Back to the Roots – The Role of Migrants in the Construction of the Garinagu’s Ethnicity


This study examines how migrants construct and influence traditional values of their cultural heritage. Using ethnographical material from the Garinagu (an ethnic group from Central America of Amerindian and African decent), it focuses on how migrants in the USA are tangled in as well as exposed to different identity categories and how this affects the Garinagu in Honduras.
The study traces the Garinagu’s historic roots and, by the use of a semiotic approach, a significant connection is discovered between the history of the Garinagu and the social meaning imbedded in the root crop cassava. The social meaning, however, is only relevant in the context of the Garinagu. Furthermore, the study explores how the Garinagu in the USA construct their identity, and how they make use of cassava to inform about their ethnicity. Last but not least the migrants’ impact on their community in Honduras is discussed.
I argue that the migrants play a crucial role in constructing and reconstructing the traditional values of the Garinagu because they, in their new cultural setting, discover the uniqueness of their group, and obtain knowledge about taste preferences of other cultures as well as knowledge of how to appeal to a larger range of political organs. Even though the form of the cassava tradition is changing, the social code imbedded in the roots stays the same at least for now.

Key Words: Garinagu, Garifuna, cassava, ethnicity, food, migrants, ereba, roots, transnational, USA, Honduras, Central America, gastro-politics, gastroethnic images, ethnic emblems, categorization, definition, identity, semiotics


In this global era, a significant part of the inhabitants of the world are living as migrants. Anthropologist Arjun Appadurai (1996:48-49) notices that this has led to the point that ethnic groups no longer can be observed from one point of locality. Instead ethnicity should be seen as a ”landscape of group identity” with cultural flows. The flows move between members of the landscape, who are localized different places on earth, and who all contribute to the construction of a group identity. Appadurai calls the landscape ”ethnoscape”.
The purpose of this study is to contribute with an insight in how the meeting between migrants and their new society can strengthen their own feeling of ethnicity as well as the ethnic awareness in their home society. In this study home is used to describe the place where the person in question, or his family, originally has migrated from.
My point of reference is the ethnic group Garinagu. The majority of the Garinagu are living as transmigrants, which means they often travel between the United States and either Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua or Guatemala (England 1999:44). They thereby belong to a transnational community, meaning that the social processes of their community are embedded in and lived out in several national contexts simultaneously (England 2006:4).
About 300 years before Colombus discovered America, an ethnogenesis took place on the Antilles between the Caribs and the Arawaks, who are both people from South America. The two people became one people with the name ”Kallínagu”, which means ”those who eat cassava” (Palacio 2005:177-178). Between 1636 and 1735 the Garinagu was formed as a result of yet an ethnogenesis on the island of St. Vincent in the Antilles between the Kallínagu and African slaves, who had escaped the European colonists (Jenkins, C. 1983:151). ”Garinagu” derives from ”Kallínagu” (Palacio 2005:178). The meaning ”those who eat cassava” still exists (GAFHU, INC. 2012).
Anthropologist Sarah England (2006:151) writes that those Garinagu in contemporary Honduras who are critical towards migration, claim the migrants are weakening the traditional values of the ethnic group. The traditional values of the Garinagu include its ethnic emblems, because ethnic emblems are those signs that are significant to the members of an ethnic group (Barth 1969:14).
Initiated by a wondering of how far the migrants are weakening the Garinagu’s traditional values in the Middle American villages, I will examine what role migrants play in regards to the Garinagu’s ethnic emblem cassava, which is an edible root (cf. England 2006:166). In order to do so, I will make use of three empirical examples: The Garinagu’s history of exile; the construction of identity among migrants in the USA; and the cassava business Wabagari. The data is based on Sarah England’s book Afro Central Americans in New York City (2006), photojournalist Susie P. Rust’s article ”The Garífuna” (2001) and Wabagari’s webpage (Martinez 2013). The study focuses on the Garinagu in New York City (henceforth NYC) and cultural flows between NYC and Honduras.
I will primarily draw on theories by the anthropologists Arjun Appadurai (1981; 1988; 1996), Fredrik Barth (1969; 1995) and Richard Jenkins (2008). They have all worked with ethnicity. Appadurai (1981; 1988) furthermore focuses on food in relation to identity. Appadurai (1981:494) writes following about food: “It is therefore a highly condensed social fact. It is also, at least in many human societies, a marvelously plastic kind of collective representation”.

Garinagu or Garifuna?
Garinagu is the original Middle American name. In the original use of the Garifuna language, Garinagu is used when referring to the people. Garinagu is plural and Garifuna is singular as well as an adjective (England 1999:44). The Garifuna people or Garifunas are the most common terms referring to the people in English speaking media (England 1999:44). I follow the original use of the terms.

Below I will give an account of the anthropological theories underlying this study. Firstly, I will give an account on perspectives on ethnicity. Thereafter, I will narrow down the theme to a focus on food as an emblem of identity, and I will account for food used as a political language.
In 1969 Fredrik Barth wrote the introduction to Ethnic Groups and Boundaries. Therein his fundamental point is that ethnicity is the result of transactions between individuals, and that ethnicity thereby is a changeable process (Jenkins 2008:13). Barth (1969:11) underlines that culture is the result of interaction between people in an ethnic group instead of a characteristic of the ethnic group.
According to Barth (1969:14, 25) it is possible that individuals takes part in cultural practices or political systems of other groups, because ethnicity involves a code of organization to when, how, and against who the individuals should differentiate themselves. Barth (1969:15) focuses on the ethnic boundary, a social border, which presupposes that members of the ethnic group share a criterion of evaluation as well as an understanding of that their group is different from other groups. By selecting emblems that bring out the uniqueness of the group, the group keeps itself a distinct ethnic group (Barth 1995:6).
Richard Jenkins (2008:57) makes clear that it is necessary to draw more attention towards how other groups characterizes the group in question. Jenkins (2008:55) calls self-definition the ”internal definition”, and he calls the categorization the ”external definition”. Both happen collectively, but have potential to be incorporated in the self-definition of the individual. According to Jenkins (2008:76) identity is the result of a constant dialectical process between internal and external definitions.
One of Jenkins’s main points is (2008:62) that if the one who characterizes has authority to make the external definition of the ethnic group count, the individuals in the ethnic group will in the course of time take on the categorization by changing their self-image. That kind of influence, in which the group take on an external definition, he calls ” internalization” (2008: 74). Social identity is furthermore both nominal (the name) and virtual (the practical meaning or experience), and these two aspects can change independently (Jenkins 2008:58).
Since this study will focus on cassava as an ethnic emblem (cf. England 2006:166), Arjun Appadurai’s theories (1981; 1988) about the relationship between food and identity is relevant. Appadurai’s uses a semiotic approach to food, but believes that food only is part of the semiotic system, and that the system should be viewed from its specific context (Appadurai 1981:494-95). Appadurai’s perspective on food investigates the social meaning that is expressed through food and acts with food in the contexts in which he did research. He also investigates the social consequences the messages in the food creates (Appadurai 1981:495).
Appadurai (1988:7, 16) calls the ethnic stereotypes, that are based on food, and produced in a multi-ethnic contexts through interaction between members of the ethnic group and outsiders ”gastroethnic images”, and he mentions ethnic cookbooks as an example. The data of this study does not include cookbooks. Appadurai (1988:6), however, explains that the oral exchange of food customs come before cookbooks, and it is thereby possible to use his work on the Garinagu’s interactions with cassava. The text on Wabagaris webpage is furthermore similar to the ethnic portraits often found in ethnic cookbooks (cf. Appadurai 1988:16; Martinez 2013:3).
Appadurai (1981:496) writes that food can be used semiotically to construct or maintain social relations. Food has according to Appadurai (1981:507-508) a ”general capacity to simultaneously encode messages about both homogeneity […] and heterogeneity”, whereby it can ”serve to regulate rank, reify roles, and signify privileges.”. He views interactions with food a kind of political language which he calls ”gastro-politics”. Appadurai (1981:495) defines gastro-politics as follows: ”conflict or competition over specific cultural or economic resources as it emerges in social transactions around food”.
In his essay ”Gastro-Politics in Hindu South Asia” Appadurai (1981:501) points out that food can be manipulated to contain a gastro-political message. Anthropologist Dylan Clark (2004) carries gastro-politic on to a literally political context. He describes how punks show their discontent with the American society though their use of food. I will use the term in way similar to that of Clark. Gastro-politics can show us how the Garinagu has the possibility of acting strategically in relation to ethnicity.

The Colonists’ Impact on the Natives of St. Vincent
In 1660 the European colonists founded reserves, in which they sent the natives of the Antilles (England 2006:35). The Europeans’ distinction between the natives and themselves thereby became consequential to the natives. The Europeans called the Garinagu ”Black Caribs” (Anderson 1997:22). Black Caribs is thereby what Richard Jenkins (2008:55, 58) calls ”an external definition of” the Garinagu’s ”nominal identity”.
The English colonists used the definition ”Black Caribs” after their victory over France in the Second Caribbean War to justify that they sent the Garinagu in exile, because ”the Black Caribs” stole the land, wives and traditions of ”the true native and Indian” according to the colonists (Anderson 1997:26-27). The French was allied with the Garinagu, whereby the Englishmen also demonstrated their dominance of St. Vincent by sending the Garinagu in exile (Anderson 1997:25, 27). In 1797 the Garinagu were taken from St. Vincent to the nearby island Balliceaux, where many died of illness and hunger. The same year, the survivors were sent to Roatan and from there to Honduras, were they separated into smaller group that settled in Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua respectively (Jenkins, C. 1983:151).
As demonstrated, the colonists created an ethnic boundary between themselves and Garinagu that became a sign of who were allowed to inhabit the island. The colonists decided thereby, who had the rights to the resources that so far had been the foundation of the Garifuna society. Jenkins (2008:58) underline that an external definition has potential to define the virtual identity of an ethnic group. That is the case here, since the colonists’ definition of the Garinagu has influenced the collective self-definition of the Garinagu – the Garinagu has become a people with a history of exile.
This chapter has dealt with the Garinagu’s contact with the colonists in the time before they arrived to the Middle American mainland. It appears that the colonists have had an impact on the Garinagu’s collective self-understanding, as they have banished the Garinagu from their homeland St. Vincent. This claim will be further developed in the following chapter, in which a Garifuna legend about the exile will be analyzed.

A Garifuna legend
Imprisoned there in appalling conditions, more than half died. The following year survivors were shipped to Roatán Island off the coast of Honduras. According to legend, the Garífuna hid cassava, a mainstay of their diet, inside their clothes, where it stayed alive watered by the sweat of the tightly packed captives. They planted the cassava on Roatán, where it grew abundantly. Soon the Garífuna established fishing villages in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Belize. [Rust 2001]
The legend above is acted out as a ritual as part of Settlement Day in Garifuna societies in Belize (Rust 2001). In this chapter I will use Appadurai’s semiotic perspective (1981; 1988) to analyze cassava roots as they are pictured in the legend.
Appadurai (1996:53) stress that the spread of the mass media gives individuals throughout the world a wide selection of possible lives among which they can choose. An example of a cultural flow between the Garinagu is the blog Being Garifuna, written by Teofilo Colon Jr., who lives in NYC (Colon Jr. 2010). Colon Jr. (2013 Martz) for example refer to a TV-show that shows scenes from the performance of the legend in Belize. Furthermore, the Garinagu in the USA are a mixture of nationalities (England 2006:216); and Garinagu from their respective countries flock to Settlement Day in Belize (Palacio 2006:184). Garinagu thereby influence, cross nations, each other’s understanding of what it means to be Garifuna.
From a semiotic point of view on the legend, cassava is used to express the conflict of being sent in exile, and to communicate a message to the contemporary Garinagu. Those Garinagu who survived the exile are portrayed as strong, because they refused to succumb by the repression by the colonists. Thereby, the legend shows that the colonists have influenced the collective self-understanding of the Garinagu, but also that Garinagu have internalized the external definition in a way that shows resistance towards the power of the colonizers. Such kind of resistance confirms the colonizers’ power over the Garinagu’s self-understanding according to Jenkins (2008:75).
The legend also depicts the importance of cassava to the Garifuna ancestors. In spite of illness and fatigue, the ancestors collected cassava from the earth, carried it, and planted it once more. They were thereby willing to fight to preserve the roots. That the roots were carried underneath the clothes and nourished by sweat, points on a fusion of the Garinagu and cassava. The nourishment from the roots gave the people the power to survive the exile; the people nourished the cassava by their sweat and later on earth, which ensured the survival of the cassava; and the roots have since that time ensured the survival of the Garinagu by growing abundantly and thereby nourished them. Thus the people carried the culture from St. Vincent and grounded it in their new home. Simultaneously the culture carried the people by provoking strength and teamwork. This analysis suggests that cassava in a Garifuna context connects the Garinagu with their ancestors.
The message of the legend to the contemporary Garinagu is that they should appreciate their ancestors and cassava – in other words their culture. The following characteristics of the Garinagu appear: cassava is important to the Garinagu; the Garinagu protect their culture; the Garinagu fight to survive and refuse to be suppressed. These characteristics have oppositions, which thereby characterizes what the Garinagu are not. Thus cassava contains an encoded a message of both homogeneity and heterogeneity, which means that cassava has potential to be used gastro-politically by Garinagu (cf. Appadurais 1981:507-508).
Cassava is an ethnic emblem in the legend, because it differentiates the Garinagu from those, who are not descendants of those ancestors, who protected the cassava roots. This interpretation is supported by England (2006:166-167), who writes that cassava today is a staple in the Garifuna diet, and that cassava and tools used to make cassava products are powerful symbols of Garifuna culture. Following Barth (1969:14), an ethnic emblem can be used to show identity, but it can also be a social code that functions as a shared criterion of evaluation. The Garinagu for example show their identity though the ritual performance of the legend.
From the analysis of this chapter I infer that the Garinagu’s social code is that solidarity, strength, teamwork, perseverance, respect towards ancestors as well as preservation of culture are cultural virtues.
The Garinagu’s acts of identity and their social code are both aspects of the Garinagu’s virtual identity (cf. Jenkins 2008:58). It appears that Garinagu’s nominal identity ”those who eat cassava” besides food refers to the Garinagu’s social code (cf. Jenkins 2008:58). According to Barth (1969:15), an ethnic group can only last as long as the actors’ acts are distinguished from acts of other groups. The nominal identity is not a strong ethnic emblem isolated. Garinagu have to interact with emblems as for example cassava if they will achieve an external definition as ”garinagu” as well (cf. Barth 1969:28).
In this chapter I have analyzed cassava as depicted in the Garifuna legend above. I have argued that the legend represents the contemporary Garinagu’s collective self-understanding, and that this self-understanding is embedded in cassava. It appears in the interpretation of the legend that cassava contains the Garinagu’s social code, which among other things add importance to solidarity, respect towards ancestors and preservation of culture, and that these virtues are the result of the dialectics between the influence of the colonists on the Garinagu’s self-understanding and the Garinagu’s resistance against the power of the colonists. I have furthermore pointed out that cassava has a gastro-political potential to the Garinagu. In the following chapter I will direct focus towards Garinagu in the contemporary USA. I will show how the social code embedded in cassava is reflected in the construction of identity in the USA.

The Dialectics between the Internal and External Definitions

In the 1940’s many Garifuna men were hired on merchant ships that took them to the seaports of the USA. From the 1960’s Garinagu started to settle in North America (England 1999: 11; England 2006:76). Today NYC is assumed to be home to more than 100.000 Garinagu (Hardman 2009).
Garinagu in the contemporary USA is an ethnic group, because they are biologically self-sustaining (England 2006:216); share visible cultural values, among which I focus on cassava; form a field of communication and interaction such as the blog Being Garifuna (Colon Jr. 2010); identify themselves as Garinagu, and are defined by others as belonging to another ethnic group (cf. Barth 1969:10-11; England 2006:211).
It is, however, not self-evident that the Garinagu is an ethnic group in the USA. Both Barth (1969:25; 1995:1-3), Jenkins (2008:23-25) and Appadurai (1996:61) highlights that ethnicity does not determine the acts or thoughts of the individual, because these are the result of the individual’s experiences in the world. A migrant often searches for other persons, who are in the same position as himself, which can lead to that the relevant in his country of origin becomes irrelevant in his new country (Barth 1995:3). A Garifuna has to NPR-reporter Jesse Hardman (2009) given the expression that she and her Garifuna friends have had a tendency to assimilate with members of other ethnic groups outside the home, but that they have lived out the Garifuna identity in private. England (2006:214) stresses that assimilation between Garinagu and Afro-Americans and Latin-Americans does not exclude that the garinagu at the same time identify with a Garifuna ethnicity.
Even though Garinagu and Latin-Americans identify with each other on the basis of some cultural similarities, the other Latin-American distinguish themselves from the Garinagu by calling them ”Negritos” or ”Morenos”, referring to their skin color (England 2006:210). Some Garinagu identify with Afro-Americans (”African-Americans”) on the basis of a shared skin color, a shared fight against discrimination, a shared continent of origin, as well as a shared taste for esthetics and music (England 2006:206-208). The Afro-Americans and the Garinagu are, due to their skin color, subjected to the same stereotype, whereby they, following Barth’s theory (1995:4), can identify with a shared position. Following Jenkins’s theory (2008:74), the Garinagu internalizes the external definition imposed on them, when they assimilate with Afro-Americans, which shows the authority of the external definitions in the construction of their ethnicity. Besides, the Afro-Americans make fun of the Garinagu, when they speak Spanish (England 2006:209). By referring to the Spanish language, the Afro-Americans define the Garinagu as ”Latin-Americans”.
The Garinagu’s self-definition also creates a clear boundary between the Afro-Americans and themselves (England 2006:208). One of England’s informants describes Afro-Americans as follows: ”[…] since African Americans had the experience of being slaves, they have no self-confidence and just blame all their problems on the system.” (England 2006:209). The Garinagu in NYC furthermore describe Afro-Americans as being cultureless, lazy and criminal (England 2006:209). The distance to Afro-Americans is based on the social code, that the Garifuna ancestors escaped life in slavery; had strength to resist a dominating system; and carried their culture from St. Vincent to their new home. As showed, solidarity is also among the Garinagu’s virtues. Solidarity differentiate the Garinagu from those Afro-Americans, who above are described as lazy, because the Garifuna migrants work hard and live in poor housing in order to send home remittances (cf. England 2006:90-91).
There is an increased tendency among the Garinagu in the USA to define themselves as ”Garifuna” (England 2006:211). Drawing on Barth’s theory (1995:4), the tendency is due to that individuals have a need to identify with other individuals in the same position. Since there is now expected to be more than 100.000 Garinagu in NYC (Hardman 2009), the Garifuna migrants have foundation to identify with other Garinagu, and they even have a new shared identity, because they experience the same issues in connection to finding a group identity in the USA. Later I will describe how the Garifuna ethnicity is verbalized in relation to the American census in 2010.
Ethnic categories are established as official discourse in censuses, which can influence the self-identification (Jenkins 2008:72). The influence of the categories on the Garinagu is seen in the debate about the American census, where Garinagu internally disagree with if they belong to the category ”African-American”, ”Hispanic” or ”Other” (England 1999:26). England (2006:207, 211) notices that these categories are problematic, because they originate from of the two distinct main categories race and ethnicity. The issue is that the Garinagu both belong to the race ”African-American”, the ethnicity ”Hispanic” (except Garinagu from Belize) as well as their own Garifuna ethnicity.
A woman argues in a video interview to The New York Times that there is a need for a separate Garifuna category: “Garifuna, me is who I am. It’s my culture; it’s my language; it’s my food; It’s my family […] So hopefully […] in a couple of years it will be that box will that says “Garifuna” – we will no longer have to check “other” and write in “Garifuna”” (Orr and Singh 2012:01:49). The quote shows the importance of having one’s own category. It also show that some Garinagu work to strengthen the internal definition as a defense against the external definition. However, the defense, according to Jenkins (2008:59) confirms the power of the external definitions.
In this chapter I have argued that Garifuna ethnicity in the USA is not self-evident, as the individual Garifuna moves in and out of various categories of ethnicity. I have demonstrated that the social code embedded in cassava, reflects in the way the Garinagu in the USA differentiates from the Afro-Americans. I have also argued that Garifuna migrants’ desire for a Garifuna ethnicity arises as they as a group experience to not fit into the already established ethnic categories in the USA. The following chapter will concern how cassava is relevant to solve that issue.

The Migrants’ Gastroethnic Representation
Ethnic food is food that differentiates the group in question from other ethnic groups (Kaplan et al. 1998:122). Below I will argue that it is in the meeting with other ethnic groups the Garinagu becomes conscious of that cassava is their ethnic food.
England (2006:26) writes that the Garinagu in NYC can “buy their plantains and cassava in one of the many Dominican bodegas”. Furthermore she mentions (2006:97-98, 212-213), that the Garinagu in NYC have pictures of ereba baking on the wall in their clubhouse (ereba/bami is a dry pancake-like bread made of cassava); sacrifice ereba to their ancestors; show photos of cassava planting to a festival in a park, and uses tool from the cassava production as trophies at a Garifuna beauty pageant.
The empirical examples show that Garinagu in the contemporary NYC interact with cassava and regard cassava as their food. Gastroethnic representations are food versions of ethnic emblems (cf. Barth 1969:14). A gastroethnic representation is a conscious and selective self-representation of an ethnic stereotype (Appadurai 1988:17). When the Garinagu choose to represent themselves through photos of cassava, and to reward each other with tools from the cassava production, they construct cassava as their gastroethnic representation. Below I will show how Garinagu in the USA can use the gastroethnic representation, cassava, gastro-politically, as well as how they indeed do use the representation.
Cassava originates from South America, but it is also a central ingredient to many Africans (Gonzáles 1988:106). Following Appadurai, accounted for in Chapter 2, cassava can thereby create homogeneity between Latin Americans, Africans and Garinagu. Cassava can similarly create heterogeneity between Garinagu and other ethnic groups, because whereas the Garinagu process the roots to for example breed, other ethnic groups only boil them (cf. Gonzáles 1988:106). The Garinagu can thereby identify themselves with the Latin Americans, Africans and the Afro-Americans respectively on foundation of a shared ingredient, but they can as well mark out their unique use of cassava, and the special meaning they ascribe to cassava. The potential to create heterogeneity on the one hand, and homogeneity on the other, makes it possible to use cassava gastro-politically to confirm the individual Garifuna’s role as both ”Hispanic”, ”African-American” and ”Garifuna” depending on which resources the person wish to obtain the given situation. It is worth noticing that it is only by pointing out the Garinagu’s unique relationship to cassava that cassava becomes an emblem of Garifuna ethnicity (cf. Barth 1969:14).
The empirical examples show that the Garinagu in the USA in practice use cassava to construct their own gastroethnic representation, which reflects the Garinagu’s fight for their own ethnic category. Appadurai (1981:507) suggests that food is an effective instrument to unite people. Following Appadurai, the Garinagu can offer cassava to members of other ethnic group, whereby the ethnic boundary is softened, but they can on the other hand put forward an explanation of why cassava historically is their food. Cassava can in thereby be used as a language though which the Garinagu can teach ethnic others about Garifuna culture without the others become part of the Garifuna group.
An example of the gastro-political use of cassava is seen in the comments on Colon Jr.’s photo number 19 (2010 April). There Colon Jr. expresses a wish to spread a knowledge of a differentiated Garifuna ethnicity by spreading photos of a reenactment of ereba baking. A woman comments photo number 19: ”Wow that takes me back. I used to help my grandma do that […] from going “al monte” buscar la yuca to leaning over that hot fire making the “ereba”. Some of my best childhood memories.” (Colon Jr. 2010 April). The quote confirms Appadurai’s emphasis on (1981:494) the ability of food to evoke strong feelings, as well as anthropologist David Sutton’s point (2001:161) that memories about tastes and smells attaches to a situation, whereby food can be interpreted very subjectively.
England (2006:2) and Mandelbaum (2013) describe that it is important to Garifuna migrants to participate in the production of ereba, when they are in Middle America, and to bring cassava products back to the USA. Sutton bring out (2001:80-84) that food symbolically can bind migrants with their family and the traditions of their society through memories, and through a knowledge of that people in their home society eat the same thing. Sutton thereby clarifies why it is important to Garifuna migrants to interact with cassava.
Garinagu in the USA become aware that cassava is their ethnic food, because cassava brings out memories of their homeland. Ethnicity and cassava are to Garinagu in Honduras a ”background factor” making up the daily life and therefore go almost unnoticed (Andrews 2012;cf. Jenkins 2008:80). Garinagu in the USA, on the other hand, have to actively search for cassava in certain stores (England 2006:26). Interactions with the gastroethnic representation cassava, which brings out the differences between Garinagu and other groups, are according to Barth’s theory (1969:15), contributory of giving the Garinagu the status of being an ethnic group. The individual Garifuna can, however, be a Garifuna without interacting with cassava, if the person identifies with an upbringing in the Garifuna society or the Garinagu’s social code (cf. Barth 1969:28).
The argument I have put forward in this chapter is that Garifuna migrants in the USA discovers that cassava characterizes them, because in the USA they actively have to opt for cassava, whereas cassava to a greater extend is taken for given in Honduras. On the basis of that, the migrants construct the gastroethnic representation cassava. I have pointed out that cassava can connect Garinagu’s identity with the identity of Africans and Latin-Americans, but that the Garinagu instead use cassava gastro-politically to spread the message that they are a separate ethnic group. In the following chapter I will investigate how the migrant’s construction of the gastroethnic representation cassava influences the Garinagu’s traditional values.

Discussion: A Gastro-political Message
Wabagaris mission statement is: ”To distribute a high quality cassava products to an international market, while generating income for Garifuna cassava bread producers of Honduras and raising awareness about Garifuna culture.” (Martinez 2013: 1). The mission statement expresses a compromise between a striving towards being authentic, but also a striving towards promoting and popularizing elements of ethnicity, and thereby it reflects the same compromise as Appadurai (1988:17) describes in relation to ethnic cookbooks. Wabagari wants to be authentic, because the business wants to spread knowledge about Garifuna communities. Wabagari’s goal to be the biggest cassava producer on the international market is a goal about promoting popularize.
”O’Big Mama snacks” is Wabagari’s further development of ereba. They are an attempt to popularize cassava, because they are easier to bring along than the traditional ereba (Martinez 2013:4). The presence of cassava pizza flour and the cassava products in American restaurant chains are also Wabagari’s attempts to popularize cassava (Martinez 2013:5; Martinez 2013:1). Appadurai (1988:16) explains that gastroethnic representations are founded on the way the ethnic group prepares the food, but developed in new directions which only make sense from a multiethnic perspective.
In 2002 Garifuna Lina Martinez founded Wabagari. Before she founded Wabagari, she studied in the USA (Martinez 2013:2). Drawing on the analysis above, I suggest that Martinez has become aware about the importance of the preservation of the Garinagu’s cassava production as a migrant.
The Wabagari products furthermore appeal to those consumers, who are aware of ecology (Martinez 2013:4). As I have pointed out earlier, respect towards the ancestors is embedded in the Garinagu’s social code. The word ”organic” connotes that the Garinagu is a people in contact with nature, and who takes care of that earth they have inherited from their ancestors. Wabagari highlights that cassava is authentic Garifuna food by writing: ”The women who cook the cassava bread, have been taught this tradition by their mothers and grandmothers” (Martinez 2013:3).
The Garifuna organization Garifuna Cultural Unification works strategically together with the Pan-American Indian organization World Council of Indigenous People to make the United Nations put a pressure on the nation states to give Garinagu rights of land on the foundation of an agreement about the rights of original peoples (England 2006:205). Wabagari’s marketing of cassava is gastro-politics, because the business strategically writes that the Garinagu is an ”autochthonous people”, who has cultivated cassava for centuries (Martinez 2013:3). Wabagari thereby transmits that the Garinagu has the status of being an original people, and that the land they inhabit is essential for the cultivation of their culture. Such a message only reaches its suitable recipients if the ethnic group creates a shared frame of understanding with the recipients (cf. Appadurai 1981:509; Barth 1969:35). Wabagari creates a shared frame of understanding by appealing to the term ”original people”, and by adjusting cassava to the taste of the recipients.
Garinagu in the USA are encouraged by their leaders to participate in the fight for rights of land (England 2006:214). In 2010 Wabagari exported 1200 O’Big Mama snacks to NYC on a monthly basis (Colon Jr. 2010 May). The export gives the Garinagu in the USA the opportunity to support the fight by buying the cassava products.
It is important to differentiate between the gastroethnic representation and the reality of cooking. The gastroethnic representation cassava is only a stereotype, constructed by the Garinagu in order to communicate knowledge of their culture to the world beyond the Garifuna community. As suggested through the analysis, cassava is an emblem that unites the Garinagu cross time and nations. Cassava reminds the Garinagu of how their ancestors stood together and survived the exile. Cassava also carries a message of how the Garinagu now have to stand together against the external definitions and a threatening assimilation to the dominating cultures in those nations they inhabit. Besides from being part of a traditional diet, and a source to bring out memories, cassava is therefore a representation with a gastro-political message.
In the American food magazine Saveur, a Garifuna who lives in Martinez’s hometown La Ceiba, states: ”The lifestyle has changed, but the culture of the Garifuna will not change. The food will not change.” (Andrews 2012). Yet drawing on the analysis and discussion above, it can be concluded that the statement only is partly true. Wabagari has created new products with an old core, and even if the new products only are eaten by the migrants or by ethnic others, the Garifuna culture in Honduras is changed, because cassava is developed further by Garinagu, and because cassava has been given a gastro-political meaning. However, Garinagu (migrants or not) still connect cassava with Garifuna ethnicity. Wabagari even strengthen those Garifuna values that make up the moral message that cassava brings in a Garifuna context: respect towards the ancestors, solidarity and teamwork.
Barth (1995:2) underlines that ethnic emblem always are in a process of change, because they are constructed of the experiences of the group members. Migration has given Martinez a multiethnic perspective on the world that has made her aware of her own culture, American and Honduran food preferences as well as politics. She managed to give new life to the cassava production – a tradition that was dying because it was taken for given (cf. England 2006:166-167). She has given the Garifuna women a culture of which they are proud (Andrews 2012).
In this chapter I have discussed the migrants’ impact on the traditional Garifuna values. I have pointed out that Garinagu through cassava can communicate an awareness of their ethnicity and fight a political battle about rights of land.

The main argument of this study is that Garifuna migrants have central role in the construction of the Garinagu’s ethnic identity as well as in the strengthening of the ethnic self-consciousness in their home countries, because they construct and spread the gastro-political message that Garinagu is an independent ethnic group.
I have demonstrated that the Garinagu’s history of exile is a central part of their collective self-understanding, and that this self-understanding is embedded in cassava. I have pointed out that the desire of the Garifuna-migrants in the USA to construct their own ethnic group arises when they as a group experience not to belong into any of the existing ethnic categories. Furthermore I have demonstrated that it is on the foundation of the contact with other ethnic groups, and because the migrants actively opt for cassava, that the Garinagu construct their gastroethnic representation cassava. As an example, I have shown that a migrant like the founder of Wabagari brings a new perspective to her home community, from which she in co-operation with the home community can develop new types of ethnic emblems on the basis of traditional values. When the migrants in the USA buy Wabagari-products, they give Garinagu in Honduras the opportunity to work with the traditional ingredient, and they also support the fight for rights of land. Wabagari’s new types of food, made from cassava, emerge from a compromise between having to be authentic and having to be able to be sold on the international market. The social values, which to the Garinagu are embedded in cassava, however, still stand.

Anderson, Mark
1997 The Significance of Blackness: Representations of Garifuna in St. Vincent and Central America, 1700-1900. Transforming Anthropology – LA English 6(1-2):22.
Andrews, Betsy
2012 Cassava Nation. Electronic dokument,, seen 10/18, 2013.
Appadurai, Arjun
1988 How to make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in Contemporary India. Comparative Studies in Society and History 30(1):3.
Appadurai, Arjun
1981 Gastro-Politics in Hindu South Asia. American Ethnologist 8(3):494.
Appadurai, Arjun
1996 Global Ethnoscapes: Notes and Queries for a Transnational Anthropology. In Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Dilip Gaonkar og Benjamin Lee, ed. Pp. 48-65. Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA: University of Minnesota Press.
Arvela, Ana-Paula
2012 Ethnic Food: The Other in Ourselves (Draft Conference Paper). Electronic document,, seen 11/13, 2013.
Barth, Fredrik
1969 Introduction. In Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference. Fredrik Barth, ed. Pp. 9-38. Bergen, Norway: Universitetsforlaget.
Barth, Fredrik
1995 Ethnicity and The Concept of Culture. Electronic document,, seen 10/30, 2013.
Clark, Dylan
2004 The Raw and the Rotten: Punk Cuisine. Ethnology 43(1):19-31.
Colon Jr., Teofilo
2010 About Being Garifuna. Elektronisk dokument,, seen 11/25, 2013.
Colon Jr., Teofilo
2010 April Miss Garifuna 2010 Cultural Pageant — Part 4. Electronic document,; seen 11/29, 2013.
Colon Jr., Teofilo
2010 May Garifuna Financial Investment Club Based In New York City Celebrates Ten Years In Existence (INTERVIEW). Electronic document,, seen 12/9, 2013.
Colon Jr., Teofilo
2013 Martz (VIDEO) Americas Now News Show Report Asks, “Is The Garifuna Culture Close To Extinction?”. Electronic document,, seen 11/25, 2013.
Colon Jr., Teofilo, and Maria Lauridsen Jensen
2013. Electronic document,;, seen 11/26, 2013.
England, Sarah
1999 Negotiating Race and Place in the Garifuna Diaspora: Identity Formation and Transnational Grassroots Politics in New York City and Honduras. Identities – LA English 6(1):5.
England, Sarah
2006 Afro Central Americans in New York City: Garifuna Tales of Transnational Movements in Racialized Space. Gainesville, Florida, USA: University Press of Florida.
2012 Garifuna History. Electronic document,, seen 11/7, 2013.
2011 About Us. Electronic document,, seen 11/28, 2013.
González, Nancie L.
1988 Sojourners of the Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garifuna. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
Hardman, Jesse
2009 Garifuna Ethnic Group Seeks Voice In New York City. Electronic document,, seen 10/10, 2013.
Jenkins, Carol L.
1983 Ritual and Resource Flow – the Garifuna Dugu. In Blackness in Latin America and the Caribbean – Social Dynamics and Cultural Transformations. Norman E. Whitten and Arlene Torres, ed. Pp. 149-167. Indiana, USA: Indiana University Press.
Jenkins, Richard
2008 Rethinking Ethnicity. 2. edition. London, UK: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Kaplan, Anne R., Marjorie A. Hoover, and Willard B. Moore
1998 Introduction: On Ethnic Foodways. In The Taste of American Place: A Reader on Regional and Ethnic Foods. Barbara G. Shortridge og James R. Shortridge, ed. Pp. 121-133. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Lindholm, Charles
2012 Food and Authenticity: Five Cases. Electronic document,, seen den 11/10, 2013.
Mandelbaum, Lia
2013 Exploring My Heritage: Discovering Some Surprising and Wonderful Interconnection. Electronic document,, seen 10/22, 2013.
Martinez, Lina Hortensia
(Martinez 2013:1) About Wabagari. Electronic document,, seen 11/15, 2013.
Martinez, Lina Hortensia
(Martinez 2013:2) About Lina. Electronic document,, seen 11/15, 2013.
Martinez, Lina Hortensia
(Martinez 2013:3) About Cassava Production. Electronic document,, seen 11/15, 2013.
Martinez, Lina Hortensia
(Martinez 2013:4) O’Big Mama Cassava Snacks. Electronic document,, seen 11/15, 2013.
Martinez, Lina Hortensia
(Martinez 2013:5) Sell our Products. Electronic document,, seen 11/15, 2013.
Orr, Matthew, and Vijai Singh
2012 Being Garifuna. Electronic document,, seen 10/9, 2013.
Palacio, Joseph O.
2006 The Garifuna: A Nation Across Borders. 2. edition. Benque Viejo del Carmen, Belize: Cubola Productions.
Rust, Susie Post
2001 The Garífuna. Electronic document,, seen 11/25, 2013.
Sutton, David E.
2001 Remembrance of Repasts: An Anthropology of Food and Memory. Oxford, UK: Berg.