The Garifuna, a Voice in a Chorus

The Garifuna, a Voice in a Chorus

Bahram Nadimi
Bahram Nadimi

I love Startrek TNG (the next generation) and have seen all the episodes at least once.  I have been thinking about one of the episodes lately, called “first contact”, a story of an undercover first contact mission, where Riker is captured by the xenophobic aliens, who believe he is a scout for an invasion.  One line at the end of the episode was profound and  has stayed with me.  Here the head of state of the previously unknown humanoid race of Malcor III, after he learns that they are not alone in the galaxy, states:

“This morning I was the leader of the universe as I know it. This afternoon, I’m only a voice in a chorus.”

Which brings me to the subject of this blog, a feature film about the unique and interesting culture of the Garifuna people, in Honduras Central America, co-directed by a good friend of mine, Ali Allie called “Garifuna in Peril”.  You might ask: what is the connection between a Startrek episode and a movie about a seemingly obscure culture most people have never heard of.  Hopefully I can pull these unrelated threads together.  First a bit of history:

Who are the Garifuna?

The Garinagu (plural of Garifuna) are descendants of Carib, Arawak and West African people who live in the coastal regions of Central America. Since they refused to submit to slavery, the Garifuna managed to preserve both their African roots and their Amerindian heritage, a fusion resulting in a unique ethnicity considered indigenous to the Americas. In 2001, UNESCO proclaimed the language, dance and music of the Garifuna as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. However, even with this acknowledgement in intellectual and educational circles, the survival of the culture is at risk due to globalization, poverty, AIDS, discriminatory land measures, and lack of educational opportunities [1].   A significant percentage of them have left Central America and now reside in the United States, with strong communities in New York City and Los Angeles.

A Garifuna ceremony in Roatan, Honduras

The Honduras Connection

Ali’s journey started when he was a young boy; his parents adopted two orphans from Honduras and hence his connection to Honduras was cemented early on.  Later on as a young adult he visited Honduras many times where he learnt about the Garifuna.  Being a filmmaker he  was inspired to make his first movie about the Garifuna in 1997, called “El Espiritu de mi Mama” (the spirit of my mother).  I had the privilege of joining him in Honduras, where we went to the outskirts of the rain forest in north east Honduras.  It is a trip I will remember forever, where I gained a deep appreciate of the unique culture of the Garifuna people.  While this film did not make it to the big screen, it did get picked up by a distributor and even now is available for purchase online.

Garifuna in Peril

Ali and his friend and scholar, Ruben Reyes, were deeply concerned regarding  the survival of this culture that in its present state is at risk of extinction.   So about 3 years ago, they decided to make a movie to raise awareness. Here is a description of the movie(also see trailer):

“The movie GARIFUNA IN PERIL  is about Ricardo (played by co-director Ruben Reyes), a Garifuna Language teacher in Los Angeles attempting to preserve his endangered Garifuna culture and language by making plans to build a language school in his home Garifuna village in the Central American country of Honduras…Co-directed by Ali Allie and Ruben Reyes and naturalistically shot, with debut performances by nearly the entire cast; Garifuna in Peril makes its own history as the first feature film with the majority of dialogue in Garifuna, a language proclaimed by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2001″[4].

tesrI did travel with Ali and Ruben to Honduras again, where I helped with sound and did some cinematography.   The Movie is finished and is now making its rounds in the film festivals in the United States.

London and New York Premier

The movie’s world premier was in London England around thanksgiving of last year, and was greeted with a very warm reception; the Belize and Honduran ambassadors to the UK attended the screening thus setting the tone for future screenings.  It was however in New York City at the 20th annual African Diaspora International Film Festival (ADIFF) in December of last year where the film made a significant impact, and was greeted with an enthusiastic and motivated audience.  They recognized its unique style, and community conscious  film-making.  Good reviews followed.   Here is what one fan had to say:

“I went to see Garifuna in Peril last night and let me say Wow! Wow! and Wow!. it covered so much about Garifuna culture that it was like taking a history lesson. When this goes to DVD, every Garifuna household should … get to see it. It was like being in St.Vincent. The British might have taken the Garinagu out of St.Vincent, but they never took the St.Vincent out of the Garinagu. This was a splendid film. A good film is never long enough and a bad film is always too long. Let me say that at the end of the film, I wanted to shout keep it going. The story pulls you in and at the end you want to see a part two. Both Ruben Reyes and Ali Allie have done a great job and Ruben’s acting was really impressive. This film needs to target black and indigenous studies department at universities and be available online so that students can purchase it. I know as soon as it comes out I want my little boys to see it. A film like this needs mass distribution… If we support Garifuna films, we could have our own film industry. What better way is there to educate the next generation about our culture. Great job Gentlemen!!!   I see this as worthy of being in every public and college library. It’s a beautiful movie and I hope it is one of many more to come.” [2]

Flower in a Garden

Abdu’l-Baha, the Son of Baha’u’llah the Prophet founder of the Baha’i faith said:

“Consider the flowers of the rose garden. Although they are of different kinds, various colors and diverse forms and appearances, yet as they drink from one water, are swayed by one breeze and grow by the warmth and light of one sun, this variation and this difference cause each to enhance the beauty and splendor of the others. The differences in manners, in customs, in habits, in thoughts, opinions and in temperaments is the cause of the adornment of the world of mankind [3]”

I was speechless and became teary-eyed when I saw the finished version of this important movie. It is truly a labor of love. I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate Ali, Ruben all others associated with this noble endeavor, on an outstanding achievement that will have far reaching ripple effects. We cannot let a unique culture like the Garifuna become extinct.   We cannot afford to lose a voice in a chorus.  The chorus will be incomplete and flawed otherwise.



[2] From  Trish St. Hill , St. Vincentian author of the fiction  books, Beneath The Golden Mango Tree and it’s sequel, Beyond The Mango’s Shade…”

[3] Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 295




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2 thoughts on “The Garifuna, a Voice in a Chorus

    1. Thanks for your comments Brother Flagg

      I was thinking about you and the trip to Honduras not too long ago. Also again my apologies on being obnoxious at times on the trip.

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