BELIZE A MELTING POT OF RICH & DIVERSE ETHNIC GROUPS LIVING IN HARMONY
January 23rd, 2014 by Oscar Castaneda for Balaam Eco Adventures
Belize is a rich blend of cultural integrity and cultural diversity living in peaceful harmony with each other. From its humble origins as a British Colony in the heart in Central America and with English as our official language to its roots with the first inhabitants the Ancient Mayas.
We are a true haven of democracy in such a changing world and dynamics and as Aldus Huxley said “ if the World had any origins then Belize would be its end.”
Lets travel back in time to get a grasp of where we come from, its said that we study history to understand the past so as to not make the same mistakes again and to know where we are headed. Today Archaeologists and scholars study the present day and live among our Mayan people to better understand the past.
I have observed way too much racism on my travels. I didn’t realise how sickeningly accustomed I’d grown to races hating each other until I arrived in Belize and noted the complete absence of enmity. What a wonderful thing! Looking around a single street in Belize, you will see Latino, Black, Indigenous Mayan, White, Mixed Race, Asian, and Arab people (not to mention the Mennonites!), all coexisting happily. Even the bottled water labels sing the praises of diversity. LOVE IT! “ according to Lillie Marshall who visited Belize on her Honeymoon in 2012.
The Ancient Mayas were the first inhabitants of Belize and have been living here for more than 3000 years dating as early as 2500 B.C. occupying Site in Orange Walk, northern Belize. The Maya people were living in Belize when the Spanish and the British came in the 16th and 17th centuries and they later became integrated into the Belizean society.
Maya live a simple lifestyle centred around agriculture, cultivating corn, beans, and vegetables in subsistence form selling surplus to the markets in towns. Comprising about 11% of Belize’s population, the Maya live in spaciously laid-out villages, some near to the ceremonial sites of the earliest Maya settlements. Altun Ha, Xunantunich, Cuello, Lubaantun, Caracol and are some of the sites still maintained as tourist attractions, and as reminders of the magnificent past of the Ancient Maya Civilization.
There are presently three groups of Maya living in various areas of Belize. The Yucatec Maya, who migrated from the south of Mexico, live in the northern districts of and and have merged with the Mestizo population. The Mopan Maya came from San Luis in the Peten region of Guatemala and settled in San Antonio and the Toledo District. The Mopan Maya of the western area of Belize are mostly living in the village of San Jose Succotz in the . Immigrating from San Pedro Corcha in Guatemala, the Kekchi Maya inhabit about eight villages in the .
The Mestizos are a mixture of Spanish and Maya and represent 48% of the Belizean population, thus the largest ethnic group in Belize. They originally arrived in Northern Belize between 1837 and 1838 escaping (the Caste War) when 70,000 Maya revolted in Yucatan Mexico against a much smaller Spanish force and annihilated over one-third of the population. The surviving Mestizo fled over the border into British territory now Belize.
Mestizos live in most parts of Belize, but most make their homes in the northern districts of Corozal and . Mestizos speak Spanish as their first language and were the first sugar cane farmers a major industry in Northern Belize. Descendants of the earlier settlers also inhabit the Islands of and . During the civil wars in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in the 1970’s many thousands of refugees came to Belize and have established communities near the capital city of Belmopan and surrounding areas. In the Stann Creek district in the south they are employed in the citrus and banana industries. .
Creoles are the descendants of the in the 18th and early 19th centuries from Africa by the British settlers for the logging industry. Making 25 % of Belize’s population today mainly due to the their migration to North America in the 1970’s and to the large influx of Central American refugees to Belize around the 1970’s.
They live mostly in , villages along the Belize and Sibun Rivers, as well as along the Western and Northern highways. The Creole culture of Belize worked seasonally in the forest, looked for occupations on the waterfront, in service industries and in government jobs when forestry declined. Some do carry on small-scale subsistence farming and fishing.
The Creoles of Belize have developed their own dialect with roots from African words and broken English in the slavery days so the British would not understand them. Today all the cultures in Belize speak Creole/Kriol and you are never wrong with spelling as in the English language. Its easy to learn Creole/Kriol and with a keen ear you can understand what is spoken.
The Garinagu comprise 6% of Belize’s population and have held on to most of their traditions, drumming, cultural integrity and especially retaining their attachment to the sea. November 19th is celebrated as Garifuna Settlement Day in Dangriga a commemorating their arrival to Belize with reenactments of their arrival.
Garifuna is the language spoken however as a group they are called the Garinagu a mixture of Black Caribs, African descent and Arawak's. They first arrived in Belize in 1802 having originated from a shipwrecked of slaves on St. Vincent in 1675 while being transported to Roatan, Honduras.
The Garinagu live along the coast of , , Seine Bight, Punta Gorda and Barranco where the men worked in the mahogany camps while others fished and cleared land for the women to plant cassava and other root crops.
Many of them speak English, Spanish, French, , and and were the first teachers in Belize. They have their own language which has absorbed the different elements of their past, including , Carib and African.
The Mennonites came to Belize in 1950 looking for Political Freedom and wanting to live a simple lifestyle governing their own society. Today they are a major contributor to the National economy and very well respected. Mennonites originates from their Religion and the language they speak however they are Germans migrating from Canada to the US, Mexico, Belize, Central and even to South America. They are similar to the Amish in Pennsylvania and we have two main groups, the conservatives and the modern Mennonites.
The Conservative Mennonites dress in casual clothing like uniforms and can easily be identified. They are mostly farmers and live in remote areas and use horse and waggon as their means of transportation. There is no use of electricity and live with strict rules and have integrated into Belize’s society in this day and age with all the modern technology not bothering them.The Modern Mennonites sometimes referred to as “Moneynites" by locals are very industrious and produce a lot using heavy mechanised farming and drive the latest model cars! They produce around 90% of local consumption in the form of eggs, cheese, milk, poultry, beef, furniture, construction, technology among other trades and services.
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