Guatemala -
April 07, 2022

‘Africamericanos’ in Guatemala: an invitation to reconnect with roots

The saying that words are carried away by the wind and that paper can withstand anything is still very much repeated. Since the development of writing and the impact of the invention of the printing press, the Western cultures of the global North imagined that writing was the only proper way to record history, memory, and knowledge. Such sayings continue to reproduce the idea that only what is written endures over time.

Words like these have fed ideas that assume that there are hierarchies between cultures and especially cultural differences. They also validate certain forms of knowledge and consider them superior to others. With time, thanks to political and cultural claims and some studies, we know that the vast majority of peoples have preserved their knowledge and traditions through memory and oral tradition. This has allowed the importance of this difference to be recognized and the need to nurture and promote it. As J. Vansina says, “orality implies an attitude towards reality and not just a lack of something.”

This certainty is the basis of the project Alimentar el fuego de la memoria (Feed the memory fire), which in November 2021, visited the town of Livingston in Guatemala. Livingston has a large Garifuna population and is considered the “black” and Mayan city of the country.  This community sefll recognized as descendants of indigenous Caribs and Africans. The Garifuna inhabit territories in Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the United States.

Victor Ellington was in charge of field production at this workshop, becoming one of the most enthusiastic participants. Victor is a dancer, choreographer, and model. He has been interested in photography for some time. He was contacted by a friend to work with the Vist team. He currently lives in Guatemala City but was born in Livingston, and like many migrants, he felt that simultaneous sensation of belonging and not belonging.

For him, participating in the workshop was an incredible experience. He feels that it allowed him to reconnect with his people and roots. At the end of the workshop, together with Oscar Martinez, Joharick Bengochea, and Lead Gamboa, they formed the group Uwani Collective.

How was the process of getting people from the village interested in participating in the workshop?

It involved several trips. These events rarely happen in Livingston. I think we are a town that is quite jealous of what it has for many reasons and rarely opens the doors for this kind of thing to happen, even more so when it comes to culture. However, the community is relatively small, so we know each other quite well. We also had the support of the Casa de la Cultura Garífuna.
It took a while for people to arrive. Finally, all the people who had signed up showed up, and most of them were pretty interested. We all had individual and collective progress.
I understand that your participation went beyond production.

Yes, it was a little tricky, but I wanted to do the exercises. And even though I couldn’t be 100%, I managed to take several photos. I loved everything I did in the workshop. For me, the most important thing was the possibility to share with the people in the workshop.

In other places, several people have talked about the exercise of listening to sounds or identifying smells and the association made with memory. Do you remember anything about this exercise?

Yes, I remember that it was an interpretation exercise. The listening exercise marked me a lot. I consider myself a very auditory person because music and dance are part of my nature. These exercises were a challenge because, with your eyes open, you can stimulate your imagination more, but with only one sense working, in this case, hearing, it was more difficult. Besides, listening to what my classmates were saying was very impressive.

What was the meeting with the elders like, and what role did you play?

There I was, just a listener. Besides good, we coordinated the space and took care of all the logistical details. The three guests have a vital role in the community. We talked about history and discussed some points of that history. It was interesting because we could hear their experience and their point of view, which moved our perspectives a lot.

It was imposing because you realize the mysteries that a town keeps. After all, there are many things that you still don’t understand. Besides, there is no conclusion; there are questions that have no answers. I had started researching Garifuna’s history, but this meeting gave me a different vision.
Besides, we went to interview my grandmother. She was sick and passed away a few days ago. She gave us a point of view that had not been touched by ourselves: being a Garifuna in the territory. My grandmother described the village as it was before. Then I went around the town imagining how it was before, imagining what she had told us.

Tell me a little about Uwani Collective, the collective born in the workshop.

Basically, we, those involved at the moment, hope to generate a beautiful movement that projects the Garifuna culture of Livingston Izabal most honestly and authentically possible and also be a starting point for different initiatives and artistic projects in our town.


Video credits

Audiovisual Production
– Jorge Moreno Blanco

Editing, Editing and Colorization
– Paolo García Nigrinis

Direct Sound
– Pablo Tobar

– Victor Ellington

This project was made with the support of the Centro de formación de la Cooperación Española en Cartagena de Indias of Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo. Photographer and visual artist Jorge Panchoaga coordinated the workshop.

We are grateful for the participation of Carlos Arana and the support of the Presidential Commission against Discrimination and Racism against Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala.