Human Interest

Honduras’ Garifuna people recall 226 years of poverty, sea damage

By German Reyes

Bajamar, Honduras, Apr 12 (EFE).- The Garifuna people of Bajamar, in the Caribbean coastal section of Honduras, on Wednesday are commemorating 226 years since their first black ancestors were brought to the country, living in poverty and amid serious damage caused by the sea, both of which each year are affecting the community more and more, destroying homes built on the edge of the beach.

According to historical information, the first Garifuna – nowadays of mixed African and indigenous American ancestry – arrived in Honduas as slaves on April 12, 1797, brought from the island of St. Vincent.

They disembarked at Punta Gorda, on the island of Roatan, and over time they moved to the mainland, settling along Honduras 700-kilometer (435-mile) Caribbean coastline.

The same ocean that every year attracts untold thousands of domestic and foreign tourists has become an ever more powerful force that in the last 30 years has caused severe damage to the environment and to structures in several communities, like Bajamar, in Cortes province, where the beaches have been practically eroded away.

The force of the sea – mainly during hurricanes and tropical storms, or other natural disasters like earthquakes and other weather phenonena, all a product of climate change – has altered Honduran geography in its coastal zones along the Caribbean and Pacific.

“When Hurricane Mitch came – in late 1998 – it swept away my house with everything that was inside. I only saved my children and my own life,” Epifania Colon, 59, told EFE in Bajamar as she cleaned small fish she had bought to fry and then sell.

Of the plot of land that she inherited from her mother, where Colon built her house using cement blocks five years before Hurricane Mitch hit, no trace remains because the sea, which has been gradually sweeping away the Bajamar beach, “swallowed it,” she said.

Colon, the mother of seven children, one of whom is deceased, called herself a “fighter” and said that her mother lived, like most of her neighbors, in a hut made of manaca shrubs, just a few meters (yards) from the beach.

One day before Hurricane Mitch devastated the Honduran Caribbean zone, Colon’s father Vivian told her to take all her belongings from her house because “a hurricane was coming,” but she didn’t believe him “because I had never seen such a powerful thing before.”

“On the next day I came to check on the house and I found that it was like it had never existed. I didn’t do anything but start crying. If I would have paid attention to my dad I’d have saved my belongings,” she said.

Marked by what she suffered during and after Mitch, Colon – who sells not only fried fish but also coconut water, dried coconuts, bread and pumice stone, among other things – build a new house out of cement located on the other side of the main street dividing Bajamar and running parallel to what was formerly a beach frequented by many tourists, although practically nobody comes there any longer.

In 1998, when Hurricane Mitch hit, Vanessa Cloter was 16 and living with her mother.

Over the years, Vanessa, who has followed in her mother Epifania’s footsteps, began living on her own and also devoted herself to selling fish and coconut bread, which she makes herself.

With her partner, Vanessa has had three children and her cement house “right on the beach” was also destroyed by the storm.

Tropical Storms Eta and Iota, which lashed Honduras in November 2020, wiped out many homes in Bajamar, including Vanessa’s, with just a few walls and ruins remaining as if it has been destroyed in an earthquake or a bomb attack.

“The sea continues to hurt us a lot. It collapsed the house where I lived, I lost everything. The sea came to Bajamar, many houses were destroyed,” Vanessa told EFE, preferring not to speak on camera. The new house she built is next to her mother’s, more than 100 meters (yards) from the sea.

She added that her original house, which she built after Hurricane Mitch, had three bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining room and a bathroom, and she had invested about 300,000 lempiras (about $12,000) in it.

Mariana, 69, has had 15 children, of whom 10 are still living, and curtly talked about the years when “the sea was farther away,” very distant from the houses along the beach.

“When we went to the beach we had to walk a ways, but now no,” she said, watching the fishermen bring in a good catch to sell in town.

Related Articles

Back to top button