The Garifuna people of San Pedro, Belize, have a new ambassador for 2015-16. She is Sheila Montero, sponsored by Victoria House. As Miss Garifuna, Sheila will help to tell the story of the rich history and culture of her ancestors to the schools and other groups on the island.
And it is an amazing — and heartbreaking — story to tell.
Garifuna are descended from shipwrecked African slaves who married into indigenous peoples on the Caribbean islands starting as far back as the 1600’s. They survived wars and ethnic cleansing by the conquering French. But in the late-1700’s the island of St. Vincent came under British rule and the British expelled the darkest skinned natives from the island. About 5,000 were shipped to the island of Roatan off the coast of Honduras. Only half survived the journey.
Even so, the island could not sustain the new population and so the Garifuna headed for the mainland, settling in coastal Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize. Garifuna have preserved their distinct culture — their own language, foods and music — while integrating into these countries. They are a distinct group within the diverse populations of Belize and the country recognized this by making Nov. 19, a national holiday, Garifuna Settlement Day.
There is so much more to this story. For example, the Garifuna have large populations in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
The pictures here are the culmination of a week’s celebration of the Garifuna culture. For the first time in 19 years, Miss Garifuna San Pedro is not an appointed ambassador of the culture. She was selected from among four young ladies who on Wednesday night demonstrated their knowledge of the culture and history and ability to speak the Garifuna language, on stage at the municipal field.
The four contestants were Nicole Dun, sponsored by Fido’s Restaurant and Courtyard; Sheila Montero ,sponsored by Victoria House; Ashanti Martinez, sponsored by Caribbean Villas; and Zennia Nuñez, sponsored by the Belize Tourism Board.
The outgoing Miss Garifuna, Tisane Martinez, crowned her successor Sheila Montero on Thursday morning under a brilliant Belizean sky. The ceremony was brief and lightly attended, preceded by a procession of the contestants from Central Park. After the previous night’s celebration of the Garifuna, Thursday’s ceremony was more of a quiet affirmation that the bloodline continues and the people will endure.
Scenes from the crowning of Miss Garifuna 2015-16: