna settled the north coast of Central America, coming from the Caribbean Islands over 200 years ago. Their original landfall was on one of the Bay Islands just of the coast from here, and from there they have spread out along the coast from Belize at least as far as Nicaragua, and perhaps further, I don’t know.
There is not much to do here. It is stiflingly hot. If you just sot perfectly still, it’s fine, but the moment you stand up and start to walk sweat starts pouring from you. The village is a collection of randomly placed concrete houses stretching along two or three kilometers of coast. Property in the Garifuna tradition is communal, so there are almost no fences. Your claim to a plot of land is simply based on the fact that you live there. This makes for some murky situations when developers come along and want to build here, and in fact the east side of town is made up entirely of large walled in estates built and occupied by outsiders. Apparently a number of years ago a few people in the town council got together and decided to sell off that portion of the village, but its not clear that everyone agreed. There are therefore now people who want to take back that land.
It’s a funny little place. There are almost no restaurants, at least not labeled as such, and what few there are seem to be closed. Apparently they open up on the weekends when hordes of Latino Hondurans come down from the cities to spend the day on the beach. But in the middle of the week, nothing much is going on.
These concrete houses are not the traditional housing form of the Garifuna, and probably most have been built in the years since Hurricane Mitch flattened the area in 1998. Don Ambrosius Bocho, the owner of one of the few local restaurants that stays open during the week, points out one short stretch of wall separating the kitchen from the restaurant courtyard that is built in the traditional manner. He took it from the house where his mother and grandmother were born, and it is apparently over a hundred years old.
Most places that I have traveled, the locals have looked upon us as though we were children. The Mayans particularly react this way. In their eyes we are hopeless, lacking the most fundamental life skills. Add to this that we seem particularly carefree, with nothing to do, and that we behave foolishly in their eyes, and it begins to become clear that the smiles and laughter they offer come from the same source as the indulgence and amusement children inspire.
Here, however, it is different. The Garifuna, it appears to me, believe that we are entirely too stressed, always moving, always doing something, needing something, looking for something, instead of just sitting down and relaxing. They laugh at us not because we are silly children but because we are altogether too serious.


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