Ancestral Embrace - PhMuseum

Ancestral Embrace

Tomas Ayuso

2020 - 2021

The lives of the Garifuna, afro-indigenous peoples spread across the coasts of Northern Central America but more specifically Honduras, were not spared the crises that swept the country. Insecurity, scarcity and dispossession forced many to leave the country, while others moved from their ancestral villages to the cities of Honduras.

This was the case for the Guity family from Rio Esteban. Thirteen years ago Ella, and her mother Tomasa left the caribbean settlement to the capital for a chance of economic betterment. There they were succesful with an informal bakery, but once the 2020 pandemic struck, Ella as well as the diaspora, began to feel the crush of government mismanagement.

Health scares, hunger and the concern of that the childhood of her two girls would be forever interrupted by the strict lockdown in the capital city made Ella move back to the village. A return to the ancestral embrace of the lands hard fought, won and stewarded by her ancestors. Back in Rio Esteban, the Guity women found the community that was so sorely missed during their new life in Tegucigalpa. They returned not as strangers but as the missing pieces that re made the community whole again. Hidden behind cloud rain forests and flanked by the slow tide of the caribbean pool, there's is the story of coming home to the company of loved ones, both present and spectral.

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  • With the sun setting off the coast of northern Honduras, Ella Guity watches her daughters, Jirian and Eleny, swim in the warm Caribbean waters of the village of Rio Esteban, home to a group with African and indigenous roots known as the Garifuna. Ella had left years earlier for life in the big city, but the pandemic led her back home.

  • Mabel Ortiz (right), Ella's cousin, cracks a joke in the home they shared with five other Guity family members in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. Thirteen years ago, Ella had uprooted from the seaside village where she grew up and moved to the capital in search of better economic prospects.

  • Along with other members of the Garifuna diaspora in the downtown capital district, Ella baked sheets of coconut bread every day at a community oven a block over from her home as the household's primary source of income.

  • While in lockdown, Ella, her cousin, Mabel (center), and sister, Heidi (left), found ways to keep morale up by celebrating their culture with traditional dance known as punta in their shared home in downtown Tegucigalpa.

  • Ella and daughter Jirian. Ella's decision to send her two girls to her native village of Rio Esteban ate away at her as she struggled with the lockdown in her home in the capital city of Tegucigalpa.

  • Ella and daughter Jirian. Ella's decision to send her two girls to her native village of Rio Esteban ate away at her as she struggled with the lockdown in her home in the capital city of Tegucigalpa.

  • After Ella sent her two daughters back to her village, their aunt Josefina took them in and stewarded their distance learning alongside her own daughters. Both Ella and Josefina have made sure to speak Garifuna to their children to keep their mother tongue alive.

  • Ella's mother, Tomasa, went back to Rio Esteban when her health began to fail during Tegucigalpa's protracted pandemic lockdown. Village elders treated her with traditional Garifuna medicine, and she swam in the Caribbean. Tomasa has made a full recovery.

  • Once she recovered, Ella quickly got back to work. The firebrand loved work and loved the communal form it takes in the village compared to the aggressive individualization that rules over life in Tegucigalpa.

  • Coconut bread was Ella's bread and butter. For 13 years, she readied the fragrant dough at dawn to take to the community oven and bake into twists and rolls that she sold across the city of Tegucigalpa.

  • The process begins at dawn and carries on until the batch is sold by the evening.

  • With her uncle Marco at the motor and the rainforest- covered mountains behind them, Ella and her daughters, Jirian and Eleny, sail down the Esteban River toward a sandbar where the Guity family has fished and played for

  • Ella's sister, Heidi, teaches her niece, 5-year-old Eleny, how to use the hanaa, the mortar used to mash plantains and traditional Garifuna staple grains. They're at their home in Rio Esteban.

  • Rio Esteban's residential architecture is a mix of traditional thatch-roofed homes, corrugated sheet metal housing and concrete buildings.

  • In between her lessons, Jirian takes care of her cousin Elian at her aunt Josefina's house.

  • Jirian plays a Garifuna variant of hopscotch with her cousins. Even though she misses her friends in Tegucigalpa, Jirian quickly made new ones in the village of Rio Esteban.

  • A plate of machuca, boiled and mashed plantains, next to a basil coconut soup with red snapper. Family matriarch Tomasa Guity prepared the food for the family's Sunday meal.

  • Ella watches her mother Tomasa spread freshly milled yucca flour over a wood-fired stove to make ereba, a traditional flatbread.

  • Jirian leaps with the waves behind her family home in Rio Esteban. Even though Ella's two daughters were born and raised in Tegucigalpa's urban mountains, both were quick to take to the water.

  • After months apart due to the pandemic's sprawl in the big city of Tegucigalpa, Ella reunited with her daughters in Rio Esteban, her native village, in August. If things work out as Ella hopes, the family will make Rio Esteban their permanent home.


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