Eleanor Castillo-Bullock Confronts The Erosion of  The Garifuna Culture  
By: Jos� Francisco �vila
Eleanor Castillo-Bullock is the Artistic Director of GAMAE International who is  committed to the struggle of preserving the  Garifuna history, heritage, culture and language by teaching it to  Garifuna children, youth and young adults through the performing arts venue. Her Habinaha Garinagu: Garifuna Language Performing Arts Program is an effective intergenerational immersion program, aimed to stabilize the indigenous language of the Garifuna people by utilizing the performing arts to promote, protect and preserve the Garifuna language. 


She was born in the small coastal village of Dangriga, also known as Stan Creek, Belize. Her exposure to traditional Garifuna music began when she migrated to  the United States at the age of 10, to reunite with her father. Garifuna Music became a part of her daily life. She joined local Garifuna dance companies and began developing her own technique while  performing to Traditional Garifuna songs. 


However, it was when Eleanor returned to Dangriga,  in 1973 and discovered that the Garifuna language and culture were steadily dying in a town known as "The Capital of the Garifuna Culture", that she developed her strong cultural awareness. The cultural erosion she saw there deeply affected her outlook, therefore, she decided  to respond to that reality. She concluded that theater and the performing arts would be an excellent medium to preserve the culture. 


Eleanor became a leading figure in a growing renaissance of young Garifuna intellectuals, artists and scholars who were writing poetry and drama or plays in their native Garifuna language. She saw an opportunity to create and design performing arts programs based on the Garifuna culture and language that led to the creation of the "Habinaha Garinagu Language and Performing Arts Program", an international and critically acclaimed Garifuna language immersion and performing arts program.  The program enables youths to explore and celebrate the language, cultural traditions and arts of the Garifuna community. 

Since 2005,  the talented performers of the Habinaha Garinagu program have shared the cultural traditions and expressions of the Garifuna people with an international set of audience. Garifuna and non-Garifuna children, youth and young adults perform together, singing traditional Garifuna songs with lyrics transposed to English, allowing participants and audience members to understand the performance and ultimately know the story of the Garifuna people.


Through this interpretative exhibition of dance, drama, music and storytelling, they are able to protect and preserve the Garifuna culture and language while passing down traditional Garifuna knowledge and sacred rituals to the younger generation. They utilize the performing arts as a medium for the youth and young adults to ultimately reclaim their ancestral language, become empowered and begin to have a sense of connectedness to their ancestors.

In 2005, Eleanor was invited by  the National Garifuna Council (NGC) of Belize, whose mission is to preserve, strengthen and develop the Garifuna  Culture, to conduct a series of workshops in Dangriga. She returned  in 2008  under the sponsorship of UNESCO.  In 2011, she took  the  Program  to St.Vincent and the Grenadines, the ancestral homeland of the Garifuna People. The program was so successful that the Government of St. Vincent named it  "The Garifuna Language Retrieval Program." 


Eleanor holds  a Masters in Arts in Liberal Studies (M.A.L.S.-2008)  and a Masters Degree in Public Affairs and Administration (M.P.A.-2009) from Rutgers University, a Bachelors degree in Visual and Performing Arts from Syracuse University, and  an Associate Degree from New York City Technical College.


Eleanor Cecelia Castillo-Bullock was honored for her efforts in  safeguarding and preservation of the Garifuna language and Dance and Music with a Masterpiece of Humanity Award during the Garifuna Coalition USA, Inc's  5th Annual Masterpiece of Humanity Fundraising Gala.  

� 2014 by Jos� Francisco �vila, All Rights Reserved