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CTurner

  • 26 years old
  • From California, United States
  • Currently in California, United States

Belize!

A blog of my adventures while studying in San Ignacio, Belize.

History of Belize

Belize Belize  |  Jan 17, 2011
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 The history of Belize was very curious and unknown to me, so here is a summary of what we were taught in our ProWorld orientation, what my tour book tells me, and what I have observed. 

The history of Belize was very curious and unknown to me, so here is a summary of what we were taught in our ProWorld orientation, what my tour book tells me, and what I have observed. It is not complete by any means, but helps some.

            Alexis, a history teacher at one of the Christian schools, summarized the history of Belize for us.  He opened by describing Belize as an “adolescent with an identity crisis”.   He said the unique history has caused the country to be difficult one to classify and contextualize.  Though it lies in Central America its geographic area cannot fully identify it because Belize was not colonized by Spain.  The closest English speaking country is Jamaica, but it is not a Caribbean island so it does not fit with the rest of the West Indies.   It has elements of the Caribbean, Central America, and an English colony (as it was British Honduras), but where did it come from?

            The oldest known inhabitants of the area are the Mayan people who peaked during the Late Classic Period from 600-850AD.  In 1511 the Spanish arrived in Belize, seeking ‘gold, glory, and God’ in Central America.  These goals were not fulfilled in Belize because there was no gold, no glory in conquering the ‘swampy coast’, and the indigenous people did not adopt Catholicism.  After many attempts to colonize the area Spain eventually abandoned this piece of land.

            The British stumbled upon Belize as they began logging in Central America.  They were constantly clashing with Spaniards who had colonized much of the surrounding area, but they found peace from the Spaniards in Belize.  (Cool side note: Most of the loggers were ex-pirates that were looking for a livelihood when piracy was outlawed.)   The British loggers imported slaves to log Mahogany.  To complete this task the slaves would be in the jungle with weapons, so the British needed insurance to keep them from running away.  They decided to force the slaves to marry Belizeans, so if they considered running they would also be shamefully deserting their families.  These mixed marriages formed what is the ethnic group known today as Creole.  Creole’s compose about a quarter of the population today and speak an English dialect also called Creole. 

            Over half of the population today is mestizo, resulting from the combination of ingenious people and Spanish settlers.  The far spread of Spanish in Belize can be credited to this people group. 

            Mayan’s still reside in Belize and consist of three groups, found primarily on the Southern interior.  The groups are Mopan, Yucatec, and Kekchi.

            The Garifuna population of Belize (about 6%) comes from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent.  On the island indigenous people and shipwrecked African slaves mixed and finally settled in Belize in the mid 1800’s. 

              German speaking Mennonites are only about 4% of Belize’s population, but produce the majority countries agriculture.  They are comfortable in Belize where they do not receive religious interference from the government.

            There is also a small Chinese/ Taiwanese population, of whom most of the stores are owned.  Due to an agreement with the government these immigrants can open shops with low taxes, and can become very profitable.   Since Chinese families own many of the shops, it is common slang to say “chine” when referring to the store.

            Alexis warned that labeling Belize a ‘melting pot’ is a misnomer, because each culture is still very distinct.   Since the country gained its independence from Britain in 1981 they have tried to implement a parliamentary democracy to please all of these cultures.  Belize is struggling to develop and still relies heavily on foreign aid.  The primary industry is tourism, and has great appeal since most people speak English and it is close to the US. 

            Frequent hurricanes on the coast forced the government to move the capital from Belize City to Belmopan in 1970.  Though Belmopan is in the center of the country it has not attracted many people and remains the smallest country capital in the world with only 8,700 people.  Belize is about the size of Massachusetts and has about 350,000 people.  It is estimated that an equal number of Belizeans live in the US today.

            TV reached Belize in the 1980’s and according to Pablo (my host father) it has contributed to the degrading morals of the country.  Teenage pregnancy is becoming more common and less young people are committing to marriage.  I was surprised to find many of the channels are the same as the US and the pop culture is very similar to home.  We were told that the Cubs and Cowboys are still favorite sports teams here because they were the first to air on Belizean channels in the 80’s. 

            The friendliness of the people here has impressed me the most.  The people are very kind, accepting and hardworking.  Though many people may not meet the objective poverty line, they are happy.  A man shared this relevant bit of wisdom with me, he said, “poverty is subjective”.  I am really finding that true in Belize. 

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