The Garífuna trace their history to the island of St Vincent, in the eastern Caribbean, where two Spanish ships carrying slaves from Nigeria to America were wrecked off the coast in 1635. The survivors took refuge on the island, which was inhabited by Caribs, themselves recent arrivals from South America. At first the Caribs and Africans fought, but the Caribs had been weakened by disease and wars against the native Kalipuna, and eventually the predominant race became black with some indigenous blood, known by the English as the Black Caribs, or Garífuna.

For most of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries St Vincent fell nominally under British control, though in practice it belonged to the Garífuna, who fended off British attempts to gain full control until 1796. The British colonial authorities, however, would not allow a free black society, so the Carib population was hunted down and transported to Roatán, off the coast of Honduras. The Spanish Commandante of Trujillo, on the Honduran mainland, took the surviving Black Caribs to Trujillo, where they became in demand as free labourers, fishermen and soldiers.

In the early nineteenth century small numbers of Garífuna moved up the coast to Belize. The largest single migration took place in 1832, when thousands fled from Honduras after they supported the wrong side in a failed revolution to overthrow the government. It is this arrival that is today celebrated as Garífuna Settlement Day.

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