Belize History, People and Culture
Overview of Belize History, People and Culture
Belize’s rich and colorful history fascinates many history and culture aficionados. The country was once known as British Honduras, because it was one of the major dwelling nations for the early British settlers. No wonder, English is the official language in Belize. The name ‘Belize’ comes from an ancient Maya word; however some studies suggest that Belize can be a surname of Scottish origin. No matter what the origin of the name is, Belizeans lovingly refer to their country as ‘The Jewel’ along the Caribbean coast.
Belizean history dates back to the 14th century, when Belize was home to the ancient Maya civilization. The Maya were the first inhabitants of Belize, who developed the first colonies here. History depicts that Belize was once an important settlement of the great Mayan Empire which was all over Mesoamerica – Guatemala, southern Mexico, El Salvador, and Belize. During the golden period of the Maya Civilization in the 6th to 8th century AD, Belize was a popular part of their business hub. However, the civilization started to decline by the 14th Century. This was the time when the Europeans started migrating to the western world. The Spanish settlers were the first ones to arrive in Belize around the 16th century.
Even though the Spanish ruled Belize for over a century, they were never able to have complete control of the country. They, however, used the lands in Belize for timber production and cultivation. This eventually drew attention of many other settlers in the west, including the famous English settlers. Later by the 17th century, many pirate ships from Scotland and England arrived in Belize. Gradually, these English buccaneers became settlers of Belize. Their major source of income was cutting log wood and exporting lumber from Belize. The conflict between the English and Spanish settlers grew strong, when the English demanded full control from the Spanish rulers. Later in 1798, England took full control over this country by defeating the Spanish Armada. After the country came under British rule, it was named British Honduras ( Note, in 1974, the country changed its name to Belize).
The local economy in Belize faced a huge decline during the WWII. This was the time when Belizeans started to demand their country’s independence. A few years later, the British government granted autonomous administration in Belize. In 1950’s, Belizeans came forward for the formation of political parties to establish a government system and a parliamentary style of rule. The country’s first capital was Belmopan, because Belize City was heavily affected by Hurricane Hattie in 1961. After the transition of Belize’s political status from the colonial ruling to an independent democracy, the neighboring country Guatemala started a territorial dispute. Later in 1981, Belize became a self-governing country by gaining full independence.
During the past few decades, Belize has become a stabilized democratic nation with a permanent parliamentary system. The country, after receiving financial aids from the US, has also seen a steady rise in its economy. Today, Belize is an eclectic nation with approximately 8 predominant ethnic groups.
A majority of Belizeans are of English and Spanish ancestry and aside from that, there are Maya, Chinese, Lebanese, Mennonites, Arabs and refugees from many neighboring nations that call Belize their home. Due to the British, Belize is an English speaking country. However, a majority of Belizeans speak the Kriol language ( English-based creole). Spanish is also a widely spoken and is the mother tongue of the Mestizo culture and Central American refugees in Belize. Other languages spoken include Mayan, Chinese, German, Lebanese, German, and Garifuna. Most Belizeans are Roman Catholic and there are Protestant Christians as well. The Maya and Garifuna people, however, practice their own indigenous religion, which includes a mixture of traditions from shamanism. Minor groups in Belize include Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, and, Muslims.
Immigration has been a major factor of the demographic numbers in Belize. As the country is home to many early settlers, the indigenous Mayans and refugees, the demographics also shows a similar variation. The latest massive immigration occurred during the 1980s, when a huge number of Central American refuges migrated to Belize. As per the 1991 census, the total population of Belize had 44 percent Spanish speaking individuals. However, the latest census report in 2010 had 49.7 percent Spanish descents among the entire Belizean population. With an aim to earn money and find jobs in American cities, many Belizeans have emigrated to the United States in the past few decades.
The culture in Belize is a melting pot of many ethnic groups. The Belizean culture is dominated by the Creole and Mestizo. The country’s vibrant culture has a bit of similarity as the culture and lifestyle of many Caribbean countries nearby. Even though Belize is bordered by Central American countries, the local culture is more Caribbean than Central American. The country’s diverse bio-diversity and geographical areas make it a popular ecotourism spot in Central America. Therefore, people here are friendly and welcoming. After all, a majority of Belizeans work in tourism sectors.
Belizean food is also a mixture of many cuisines with a major influence from the Caribbean and Central America. Belizeans love to eat rice and beans. However, the cuisine shows a distinctive flavor with the influence of many local produce and regional favorites such as coconut milk, plantains, and hot peppers. Just like the food preference in Belize is specific, the religious ceremonies in this country are precise too. Garifuna and Maya people have exact preferences when it comes to traditions and religious ceremonies. These people don’t hesitate to practice their rituals even in this day and age. Even today, many Maya and Garifuna people use homemade wines and fermented fruit drinks during ceremonial events. However, Belizeans are very open to accept foreign cultures and celebrations. Every year, the country celebrates the Christmas and the New Year event with lots of joy and cheer.