216 years after Satuye’s death – Garífuna expulsions continue

The following excerpts are taken from a communication from OFRANEH, the Honduran Black Fraternity Organisation, La Ceiba, 15 March 2011

On 14th March, 1795, on San Vincent Island, the hero of the Garífuna village Joseph Satuye died fighting against the British. Satuye waged two wars against British imperialism to defend the last bastion of Kalinagu people in the Caribbean.

The death of Satuye did not bring the fight to an end, and our ancestors continued fighting, … Eventually, we were confined to the Island of Baliceaux, where most of the captives died due to the cruel conditions of the captivity. Later our people were deported to Roatán Island in the Gulf of Honduras. Honduras’ independence brought changes and our people spread along the Central American Caribbean coast.

The arrival of the banana companies in Honduras began a process of de-territorialisation, which has intensified since the 1990s due to the growing speculation of real estate around mega-tourism projects. Although the sale of land to foreigners within the perimeters of community land titles was prohibited, in the last few decades there have been systematic sales of land.

For the Garífuna people, territory and culture are essential elements of our view of the world. The process of acculturation mixed with a false vision of development, however, has served as a pretext to assimilate us, to take our territory and to bring us into ‘modernity’.

The Garífuna neighbourhoods of Cristales and Rio Negro in Trujillo have historically been bastions of our people. The conversion of Rio Negro into the empire of a porn king (Canadian Randy Jurgensen) is another of the actions taken to expel the Garífunas from Honduras or to convert us into docile African descendents. Last Saturday, President Pepe Lobo accompanied the Porn King to the opening of the construction of the post-panamax cruise ship jetty. Mr. Lobo was presented with an environmental license for the jetty. However, studies had not been done on the bathymetry of the Bay of Trujillo and so sediment will have to be dredged from the bottom of the bay to make the jetty functional …

… the heirs of a nationalist ideology handed over the Bay of Trujillo to the Porn King. Meanwhile, the Garífuna communities continue to lose the small territory that was granted to them by the National Agrarian Institute (INA).

In 2009, the community of Guadalupe filed a complaint before the prosecutor for Ethnic Groups, about the encroachments and illegal sales by front men on behalf of the Porn King. As usual, these complaints were buried in oblivion and of course, the exhaustion of internal legal resources is a maze at the service of sheltered satraps who masquerade under the title of entrepreneurs.

Our people today once again reflect the death of Satuye and his glorious and heroic deeds against British imperialism; while still we contemplate the territory that we had in Honduras for 214 years. It has been converted into a piñata with the complicity of the authorities, including the consent and silence of those African descendants who are rich from the crumbs of the banquet of power.

The origins of Kuna militancy

The following extracts were taken from Judy Bennett’s Masters dissertation [1].

At the time of the Spanish Conquest between 300,000 and 700,000 Kuna-speaking peoples inhabited the Darién rainforest, an area that today remains one of the most inaccessible regions on earth. For 250 years the Kuna were under extreme pressure as the Spanish tried to colonise the Darién, mine the area’s gold, and subject the Indians to their political control. In 1787 the Kuna emerged triumphant but with their numbers greatly reduced by warfare and disease, and entered the nineteenth century with control of large areas of the Darién region of eastern Panama. The Kuna were almost unique in coming out of the Spanish period as an independent people, achieving this largely through alliances with English and French pirates, and through their willingness and ability to modify their social organisation. In 1831 New Spain granted them their independence.

Around 1850 the Kuna began to move onto the small coral atolls of te San Blas archipelago positioned closest to the coast. The reasons given for the move are varied, but it is generally thought to have been in order to avoid epidemics, probably due to malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and to be closer to the coastal traders with whom the Kuna traded tortoise shells and coconuts. This move continued slowly for the next seventy or so years, … some Kuna remaining in the Darién and Colombia to this day.


[1] Judy Bennett (1997) ‘San Blas: the Role of Control and Community Participation in Sustainable Tourism Development’, University of North London, M.A. dissertation, pp.9-10.

She draws on the following works:
Feeney, C.B. (1941) ‘Arch isolationists, the San Blas indians’, National Geographic Magazine, 79, 2.
Holloman, R. (1969) ‘Developmental Change in San Blas’, Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University, Ph.D. thesis.
Howe, J. (1986) ‘The Kuna gathering: contemporary village politics in Panama’, Latin American Monographs, no. 67, Austin: University of Texas Press.
Salvador, M.L. (1976) ‘The clothing arts of the Cuna of San Blas, Panama’, in Graburn, N.H.H. (Ed.) Ethnic and Tourist Arts: cultural expressions from the fourth world, Berkeley and Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, pp. 165-182.
Stout, D. (1947) San Blas Cuna Acculturation: an introduction, New York: Viking Fund, Publications in Anthropology, 9.

The Kuna of Panama turn the tables

Two examples from the Kuna’s twentieth century history illustrate their tendency to militancy and its importance.

After the creation of the state of Panama (as a territory independent from Colombia) in 1903, the new Panamanian government adopted a policy of acculturation of the country’s tribal groups into a culturally and economically modern national system. Traditional dress and ceremonies were banned and schools and police were introduced into tribal communities, including the San Blas islands. The general discontent with this situation led eventually to a brief revolt in 1925 in which all the police were either killed or driven off the islands. As a result, the comarca became officially autonomous in 1930, and in 1938 it gained official recognition as a Kuna reserve.[1]

Foreign ownership of land in the comarca is prohibited, and the second example of the Kuna’s militancy refers to the treatment of outsiders who have tried to open tourist facilities without the required approval of the Kuna General Congress (KGC), the Kuna’s governing body. Around the start of the 1970s, two North Americans, W.D. Barton and Tom Moody, opened two tourist resorts, one called ‘Islandia’ and the other on the island of Pidertupu. Both had gained permission of the local Kuna chiefs, but had failed to seek approval from the KGC. Both ‘owners’ were driven from the comarca, Barton’s hotel being burned down twice and Moody being injured in a shooting shortly after the formally announced deadline for his departure had passed. For further details of both cases the reader is referred to Swain (1989)[2] and Bennett (1997) [3].


[1] Howe, J. (1986) ‘The Kuna gathering: contemporary village politics in Panama’, Latin American Monographs, no. 67, Austin: University of Texas Press.
[2] Swain, M.B. (1989) ‘Gender Roles in Indigenous Tourism: Kuna Mola, Kuna Yala, and Cultural Survival’, in Smith, V.L. (Ed.) Hosts and Guests: The Anthropology of Tourism, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
[3] Judy Bennett (1997) ‘San Blas: the Role of Control and Community Participation in Sustainable Tourism Development’, University of North London, M.A Dissertation.