THE GARIFUNA FLAG
The Garifuna flag consists of three horizontal strips of black, white and yellow, in that order, starting from the top. This flag has long been accepted internationally as the flag of the Garifuna Nation and the colours have been used in any forum where Garifuna people assert their Garifuna identity. The flag of the National Garifuna Council is identical to the Garifuna flag with the addition of the NGC logo set in a white circle in the center.
This flag represents an evolution that commenced with the Carib International Society (CIS) whose flag was made up of horizontal strips of red, yellow and black. Red (funati) stood for the blood of the Garifuna, black (w?riti) the skin of the Garifuna and yellow (dumari) the food of the Garifuna. T.V. Ramos added the strip of white (haruti) in the middle, substituting it for the red, when he formed the Carib Development Society (CDS). Carib International Society, as the name implies, was international in scope and its development appears to have been facilitated by the convergence of Garinagu from the various countries in places like Puerto Barrios where they flocked in search of employment with the United Fruit Company. The area of operations of the Carib Development Society, on the other hand, was limited to Belize although the influence of its initiatives spread far beyond the borders of Belize and laid the foundation for the later emergence of its successor, the National Garifuna Council.
What is the significance of the colours of the Garifuna flag? This question has been asked quite frequently and some attempts have been made to answer it although I am not aware of any written explanation. I will now try to piece together what I have heard, with the hope that this will evoke some reaction that can contribute to a full and complete documentation of the significance of the colours. It should also be noted that it is people who give meaning to symbols. We, therefore, have the option of expanding on whatever meanings have been handed down to us by the originators of the CIS and CDS flags.
It would be remiss of me not to mention an attempt made by Ruben Reyes to propose a flag for the Garifuna Nation. The colours are essentially the same. He also proposes a logo set in a shield in the center. I believe that it is a good effort and that the various country Garifuna organizations should respond to him with a view to its possible adoption. Perhaps Ruben should circulate pictures by email so that we may resume the conversation that he proposed a couple years ago.
The black strip, which is located at the top, represents the black ancestry of the Garifuna people. The people have always acknowledged the African input into what became the Garifuna people, a phenomenon that occurred in St. Vincent starting in the seventeenth Century.
This colour, at another level, recognizes the hardships and injustices that the people have had to endure, their struggles for survival and the odds that they have had to overcome in the course of their history. Apart from the experience of the Middle Passage, which we share with other black people of the Americas, there was the imprisonment on Balliceaux, the exile from our Vincentian homeland after the so called Carib Wars and the replay of the Middle Passage in the form of the mass forced relocation to Central America.
Tough though these experiences have been, they helped to strengthen our spirit and shape our spirituality which is based on the principle of reciprocity captured in the Mal? song in the words ?Aura buni Iyaya wa?, am?r? nuni? ? I for you, Grandmother, and you for me.
The yellow strip at the bottom of the flag symbolizes the other half of the ancestry of the Garifuna ? the Amerindians or Yellow Caribs as they were referred to by Europeans. These were actually a mixture of Caribs and Arawaks and formed the host community in which the fusion of Africa and South America took place to give rise to the emergence of the Garinagu as a distinct group indigenous to the circum-Caribbean region.
In contrast to the hardships experienced in the course of history, the yellow symbolizes the hope and prosperity. Yellow is the colour of grated cassava, which is further processed to make ereba, one of our staple foods. It is the colour of cassava juice, a colour that is further brought out in the process of turning it into dumari, an additive for enhancing sauces, soups and stews. (It seems to have been an identifying feature of Garifuna people as it is the ?tumali? that is referred to in the racial slur ?Salt head Kerub, tumali water?). Yellow is also the colour of the rising sun, which brings new promise and much hope for a better life. Yellow, therefore, represents hope, plenty and prosperity, as well as the Carib/Arawak input into the Garifuna identity.
The white strip, located in the middle between the black and the yellow, reminds us of the role of the white man (Europe) in the history and formation of the Garifuna people ? the forcible removal and enslavement of the African, the seizure of Garifuna land, which precipitated the Garifuna resistance, and the forcible removal of the people from St. Vincent. Even after the arrival and dispersal in Central America, it was still necessary to deal with the white man.
At another level, white symbolizes the peace that has eluded the Garifuna people for most of their turbulent history – the peace for which they continue to yearn.
At one level, the colours represent the three principal races, with the black and yellow representing the African and the Carib/Arawak elements that fused to become the Garifuna. At a deeper level, the black symbolizes the hardships and injustices that we managed to survive in the course of our history, the yellow symbolizes hope and the prosperity for which we continue to struggle, and the white symbolizes peace.
Note: The relative position of the colours needs to be clarified or agreed. It is clear that the white strip is always in the middle. The problem is with the black and yellow. I have referred to the black as being on top partly because of the location on the samples I looked at when I was writing this and partly because the colours have always been referred to as ?black, white and yellow? and we normally start at the top. However, I have since seen some examples in which the black is at the bottom, including the proposal from my cousin, Ruben Reyes.