Sacred Architecture – Human Right Movements (2014)

May 22, 2013, 9:00-10:30

Moderator: Holly Ackerman (Duke University)

Rapporteur: Tim Thompson (University of Miami)


  • Sacred Architecture in Latin America – Peter S. Bushnell, University of Florida
  • America, Their Roles in Founding and Leading Organizations to Fight for Indian and Black Human Rights and Development, and Their Use of Electronic Media in International Organizing — Wendy Griffin, Formerly Universidad Pedagógica Nacional Francisco Morazán

Wendy Griffin presented “The Overlap between the Human Rights Movements of Blacks and Indians in the Americas: The Afro-Indigenous Garifunas of Central America, Their Roles in Founding and Leading Organizations to Fight for Indian and Black Human Rights and Development, and Their Use of Electronic Media in International Organizing.”

Many indigenous groups in Honduras (Miskitos, Tawahkas, Pech, Tolupan, Chortis) formed ethnic federations in the mid-1980s, during the period of the Contra War. The Garifunas, however, had organized earlier and differently. In 1975, Garifuna activists founded the Organización Fraternal Negra de Honduras, a labor organization. Garifunas had long been active in the labor movement and had helped lead strikes against companies like United Fruit and Dole.

Indigenous and black groups came together between 1989 and 1992 to protest the celebration of the 500-year anniversary of European colonization in the Americas (the so-called Encuentro de Dos Mundos). A movement called La Resistencia Negra, Indigena y Popular was formed in order to organize counter-celebrations.

Griffin’s book The History of the Indians of Northeastern Honduras (1992) documents Indian resistance dating from the arrival of the Spanish to 1992. During this period, indigenous peoples resisted colonization in many ways, including armed rebellion, flight to the mountains, and legal appeals to the king or the court.

Within the history of armed rebellion in Honduras, ethnic conflicts have played a major role. For the Garifuna, the armed rebellion of Satuye against the English is a foundational event.

Garifuna activism and participation in ethnic federations has taken different paths, sometimes beginning in the form of religious groups, labor groups, or literacy campaigns. Garifunas first began to organize on the national level, then internationally. They first organized internationally as an Indian group focused on indigenous peoples of the Caribbean. Garifunas were also active in the now-defunct World Council of Indigenous Peoples, which had UN observer status.

Although Garifunas are of mixed descent and may not physically “look” indigenous, this part of their identity has important political ramifications. Without documentation of their claim to be indigenous, the Garifuna would not be protected under the provisions of the International Labor Organization Convention No. 169, which addresses indigenous land rights.

Groups like the Bay Islanders, who are not indigenous, have lost 75% of their land to tourism. In general, vested interests are always looking for ways to assert that Honduran Indians do not exist (e.g., stating that they lack proper identity cards through the Registro Nacional de Personas). Honduran law also fails to address things like communal property rights (Garifuna patronatos have corporate charters). Land rights continue to be a problem because the government asserts ownership over vital natural resources like trees and water.

During the question and answer period, Teresa Miguel Sterns (Yale Law Library) asked Wendy Griffin about the size of the worldwide Garifuna population. The estimate is 600,000 worldwide, with over 150,000 in the US. There are probably more Garifunas in New York City than there are people in Belize. The US has the world’s largest Garifuna population. The official estimate in Honduras is 50,000, but Garifunas say their numbers are closer to 100,000 because many Garifuna men are away part time, whether on ship or in the US. Garifuna make up 2% of the population of Honduras and 6% of the population of Belize. Although they are only 1% of the population of Guatemala, that country’s most recorded musical star is Paola Castillo, a Garifuna women who lives in New York. Garifunas often complain that they are invisible. They are assumed to be either US blacks, African blacks, or Caribbean blacks from places like Cuba or Puerto Rico. They lack access, vis-à-vis representation, to mainstream US media and tend to communicate primarily online (Garifuna TV, radio stations, and new sites). Garifuna musical artists tend not to have webpages, but Facebook pages. The blog and the page are important online resources for the Garifuna community.

Next, Peter Bushnell presented “Sacred Architecture in Latin America,” a tour of churches, cathedrals, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other sacred structures throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Bushnell had been to many of the sites personally, such as the Basilica de los Milagros de Buga in Colombia, which he visited as a member of the University of Florida Chamber Choir, the first North American choir to be invited to perform there.

Paramaribo, Suriname, provided one of the highlights of this virtual tour. There, the Neveh Shalom Synagogue and the Mosque Keizerstraat are located only about a block apart from one another. Latter Day Saints temples, Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Halls, and Central American indigenous temples were also featured during the tour.

The tour ended with a series of images from Cuba. In 2010, Bushnell helped lead the music for a service at the Santísimo Trinidad church in Morón. The companion diocese of Florida is the Episcopal diocese of Cuba, and the companion church of his Bushnell’s own community, Holy Trinity in Gainesville, is San Juan Bautista in Florencia. Episcopal priests in Cuba must often serve more than one congregation (the companion priest in this instance served three separate churches).

There were no questions