- The Maya
- The British
- The Africans
- The Creoles
- The Garinagu
- The Mestizo
- The American Confederates
- The East Indians
- The West Indians
- The Mennonites
- Central Americans
- Taiwanese and Nigerians
Belize is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world on a per capita basis. There are at least ten distinct cultures which have a niche within Belize’s borders.
At the time of contact between the indigenous Maya and Europeans, there were two distinct cultures occupying Belize. The first of these cultures were the Chols. These people resided in the south of Belize and were descendants of the Maya who achieved much in our region during the Classic period. The other group of Maya who resided in Belize were the Mopan Maya. This group lived in the south and western parts of Belize extending into southern Mexico.
As the Spanish never really settled in Belize, the next major culture to reside in Belize were the British and Scottish people who were the first Europeans to settle the land. The first settlement was at the mouth of the Belize River but the first capital of the settlement was on St. Georges Caye. The legacy of the British still lives on with a number of families who maintain successful businesses and homes on exclusive areas such as St. Georges Caye.
Descendants of Africans who worked as slaves to the logwood and mahogany industries now account for 25% of Belize’s population. This group is classified as Creole which takes into account the fact that there was considerable race mixing between the British Culture and the African Tradition. Recently, Africans from Nigeria have immigrated to Belize.
The Creole culture of Belize developed as the British and African cultures mixed over the generations. The center of Creole culture lies in Belize City as it has done from the late 1700s. Apart from the traditional home of Belize City, distinctly Creole villages in Belize have included Freetown Sibun, Gales Point Manatee and More Tommorow Village. At these locations, the Creole culture persists with many culinary traditions, festivals and music.
The food in these villages is often Rice and Beans along with meats such as Hicatee, Gibnut or Deer which are hunted from nearby rivers or forests. Creole music includes the Bruckdown but may also include Gombay drumming which is distinct from the Garifuna drums.
Another culture in Belize which features the mixing of an African culture with another culture is the Garinagu. The Garinagu are decendants of Carib Amerindians and Africans who survived a shipwreck in St. Vincent in 1635. The Garinagu never experienced slavery in the Caribbean and engaged in a war called the Carib War with the British who sought to enslave them. The paramount chief of the Garinagu-Chatoyer – was killed and the Garinagu were eventually exiled by the British from St. Vincent to Roatan in 1797. The Garinagu visited British Honduras as early as 1802 and by 1806 were immigrating to this country. One of the first mass migrations to British Honduras was in 1832. The original settlements were in Stann Creek, Punta Gorda and Barranco but the Garinagu now live throughout Belize.
Belize has always accepted people escaping wars in our nearby countries. The second major culture that sought a peaceful home in Belize were Mestizos who originated in Mexico. By definition, Mestizos are people of a mixed European and Indigenous Amerindian blood. In the middle 1800s, the indigenous Maya of southern Mexico had rebelled against the Mexican republic because of various grievances. These grievances included forced labour and appropriation of lands. These were remnants of a system which required the Maya to pay tribute to the Spanish settlers. This was rejected by a growing number of Mayas who rebelled violently in 1847. What resulted was the Caste War of Yucatan. As a consequence of this war, the Maya sacked Bacalar and killed many of its inhabitants in 1847 and 1857. In response to the violence which erupted, Maya and Mestizos left Mexico for Belize starting in 1847. They settled in places like Corozal, Orange Walk and San Estevan in the north of Belize. Other places where villagers settled included San Antonio and San Jose Soccutz in the Cayo District.
Belize continued to be a destination for people displaced by war. In the late 1860s, American Ex-Confederates who had lost the Civil War in the United States settled in various parts of Belize. These refugees were welcomed to British Honduras by the Colonial government which was seeking to industrialize the colony. The Confederates found Belize attractive because of the language and its British history. As a result, in 1867, the settlers came to British Honduras. They settled primarily in the Orange Walk and Toledo districts.
Shortly after the Ex-Confederates came to Belize, a group of Hindus from India came to Belize by way of Jamaica. They had entered Jamaica as part of an indensureship program which the British arranged to provide labour for various industries in the Caribbean after slavery was abolished. After these people had finished five years of indensureship, they were free to move to any territory in the West Indies to work. In Belize, the Hindus first settled in the Corozal District where they worked for the Mestizo and British sugar interests. A contingent also went to work for the Ex-Confederates who were establishing large sugar plantations in the Toledo District.
Workers were also attracted from other West Indian islands. The two main territories from which workers came from were Jamaica and Barbados. These immigrants worked in the banana and other industries in the southern parts of British Honduras.
The Mennonites are another important cultural group which has found a home in Belize. The Mennonites are descendants of Anabaptists who resided in Europe in the 1700s. Within the Mennonite community, there are a number of different congregations. These include the Old Colony, Old Order and Klein Geminde denominations. These Mennonites faced many persecutions for their religious beliefs and were forced to move from their original homeland in Prussia. They moved to Russia and then to Canada and the United States in a quest to maintain their religious beliefs and their culture. The Mennonites in Belize migrated from Quellen Colony in Mexico in 1958. Since this migration, they have started 12 numerous communities in Belize. These include Spanish Lookout, Shipyard and Blue Creek which are their most prosperous communities.
One of the cultures which have immigrated to Belize for an extended period is the Ladino Culture from Central America. These people have come to Belize from as early as the late 1800s to work in the banana industry in the south of Belize. The most recent migration of Central American Ladinos peaked in the mid 1980s when the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua were entangled in a civil war with rebels. The Central Americans were running from “scorch earth” or “rural pacification” schemes. They came to Belize and many found work in the banana, citrus and construction industries. Other Central American Immigrants have founded small “milpa” or livestock farms in most of the districts.
Other immigrants who have come to Belize recently have been the Taiwanese as well as Nigerians. Taiwanese came to Belize as a result of an economic citizenship scheme developed by the government of Belize. Nigerians on the other hand, became aware of Belize because the Nigerian government had sent volunteers to Belize to work in the healthcare system. Many pharmacists and nurses came and brought their families to accompany them.