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Originally published February 05, 2014

“Guiou: The Other Blacks” – The Afro-Jamaican Presence in Guatemala

Book Review

by Kam Williams
Special to the AFRO

    “Guiou: The Other Blacks” – The Afro-Jamaican Presence in Guatemala. (Courtesy Photo)
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Did you know that Guatemala once had both an English and Spanish-speaking Black community? The latter group, known as Garifuna, arrived from Nigeria by way of St. Vincent, where they blended with Carib Indians beginning in 1635 before migrating to Guatemala.

By contrast, the former group was brought to the country to work the fields only about a hundred years ago by the United Fruit Company, settling in an area called Colonia. These English-speaking Afro-Jamaicans, or Guiou, gradually disappeared over the intervening decades, but not before making a lasting impression upon their adopted homeland and elsewhere.

“Guiou: The Other Blacks” by Gloria J. Arnold is a meticulously researched and generously illustrated text dedicated to documenting the cultural contributions of Guatemala’s English-speaking blacks. The author undertook this challenge as a labor of love, given her Afro-Jamaican Guatemalan roots.

Born in Guatemala, Arnold moved to New York City with her family in the 1950s as an adolescent, at the same time many other Guiou left for America as well. Sadly, most of the friends she made in the States knew next to nothing about her native country, especially about its Black population.

Despite the fact that much of the Jamaican presence in Guatamala had gradually disappeared due to assimilation and emigration, as an adult Arnold made it her mission to honor what remained of her vanishing roots. Her book preserves an informative mix of photos and personal anecdotes, recorded and oral history, biographical information of leaders and luminaries, and a genealogy of Afro-Jamaican Guatemalan surnames. Also included are recipes for a variety of local delicacies such as Fish Escovitch, Fried Breadfruit, Bulla Cake and Sorrel Wine.

As much a history book as a heartfelt tribute, “Guiou: The Other Blacks” reflects Arnold’s deep appreciation of her ancestors and her rich cultural heritage.