ONWARD! UPWARD! EXCELSIOR!
Ah yes, July in Los Angeles, hot, steamy, broiling, and that was before the rioting, looting and burning caused by an unpopular, racially motivated verdict. It was an eerily appropriate backdrop for the 2nd annual Intercontinental Garifuna Summit underway at the sprawling campus of Loyola Marymount University. Almost a couple hundred years earlier, the Garifuna nation was itself victim to looting and burning at the hands of British colonialists on the island of St. Vincent. A stone’s throw removed from all the insanity, a packed audience sat inside the cavernous auditorium as the keynote speaker was introduced by Roy Cayetano. "Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the National Garifuna Council, Mr. Pablo Lambey."
Rising To The Summit
I still get goose bumps reminiscing about that 4 July weekend on LA’s west side in 1992. This, arguably, was the greatest collection of Garifuna brain trust ever assembled anywhere. Representatives from every major Garifuna outpost were present and accounted for. I knew I was in for a treat as I settled down to take it all in. There were, in no particular order, intellectuals representing virtually all facets of business and professional life: ambassadors, doctors, professors, attorneys, teachers and law enforcement to name a few. This then, was the makeup of the audience Pablo Lambey was about to address. Resplendent in his yellow, Nehru-style shirt and a colorful headwrap, he cut an imposing figure as he strode sharply to the podium. Responding to Roy’s lengthy introduction and many kind accolades, Pablo began his address thusly: ‘Layahua gudadina yehbeh Roy." Speaking exclusively in the native Garifuna language, he acknowledged all those present, in particular, the attending dignitaries from Honduras, Los Angeles and Belize. He also took some time to thank the organizers and those who made the supreme effort and sacrifice to attend from as far away as St. Vincent itself. Quite composed and self assured, he quickly launched into the primary reason for the summit. The latter half of the 20th century had witnessed a Garifuna reawakening, a return from cultural hibernation if you will. The thrust of his message, between demonstrative hands and frequent eyewear adjustment was pointedly direct: Survival as a people meant we must find a way to overcome perceived differences based on geographic separation and economic inequalities. Individuals and businesses blessed with wealth in abundance have a moral if not social obligation to help the needy, the less fortunate man or woman. Pausing just long enough for Yvonne, his attractive daughter, to translate his eloquently delivered speech, he connected with the audience big time, and was accorded a standing three minute ovation as he exited stage left. What a performance, I thought to myself that day!
Our Papa Lam
Juan Pablo Lambey was born on the 26 Jun 1932 in the coastal town of San Juan, Tela, Honduras. Before his 5th birthday, his mother had relocated the family to Dangriga and soon after, the young Pablo attended Stann Creek’s Methodist School. Much like many of his youthful contemporaries, he was an avid soccer fan. But love for football would soon very quickly turn into love for the opposite gender, in particular, the former and irresitible Alice Higinio. Quoting his daughter here, ‘they met at a very early age, and he knew she would be his wife.’ Pablo and Alice became husband and wife in December of 1957. Their marriage would be blessed with eight children: Elaine, Joycelyn, Yvonne, Marie, John, Stanley,Georgette and Rose. It is so easy to forget how difficult it was to make a living back in the day. Pablo tried his hand at several occupations, that of a truck driver, citrus worker, farmer and indeed even a fisherman. These jobs would necessitate relocating his family to the remote towns of Gallon Jug and Mango Creek. Then it was on to Pomona and finally, back to Dangriga. His daughters would be among the first to tell you that ‘he was an all around dad, a disciplinarian, he had a soft touch and was very involved in his children’s lives.’ That should not come as a big surprise since, as it turned out, Pablo, no ordinary Joe, was also very involved in the lives of the people of his community.
President Of The National Garifuna Council
Long before he rose through the ranks to become the secretary of the General Workers Development Union, Pablo had taken a serious interest in the economic welfare of his fellow men and women. Indeed, he was a disciple of Thomas Vincent Ramos, the founder of Garifuna Settlement Day(GSD), as was Pablo’s mother, a lifelong activist in the movement. In addition to being a standing member of the Settlement Day Committee, Pablo also found the time to be a contributing member of the Four Aces Club and the Belize Obligation Society. His primary mission was rooted in the ‘improvement of the lot of the small man through culture, economic activity, organized labor and unity.’ It was my good fortune to be able to ‘interview’ Belize’s own and former Ecumenical High School principal Mrs. Phyllis Cayetano about the impact and legacy of the life of Pablo Lambey. The following is an excerpt from that interview: He was president of the Garifuna Council/How did that come about? As a member of the Dangriga Branch, he went to the 1990 Convention in Barranco Village as a delegate and was nominated and elected there. He served for two terms, 4 years. What will you most remember about Pablo Lambey? His love of his fellowman. He shared so much with everyone. He even became a foster father to numerous kids, including his wife's nephews. What do you think will be his lasting legacy? Acquiring the CDS Land for the building of the Pablo Lambey Cultural Centre. Lobbied for funds from Gov't and other sources and got the foundation started. It was later completed by the next president, Augustine Flores. Pablo Lambey would go to become a member of the Ecumenical School Board, the Human Rights Commission and a Justice of the Peace, his legacy secure as a grassroots politician. His daughter Joycelyn Lambey Cayetano had this to add: ‘He fought for better wages and treatment of the working class people, Keeping the adult families together in social settings. He organized and lead the reinactment of our arrival to Belize. He participated in Garifuna plays during the celebrations and made himself available to complete any task necessary to make the celebrations a success. To bring all garifuna organizations together and establish a common goal for all Garinagu,’ and finally ‘to break down geographic barriers among the Garifuna nations and to ensure that this culture continues to survive.’ Despite having grown literally a block down the street from Pablo Lambeys residence, I never really got to know him personally. However I can still be thankful I’ve come to know his daughters and their families whose friendships I treasure. In 1996 Pablo’s health began to suffer from the onset of kidney failure and other complications. After a lengthy battle, the nation of Belize lost one of its more charismatic leaders on 17 April of this year. The GSD Committee of Killeen TX proudly dedicates the Year 2000 Settlement Day Celebrations in his honor.
*Photo inset courtesy of channel5belize news online