Thursday, July 26, 2007

Andy Palacio: Diffusing Garifuna Culture Internationally

Andy Palacio, a Garifuna singer and songwriter from Belize and a former teacher and current government minister, has been recording a string of hits and making news across Central and North America. Recent coverage in the US press has included feature articles in The San Francisco Chronicle (see: "Music that could save a culture," by Chuly Varela, Wednesday July 25 2007, which appeared on page E-1 of the print edition), and The Wall Street Journal (see: "Black, Amerindian and Proud of Building on a Tradition," by Ed Ward, June 26 2007, which appeared on page D5 of the print edition).

In The San Francisco Chronicle article, Palacio speaks at length on the issue of the Garifuna language. He says: "I think my generation in Belize is the last to be raised where Garifuna was our first language in the home, streets and playground. But in the classroom, English was the language of instruction." He adds that, "in its essence Garifuna is one of the Arawak family of languages, with borrowed words from Africans, who intermarried with Arawaks and Caribs. The French also had a significant impact on the Garifuna vocabulary when we were relocated to the Central American republics."

Palacio also praises the role of women in maintaining Garifuna culture: "[It is] the women who have nurtured these songs and kept them alive [and the] men who have been beating these drums all along. Our mothers who have retained in their minds recipes for tasty Garifuna dishes. It is at their feet that I sit in order to learn."

The article in the SFC also notes that, "in 2001, UNESCO proclaimed the Garifuna language, music and dance Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Palacio played an important role in securing that recognition, and that led to his appointment as deputy administrator of the National Institute of Culture and History in Belize."

The Wall Street Journal article also reveals Palacio's concern for the loss of the Garifuna language, rooted in a visit to a Garifuna community in Nicaragua where the language had virtually disappeared: "This established a certain consciousness in me, that there was the frightening prospect that we could wind up in Belize like the Garifuna in Nicaragua."

The article ends on a note of ambiguity, indicating that while Palacio has generated a great deal of excitement at home and abroad, it is doubtful whether his success will help to preserve the language. On the other hand, as the writer of the article noted, similar efforts to revive Cajun music and Irish music in the 1960s and afterwards proved successful.

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