The People of Belize

The people of Belize are those of a society made up of every racial and ethnic group imaginable: dark and light and each shade in between, beauty cast from African, American Indian, Chinese, Arab, Caucasian and East Indian. Belize's majority ethnic group consists of Creoles, originally from Africa, many by way of other Caribbean island nations, and many also with the blood strains of Belize's early settlers from Europe. This group gives Belize its unique quality of friendship, warmth and wisdom and also its independence of both body and spirit. Ironically, Mexico's Caste Wars of the early nineteenth century caused, at different times, both Mestizos and their Mayan enemies to flee to Belize for sanctuary. Many northern towns and villages in Belize were in fact established by one or another of these factions.

Today people of Mestizo descent make up more than half the population of northern Belize and play an important role in the nation's political, economic and social life. Belize's Maya, many of whom retreated from Belize under pressure from the cutting of the logwood in the mid-seventeenth century, and only returned to settle in Belize in this century, live mostly in the south of the country, in the west and in scattered villages in the north. Dangriga, and the southern areas of Belize, have a large Garifuna population and here are found people who managed to keep their culture intact even when they were unceremoniously transported to the Mosquito Coast from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, where this new race had evolved from a co-mingling of ex-slaves and natives. At the time of emancipation in Belize, the 1830s, they left the strife of Honduras, heading north and settling in the southern part of this country.

A walk down any street in any town in Belize quickly reveals the influence of three other segments of Belize's varied racial mix. The roots of India, Lebanon and China are easily detected in the names and faces of merchants, shop owners and restauranteurs, self-made entrepreneurs, many of them descendants of labourers bought to Belize by the British in the early nineteenth century to build roads, canals and even railways. The small, long-settled, "white" element in Belize, not counting the Mennonites, are a mixture of early English, Scottish and Irish families, some Germans, and post Civil War Americans. These are families as proud of their "Belizeanism" as the most patriotic of Creole, Garifuna or Mestizo families. The Beauty of Belize is that its people, from whatever roots of however long- or short - ago, are Belizeans first, and whatever else second.

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