The tale of Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective traces its roots to the early 1980s, when a teenage Palacio traveled from his home in the Central American country of Belize to Nicaragua to serve in a literacy campaign. Palacio is Garifuna, a unique culture based on the Caribbean coast of Central America that blends elements of West African and Native Caribbean heritage. Andy was told that Nicaragua’s local Garifuna traditions and language were all but extinct. He was en route via boat to the Nicaraguan village of Orinoco to begin his first literacy assignment, when a storm forced a change of direction, leading to a surprise encounter that had a lasting impact on Palacio’s music, career, and life mission.
The Garifuna people originated when two large Spanish ships, filled with a delivery of West African slaves, sunk off the coast of the Caribbean island of St. Vincent in 1635. Half of the Africans survived and intermingled with the indigenous Caribs of the region, creating a new hybrid culture. Fiercely independent, the Garifuna community resisted European colonization, and were forcibly exiled to the Caribbean coast of Central America. Some were segregated and held onto their traditions and language, while others were forced to homogenize with the local predominant culture.
To avoid his own mid-lagoon shipwreck, Palacio’s boat captain decided to take a detour to a nearby village until the storm passed. He said to Palacio, “There is a Garifuna man in this village. You should talk in your language and see how he reacts.” When the eighteen year-old Palacio greeted the old man, Mr. López, in the Garifuna tongue, the elder replied in complete disbelief, “Are you telling the truth?” “I told him, ‘Yes, my uncle; I am Garifuna just like you,’” explains Palacio. “He embraced me and would not let go. He could not believe a man so young could speak Garifuna, having imagined the language would perish with him.”
“From that day I realized that what was happening in Nicaragua, the disappearance of Garifuna culture, foreshadowed what was going to happen in Belize less than a generation down the road,” recalls Palacio. “I decided to follow my passion and focus more on performing Garifuna music as a way to keep the traditions alive long into the future.”