tell us where and in what year were you born? What was it like
as a child growing up in your hometown? How has the town/district
changed since your youth?
Michael Polonio: I was born in San Antonio,
Toledo in 1956 because my Father was a Police officer at the
time and assigned to that Village. But most my childhood recollection
was from the times we spent growing up in Dangriga Town, where
my mother’s family is from. I also spent three year in
Barranco finishing primary school there and benefiting from
the experience of life in a rural Garifuna setting. Growing
up in Dangriga in the early 60’s and 70’s was a
wonderful experience. The town was large enough to offer large
enough to offer the amenities of urban life but still retained
the close linkages of family and neighborhood essential to the
safe and secure development of children in a largely Garifuna
environment. From my perspective life in both Barranco and Dangriga
has changed since I grew up. Whereas the material comforts of
life has improved and children do not have to do the everyday
activities that we did, such as carrying water from the river
and sand from the beach, the children of today may have lost
the innocence, security and work ethics which was the norm of
life for the young people of my era. The Garifuna culture (language,
music, dance and lifestyles) was also more prevalent and profound
and was an inherent part of every aspect of life outside the
did you personally become involved with the concerns of the
Garifuna people of Belize?
Michael Polonio: When we were children, the
adults were always reminding us that our culture was special.
We were also told about the indignities that our ancestors had
suffered after being exiled from our St. Vincent homeland. But
we were able to survive those experiences with our culture intact
and there was much emphasis on the fact that being Garifuna
was a good and sacred thing.
This pride and feeling of uniqueness was reinforced when as
I youth I listened to great drummers and composers like Machete
and Gabaga and the messages of NGC leaders such as Roy Cayetano,
Phyllis Cayetano, Sebastian Cayetano and Theodore Palacio on
the Garifuna half hour programs on Radio Belize and the like.
I moved to Belize City to attend sixth form after graduating
from High School in Dangriga and among the challenges was saddened
to realization that life as I knew it, was restricted to the
southern districts and not prevalent in the other parts of the
country. The first Christmas I spent in Belize City was particularly
rough. The fact that there was no Wanaragua (or Jangunu as the
dnace is refered to in English) as a part of Christmas celebrations
was one of the salient point.
Nonetheless the rhythm of the Garifuna drum beat and the messages
in the songs of musical great such as Pen Cayetano acted as
a source of reinforcement and reminded me of the need to keep
Garifunaduáü alive. I eventual came to that stage
in life where I felt the need to stop being a spectator and
to start giving back to the society after completing studies
overseas. I serve the Belizean Community in different forums
but one of the causes I have chosen to support is was that of
the preservation of the proud heritage of my people.
do you consider to be the primary challenges for the Garifuna
people in Belize?
Michael Polonio: There are quite a few but
what stands out to me is the fact that despite the recognition
that Belize and the World has given the Garifuna Culture over
the years, such s the UNESCO declaration of the Garifuna Culture
as a masterpiece of intangible and Oral heritage in 2000, the
economic status of the majority of Garifuna people seems be
in decline and we are getting pushed further and further to
the bottom of the economic totem pole.
The young people on whom a culture depends for its survival
are abandoning the culture and adopting alternative lifestyles,
perhaps because they do not see the economic benefit that accrues
from adopting Garifuna lifestyle and values. This trend is most
worrying and the country should also be concerned. Can the Punta
and the Paranda music that we love so dearly continue to evolve
from the Garifuna population if the young people are losing
language and expressive abilities in Garifuna? Can our spirituality
and ties with our ancestors survive if we lose the Garifuna
language, music and dance the links us to them across the dimension
of time and definable space? Garifuna are prevalent in most
professional fields but how many Garinagu do you find among
the wealthy business class, in Belize or among the merchant
class in Garifuna Communities. Belize needs more entrepreneurs
to create wealth and employment opportunity for others and expand
the economy of our country.
is the Garifuna Council of Belize doing to educate the youth
of the country regarding the challenges facing the Garifuna
people as well as all Belizeans?
Michael Polonio: The NGC Youth Arm was founded
out of the realization that the youths are the key to the future
and that providing a forum for youths to get together and learn
about their culture in an organized setting, with the support
of the parent organization, was key. The NGC has also sponsored
books of different aspects of the culture, such as a language
dictionary, a Garifuna bible, Garifuna spirituality and so on.
The NGC uses every opportunity to promote and promulgate the
awareness and knowledge of the Garifuna culture and have collaborated
in the production of tapes and documentaries and thesis projects
for University students.
But these are one time efforts and we recognize the need for
more sustained efforts to reverse the cultural deterioration
that causes us such great concern. Therefore one of our future
projects will be the creation of a curriculum for teaching Garifuna
in schools in pretty much the same way that English and Spanish
are taught. This will be a collaborative effort with the Ministry
of Education and funding agencies.
will the current governmental fiscal restraints challenge the
Garifuna Council of Belize?
Michael Polonio: The NGC as with other NGO’s
rely on government support to help finance the costs associated
with our activities and services that we provide to the Garinagu
and to all Belizeans. The NGC, for example, has traditionally
assumed the responsibility for the organization and coordination
of the November 19th celebrations countrywide. But besides assistance
from the Government, the Council also relies on the generosity
of the business class and donations from individual supporters.
The current fiscal challenge will clearly mean that less money
will be forthcoming from these sources. But the Council have
no alternative but to continue to serve our people and Belize
as we always have. We will simply have to find alternative means
of financing for the organization. We will have to rely more
on the individual support of our citizens and devise new and
creative ways of harnessing that support.
you tell us a highlight to date of your life as the current
President of the Garifuna Council of Belize?
Michael Polonio: That is easy, the inauguration
of the Gulisi Garifuna Museum. The entire process leading up
to the completion of the project was just filled with meaningful
events, generosity and support from the ordinary citizen who
donated their family heirlooms as exhibits, to the many individuals
who donated tirelessly of their skills and energies, business
friends who opened up their wallets and the tireless support
and commitment that the Government gave to the project.
you tell us a highlight of your personal life?
Michael Polonio: The birth of my children.
I can think of only one parallel event which fills me with such
joy and sense of purpose; that is the day the Belize became
a nation on September 21, 1981.
an occupation as President of a countrywide organization is
obviously demanding, both mentally and physical. What do you
do to keep in shape? What is your favourite past-time occupation?
Michael Polonio: My favorite pastime has
always been and continues to be rising up a sweat particularly
through the physical encounter in a game of basketball. But
I have been forced to seek less strenuous means of exercise
as time has taken its toll on the weak link, my knees. I now
relay more on an early morning jug to stir up the juices. Running
is a good pastime in that the mind is free to thing whilst you
are at it. Ideas flow freely and problem solving takes place
is the greatest outdoor adventure you ever experienced in Belize?
Michael Polonio: I was an Officer of the
Volunteer Unit of Belize Defense Force for 5 years and the experiences
during battle camp, in particular military exercises in the
Guacamalla jungle were perhaps the most severe physical challenges
I have faced. The experience taught me that being tired is a
state of mind and that the body has the ability to keep going
long after the mind has sent signals of utter exhaustion.
is your most favourite Belizean food dish? What are your most
favorite locally grown fruit and the most favourite vegetable?
Michael Polonio: Hope I do not sound biased
in choosing the Hudut served with the Tikini (brown flour) gravy
rather than the Sere made from coconut milk. My favorite vegetable
is the tomato and if I had a last wish before departing it would
be for the taste of a ripe Tundasha mango massaging the taste
you ever had the luck to see any of Belize's exotic wildlife
such as a jaguar, tapir or the like? Have you ever been bitten
by a scorpion, snake or spider?
Michael Polonio: I have seen jaguars in the
wild abut three times in my lifetime, but always from inside
a speeding vehicle. But I have also heard them up close whilst
serving with the BDF. I have seen the tapir, the deer and the
like in the wild many times. I have never been bitten by a snake
or a spider and have not met anyone who has. I recall being
bitten by a scorpion as a child and recall having a fever which
subsided the following day.
the Belize Maya have many archaeological sites, what are the
historically significant sites in Belize for the Garifuna people
that should receive more focus and attention?
Michael Polonio: The Garinagu (or Black Caribs
as we are referred to in English) resulted from a merger of
the African and Amerindian cultures on the island of St Vincent
in the Lesser Antilles, in the early 1300’s or 1635, depending
on which story of the date of arrival of Africans to the new
world that you chose to believe. The society of those who inhabited
the Caribbean islands had not yet evolved into the formation
of large communities which required complex dwelling and religious
centers as had the Mayas. Most of the archaeological remains
of the Garinagu it would be in these islands from which we were
exiled by the British and forcibly removed to Roatan, Honduras
in 1797. History reports that Garifuna sailors started arriving
in Belize as early as 1802 but the migration of large numbers
occurred in 1823 when Danrgiga Town was first settled. Research
into the historical remains of the early Garifuna settlers would
have to concentrate on towns like Dangriga and areas such as
Punta Negra which were first settled by Garifuna migrants. But
most of the materiality of the Garifuna culture is preserved
in the people, in the stories and songs and rituals. Hence the
reason why it has been designated as an intangible heritage.
of the Maya archaeological sites in Belize have you visited?
Which site was the most fascinating for you? Which of the Garifuna
historical sites in Belize have you visited? Which site was
the most fascinating for you?
Michael Polonio: Xunantunich is the Mayan
archaeological site I find most fascinating. The Garifuna settlements
in southern Belize are historical sites and of all these I am
most fascinated by the development of Dangriga as shown in the
old pictures of the town at the Gulisi Museum.
are the top three books we should all read in our lifetime?
Michael Polonio: I no longer read fictions
and tend to focus more on technical manuals and comtemporary
news and magines. I do not recall the names but some of the
most noteworthy readings from my youth which impacted my thinking
is a book by ex Black Panther Stokely Carmichael, the life of
Che Guevara and a book on Greek Philosophy and the evolution
would be on your list of favourite Belizean artists, writers
or musicians? Who would be on your list of favourite non-Belizean
artists, writers or musicians? What kind of music do you like
to listen to?
Michael Polonio: My focus tend to be more
on the music rather than on the musician. Same applies to writers
and books. But nonetheless, Evan Hyde, Zee Edgell and Dr. Colville
Young are among my favorite Belizean writers. Soft ballads and
deep meaningful lyrics about life and life experiences are my
musical preference. Some songs with the Punta rhythm by Sounds
Incorporated, Mohobub Flores, Asiatic, and Andy Palacio are
really meaningful. Most of the songs in the paranda rythym are
really meaningful and reflective. Brother David Ibo has also
produced a number of deep songs that I like and so has Mr. Peters.
would you answer the question "What is Belizean Culture?"
Michael Polonio: The Belizean culture is
the combination of values, and beliefs which shape our existence
and identity as a people and which gives meaning to life and
provides motivation to live and to strive for success.
is so ecologically diverse with abundant natural beauty.
What do you consider to be the most beautiful spot in all
Michael Polonio: Baldy Beacon and that is
perhaps because I have not visited Victoria Peak. The overview
of our country from that spot makes me appreciate fully the
gift that the creator has given the citizens of this fair land.
is your favourite vacation spot outside of Belize?
Michael Polonio: Los Angeles, California and
that is because of the many members of my family and childhood
friends live in that region of the US.
would you consider to be the greatest asset of Belize? What
do you consider the biggest challenge for Belize and Belizeans
in the 21st century?
Michael Polonio: Its people are by far the
greatest asset of our country. But whilst much lip service is
given to this concept, I do not that the expressed policies
of government has truly and consistently been supportive of
the maximum developments of our human resources. Better, fairer
and more consistent policies need to be implemented to develop
and nurture the inherent talents of our populace and in particular
the youth. I truly believe that given a fair chance, more of
our citizens with a propensity for business and science and
art would emerge and realize their full potential. More must
be done to facilitate the emergence and development of Belizean
talents from all walks of life, as it is these talented citizens
that will create new opportunities for the benefit of all.
would you most want someone reading this interview to remember
about what Michael Polonio the President of the Garifuna Council
of Belize has to say?
Michael Polonio: That I responded to the
responsibility and obligation to country and community and that
anyone can respond to the challenge of leadership in whatever
area of service that you may chose as I have in the Garifuna