The outstanding service of Garifuna teachers in spreading the Catholic faith and establishing the solid foundation of Catholic education in Belize is often ignored or hardly mentioned in the country’s documented histories. The tremendous sacrifices that they and their families made to educate the Maya, the Mestizos, Creoles and other ethnic groups in the remote communities all over Belize, are interred in their bones.
They were never lauded for their immense contributions; rather they have faded from the nation’s collective memory. Only occasionally are their contributions mentioned in isolated discussions among their descendants who know very well the hardships that they themselves endured in the remotest communities where their fathers served. When their collective stories are told, it must be conceded that there was no greater sacrifice and love shown by any other ethnic group in Belize than the Garifuna teachers who laid down their lives for the education of others.
While Garinagu are now highly acclaimed for their dominant musical and cultural impact on Belize’s image at home and abroad, it must not be forgotten that it was their dedicated work, in partnership with the Jesuits that established the solid educational foundation for building Belize. From the late 1880s to the 1970s, Garifuna men were trained and deployed by the Jesuits as teachers/catechists to spread education and the faith to rural communities all over Belize. Primary education was the tool used to facilitate indoctrination into the Catholic faith.
The task was not for the feeble; it was for giants. To be employed as teachers in these hinterland communities these men had to possess a reasonably solid and above average education, qualities of leadership, good character, a pioneering spirit and the physical and mental stamina and adaptability to survive harsh, rugged life in these remote settings. Additionally, Garifuna men were also recognized by the Jesuits to possess a mental aptitude to learn different languages. Although the salary of teachers was very low at the time, their standard of living was relatively above that of their other peers who were usually fishermen, tradesmen or laborers. The respect accorded to those in the teaching profession gave them a certain degree of standing in the community.
For many years, Punta Gorda was the source of Garifuna teachers for schools all over the country. A number of them were pupil teachers or former students from the Catholic school there. Fr. Tenk who served in P. G. for almost twenty five years (1913-1937) was the priest most involved in teacher training. He worked hard to give these teachers every advantage during their training to become both efficient teachers and men of superb Catholic character.
It is hardly remembered that Punta Gorda was among the first seeds from which Catholicism was nurtured in Belize. The earliest date recorded at which a Catholic priest visited P.G. was in 1841 before that part of the country was even formally recognized as part of Belize’s territory. By that time the Garinagu who migrated from Honduras to found P.G. already came as Catholics, having been previously converted by zealous Spanish priests and to some extent, the French missionaries they encountered in St. Vincent prior to their expulsion by the British in 1797.
During those years of the early settlement of Belize, there seemed no effort by the dominant Anglican Church to evangelize and integrate the Garinagu settlers of the south or the Mestizo settlers of the north, as that church seemed to have been established mainly to serve the white settlers and their colored offspring. Attempts made by Methodist missionaries who had gone to evangelize them in Dangriga around the mid 1830s also failed when the Garinagu refused to abandon their own traditional spirituality as expected within Methodist values. (The historical dynamics of the churches in Belize and their underlying foundations to influence governance, politics, the public service and subtleties of ethnic relations well into the realities of post colonial Belizean society should make for an interesting analysis at another time.)
The experiences of my late grandfather Andres Patricio Enriquez, (1886-1951), who was conferred M.B.E. (Member of Order of the British Empire) by his Majesty the King George VI for his over 42 years of outstanding service as a teacher in the then colony of British Honduras, provides a glimpse of what other Garinagu teachers and their families experienced. For several years prior to installing a resident priest in San Antonio Village, Toledo District in 1941, Mr. Enriquez resided and served there in concomitant roles as Head Teacher, community leader, counselor and catechist. It was he who successfully reopened the school in 1907 after it had closed down several times since its opening in the late 1890s. Before him, other teachers had made several attempts, unsuccessfully, to keep the school open. Their attempts failed due to lack of interest on the part of the parents then to send their children to school, and the extremely harsh living conditions that those teachers could not accept. His determination to remain at the helm over several years was critical for the stability needed for developing the school and the community. Mr. Andres Enriquez worked and lived in San Antonio for a total of 28 years in two periods, 1907-1917 and 1932-1949 and was the longest serving Head Teacher/lay minister of that village. He had also served in a similar capacity in San Ignacio (1918-21) Progresso (1921-28), Forest Home, Barranco and Crique Sarco before returning to work San Antonio.
Re-establishing and maintaining the school and the church in San Antonio was no easy feat. At that time, the Mayas were scattered and isolated, and least interested in acquiring a formal education. Mr. Enriquez had to exert exceeding efforts to convince them to attend and remain in school. There was no road to the village in those early years. To reach San Antonio from his hometown of PG, Mr. Enriquez along with his wife, my grandmother, Jane V. Enriquez (1895-1968) had to walk for two days through trails traversing forest and hills for almost thirty miles, often wading barefooted through muddy, waist-deep, mosquito-infested swamps through the area now known as the Dump. At nights they’d camp out in abandoned dilapidated huts of logwood cutters along the trail. When they arrived in the village at the beginning of each school year, they had to remain there until the school vacation break before they could take the often treacherous journey back to PG. In the village they had to make do with living in the huts designated for teachers’ quarters. Due to the harsh sacrificial living conditions that they persistently endured in San Antonio, none of the first five children of Andres and Jane Enriquez were born alive. They also lost a two year old child around 1930, when influenza afflicted their family at Forest Home Village where he was serving as Head Teacher.
The travel to coastal or riverside communities was no less treacherous. To reach Crique Sarco, for example, my grandparents and their young children would travel in narrow canoes paddled by boatmen upstream against the strong currents of the Temash River to reach their station. No life vests then; only bracing tightly in the wobbly canoe, locally called dorey. A number of times at the beginning and end of the school vacation, their family would travel all the way from the southernmost P.G. to their other station in Progresso Village, Belize’s northernmost Corozal District in slow moving boats on a journey that took at least two days on often rough seas.
For the benefit of the younger generation it must be reminded that there was no electricity, no phone and no running water in those communities then. In San Antonio or Crique Sarco my grandmother had to wash in the river, cook over open fire hearth. In various communities where they served they had to learn the native language and adjust to the new culture. If they got ill in such secluded areas they had to improvise their own healing remedies. The expenses of the teacher and his family’s travel to and from various stations, and for transfer to other stations came out of their own meager salaries. During those earlier days, there was also no pension, no social security, nothing to fall back on after years of service. One was only thrown out to pasture upon retirement to fend for one’s self.
It was only when Mr. Enriquez was teaching in more hospitable communities (such as San Ignacio or Progresso) or when Mrs. Enriquez briefly remained in PG that six of their children were born alive: – Olivia, Zenobia, Elicia, Solomon, Peter and Constantine. The children spent most of their childhood and young adult years in the villages where their parents served. Like the family of other Garifuna teachers, my grandfather, grandmother and all their children were very articulate in Garifuna, Maya, Spanish, and English – a powerful nation-building skill hardly ventured or attained by other ethnic groups in Belize.
Since the priests visited the village about once every three to six months, Mr. Enriquez like the other teachers also held over as the catechist to sustain and nurture the faith. He conducted prayer services, Sunday services, funeral services, and taught the faith among the people as he resided among them just as the other teachers would do. It was only after the PG-San Antonio Road was completed in 1940 that the church built a residence to accommodate the priest. The attractive stone structure where the priest lived was far more durable and comfortable than the harsh native conditions under which the teacher and his family had to live in for decades. These comforts provided for foreign priests and nuns were not made available to local teachers.
Experiences as these portray only a glimpse of the sacrifices that several Garifuna men and their families have made in their service as pioneering partners in taking education to the remotest areas all over Belize. Among these outstanding men were Messrs. Eugene Cayetano, the father of Roy Cayetano (retired CEO in the Ministry of Rural Development); John Zuniga, the father of Edmund Zuniga (Accountant General); Charles Martinez Sr. (father of Minister Peter Eden Martinez); Francis Cayetano, the father of Rev. Callistus Cayetano, and his brothers Joseph, Fabian, Sabastian, and Alfonso; Simeon Marcus Sampson Sr. (whose son of the same name is an outstanding lawyer in Belize); Santiago Labriel (grandfather of Ernest Castro); John Paulino, Aparicio Marin, Sam B. Daniels, Francis Martinez, Peter Avila, Joe Ogaldez, Candido Arzu, Theodore Palacio, among several others too numerous to mention. Just as they had outstanding character, they expected and demanded no less from their families and the communities where they served. (See attached photo.)
It is not surprising then, that as a natural progression, a number of Garifuna men (e.g. Fr. Callistus Cayetano, Fr. Marin, Fr. Lloyd Lopez, Fr. Lazarus Augustine, Fr. Larry Nicascio and others) also became priests. Bishop O. P. Martin, formerly a Garifuna teacher, became the first Belizean Roman Catholic Bishop. A number of Garifuna women (e.g. Sr. Barbara Flores, Sr. Irene Locario, Sr. Avila OSP, Sr. Josita Marie Ogaldez, and others) became nuns. While the descendants of the British and Creoles saw and guarded their upward mobility mainly through the government service, the Garinagu in those days saw theirs mainly through teaching and their commitment to the church.
Interestingly, as the brightest and the best Garifuna leaders were deployed to serve other people and other communities throughout the length and breadth of Belize over several decades, this brain drain has arguably diluted the likely powerful development impact on their own Garinagu communities to result in the impoverished and vulnerable socioeconomic conditions that these communities face today. The challenge now is to continue through our various professions, to build strong foundations from which more Garinagu people can benefit, and not disappoint the legacy of our forebears. Gibe mémegili wayumaha; Wabaronguóun meme wamá. Our aspirations are still many; let us keep moving forward.
First published in Amandala Nov. 2011.
Jeremy A. Enriquez, a Development Consultant and former Academic Director for the School for International Training’s Study Abroad program, is the son of the late Mr. Solomon Enriquez and Dativa Enriquez, and the grandson of the late Andres P. Enriquez. His academic qualifications includes degrees in Education, Psychology, Sociology and Development Studies.