Earlier this year I met a man named Gilbert Whitfield by pure fate. Gilbert was just walking down the road looking for a cold drink so he walked into Flamingo. Me being the curious person that I am, I began asking him questions and eventually found out that he is a historian. Ever since opening the cultural center, historians and anthropologists have become my favorite people. When Gilbert revealed to me that his reason for visiting Punta Gorda was to find out more about his Garifuna roots, my antennas immediately went up.
“…people kept asking me if I was Garifuna and I would tell them no…”
Gilbert’s story gave me Goosebumps, I felt like the ancestors were in the room with us as he was giving me his testimony. He found out that his great grandmother Ebby was part of the only 15 recorded Garifuna people in history to be put into slavery. The only thing that Gilbert’s entire family knew about Ebby was that she would always talk about “my island.” No one knew which island she was talking about, so everyone assumed it had to be somewhere in the Caribbean.
“…The people on the boat said, you know what happened here”
For many years, Gilbert’s neighbors would tell him that he had to visit St. Vincent because it was so beautiful. He put that country in his bucket list but it took him 25 years to actually make it to St. Vincent. When Gilbert arrived he said that everyone would approach him to ask him if he was Garifuna and he would reply, “no, i’m not Garifuna.” This made him visit a museum to learn about Garifuna people and that is where his journey began. Gilbert almost got arrested for taking pictures and the security guards were nice enough to direct him to the late Dr. Kirby, a Garifuna historian from St. Vincent.
Dr. Kirby began to share so much knowledge with Gilbert. One of the most impactful things he did was take him on a boat ride. When the boat approached a cliff, Gilbert began to feel sick and he didn’t know why. The people on the boat told him, you know what happened here. He didn’t know what happened here but this particular incident is what allowed him to learn that he is a Garifuna man. Watch the video below for his complete testimony.