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next page Please 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 classroom. How 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. What 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. What 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. How 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. Can 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. Can 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. Having 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 simultaneously. What 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. What 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 buds. Have 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. Although 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. Which 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. What 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 of Democracy. Who 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. How 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. Belize is so ecologically diverse with abundant natural beauty.
What do you consider to be the most beautiful spot in all of Belize?

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. What 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. What 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. What 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 Council.


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