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Making The Pilgrimage To Balliceaux

pilgrimage_BalliceauxThe island of Balliceaux, which lies to the west of Bequia and north of Mustique, is of immense significance to persons of Garifuna ancestry. It is to this island that the English banished about 5000 of their ancestors following the defeat of Chief Joseph Chatoyer in the 1795. 

Half of them died on the island; the others were deported to Roatan Island off the coast of Honduras. Today, they reside in Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, the USA and other countries around the world. Yurumei, the Garifuna name for St. Vincent, is recognized as their ancestral home.  

As has become the custom over the recent past, a pilgrimage to Balliceaux was held to coincide with the celebration of Nationals Heroes Day (March 14) here, and to remember this country’s first national hero, Paramount Garifuna Chief Joseph Chatoyer.

The pilgrimage was held on March 10 this year, and the pilgrims included visiting Garifuna, government officials, members of the Garifuna Heritage Foundation and media persons. Aboard the Fantasy Tours yacht, the Rose Hall Drummers and the Garifuna drummers entertained the passengers. The choppy waves rocked the boat from side to side, giving the pilgrims a feel of the plight those banished Garifuna  endured.

The day’s rough seas did not allow the yacht to make the final 3 minutes to the shore, and with no wharf along which to moor, a speed boat was deployed to take persons to shore.  But the waves had a different idea, as they tossed the speed boat to and fro.  Those who could, made the dash for shore; the majority of persons had to take an extra 15-minute ride in order to alight on the western side of the island, some distance away from the area designated as sacred Garifuna territory.

On the Island

On arrival, persons, Garifuna visitors in particular, could be seen weeping openly and praying.  Emotions ran high.

The pilgrims then journeyed up a hill where a sacred ritual was led by anthropologist Dr. Joseph Palacio and spiritual healer Lucia Ellis, both Garifuna from Belize.

The ritual involved the sprinkling of rum on the ground, the smoking of tobacco and a special prayer, which was done by Lucia Ellis. The ancestors must have felt her prayers for the sky opened to bring a shower of rain.  No one moved. Turning to the gathering, Ellis stated:  “We are a nation.  Wherever we are we know each other, we see each other and we can identify each other, whether we are from New York, Canada, Honduras , Jamaica, Belize, St.Vincent , also Trinidad”. She noted that the Garifuna didn’t suffer in vain.

Noting that the Garifuna didn’t suffer in vain, she said:  “They had a vision. They kept moving for a better quality of life, let us not forget that.” She urged persons to communicate with their ancestors “because they tell us, they advise us but we have to listen, we have to be good listeners, loving listeners, listeners with a vision.”

Ellis presentation was followed by a short presentation in Garifuna by Dr. Palacio after which there was cultural performances from the drummers and renditions of folks songs by Erasto Robertson.

The drummers then lead a procession back to the beach from where persons were transported by speed boat to the yacht for the journey back to St. Vincent, an experience that exiled Garifuna ancestors never enjoyed.

The pilgrimage was part of the activities of the International Garifuna Conference held here from March 10 – 14.

Source of article:
by Kenville Horne
The Vincentian