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   Sunday, November 23, 2014 

Belize Flag Belize: Culture & History

Belize can be truly described as a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual society. This society consists of Creole, Garifuna, Spanish, English, Mestizo, Lebanese, Chinese, Maya and East Indian. The largest group is made up of Mestizos, which account for over 40% of the population. The Mestizos are descendents of mixed blood Mexicans and Yacatec Mayans who fled from the Yucatan in the mid 1800's. The second largest of these groups are the Creole, which comprise about 30% of the population. Creoles are the descendants of the early British settlers cohabitating with African slaves from Jamaica. Two thirds of the Creole population lives in Belize City the capital of Belize. They are featured in political parties, the media and the civil service.

The Garifuna comprise about seven percent of the population and have their own language and culture. The Garifuna came to Belize from Honduras in the early nineteenth century. This group is the result of intermingling of African slaves, Carib Indians and Europeans. Their main customs are agriculture and fishing. Their main occupations are teachers or civil servants and they are known as remarkable linguists and students. November 19th is retained as a national holiday in Belize to commemorate the arrival of the Garifuna to Belize. Theses people have their own language, food and music. They are a festive people and have earned recognition for a dance called the Punta. This is a dance in which coupled dancers try to outdo each other with a variation of movements. The language is the result of a fusion of several cultures, namely Caribs, French, Arawaks and Spanish cultures.

The Yacatec, Mopans and Kekchi are three Amerindians that make up the Belize's population. The Yacatec originated from Yucantan and came to Belize in the mid nineteenth century to avoid the War of Castes. They have assimilated into the society and have adopted English and Spanish as well as their native tongue. The Mopan Mayas came to Belize in the late nineteenth century to flee forced labour and taxation. The Kekchi Mayans avoided enslavement by the German coffer rowers in Verapaz by fleeing to Belize in the late nineteenth century. They have isolated themselves from the others and are viewed as the most self-reliant ethnic group in Belize.

The Chinese, the East Indians, English and Mennonites make the rest of the population. The Mennonites were the last group that began to arrive in Belize in the twentieth century. They came from Manitoba Canada, Chihuahua and Mexico. Their apparels easily identify Mennonites; the women wear bonnets and long dresses, while the men wear hats and denim overalls. They are known as hard working people and have their own schools, churches and financial institutions. They are very interested in agriculture as well as making crafted furniture.

Native Mayans lived in Belize from as far back as 1000 B.C. Elements of their existence can be seen by the findings of archaeologists. No one is sure as to the causes of the disappearance of the Mayan civilization. Some people have ascribed it to war, famine or a series of sequential disasters, but no one knows for sure.

Christopher Columbus sailed along the coast of Central America in 1502. The first European settlers in Belize were English Puritans, who set up trading post along the coast of Belize. There were a number of buccaneers and pirates who established themselves in Belize with their intent of attacking the Spanish galleons on their way to Europe laden with gold, silver and hard woods from Central America. Spain tried to expel the thieves and murderers but failed to do so. Eventually, Spain and Britain signed a treaty in 1786, which allowed the British to continue harvesting timber in exchange for protection against pirates attacking the Spanish ships.

Britain laid claim to Belize and declared it to be a colony of British Honduras. European settlers began to marry freed slaves thereby creating the Creole majority that is still dominant in the population. A destructive hurricane in 1931 helped to exasperate the already impoverished situation. Thus enabled Britain to set in motion to free Belize. The colony's name was changed from British Honduras to Belize in 1973, and on September 21, 1981, Belize was granted its Independence.

The capital of Belize is Belmopan and has a population in the capital city of just over five thousand. The major industries in Belize are sugar, bananas, fish products, garment production, food processing, timber, tourism and construction. Its cooking borrows elements from around the western hemisphere. The traditional staples are rice and beans. These are often eaten with chicken, pork, beef, fish or vegetables. Exotic traditional foods include armadillo and venison.


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