Although a small country with only 332,000 people, Belize is culturally rich. Belize is home to many different ethnic groups, including Chinese, Creole, East Indian, European, Garifuna, Lebanese, Mayan, Mennonite and Mestizo, each with their own cultural and linguistic traditions. As a result, many languages are spoken here, but English is the official language. Belizeans of all cultures broadly welcome tourism and visitors are warmly greeted with large smiles. Many of our guests find that the best part of their vacation is the chance to experience some of the different cultures of Belize, and there are many opportunities to do so at Hamanasi, starting with the brief histories below.
In 1635, two Spanish ships carrying Nigerian slaves, was caught up and floundering on the seas before sinking just off the coast of the island of St. Vincent. Survivors of the wreck swam towards shore and found shelter within the existing Carib Indian settlements. These survivors became a part of the communities that had taken them in and over the next two and a half centuries the Carib Indians and the Nigerians inter-mixed, inter-married and eventually fused to form a single culture known as Black Carib, or Garinagu.
In the late 1700’s, as European politics increased in influence through the Caribbean, wars were increasingly fought over land and trade routes. With St. Vincent being declared a free state and under rule of no country, French nationals settled on the island and formed strong bonds with the Garinagu inhabitants. With strained relations between France and England, when St Vincent was awared to the British, battles were fought harder and all cumulated in a final battle on June 10th 1796. The French and their Garinagu allies, that the British no longer trusted, were forced to leave St. Vincent, and they started the long journey in search of a new home.
Over the next few years, the Garinagu travelled throughout the Caribbean, settling in Honduras, before leaving as war raged on. According to tradition, led by Alejo Beni, the Garinagu first landed in Belize, then known as British Honduras, on November 19th 1802, in what is known as modern day Dangriga. The Garinagu settled and have prospered in Belize, with many Garifuna communities still found throughout Southern Belize.
Each year, November 19th is celebrated as Garifuna Settlement Day and is a time to rejoice in finally finding a place to settle and continue traditions, grow families and to prosper. If you are lucky enough to be here at that time or on other major holidays, you’ll witness traditional singing, dancing and drumming that will mesmerize you.
Any time you visit you can get a first hand introduction to Garifuna Culture with one of several cultural tours listed below.
Hopkins, which is the closest settlement to Hamanasi, is a traditional Garifuna fishing village, so of all the diverse cultures in Belize, you are most likely to get a taste of the Garifuna culture while at Hamanasi. Although commonly referred to as Garifuna, the people are actually known as Garinagu, while the language and the culture is Garifuna. The Garinagu are descendants of Carib Indians and Africans, and continue many of their ancestral customs such as fishing in dugout dories, harvesting cassava and basket weaving. How the Garinangu came to Belize is an epic story spanning continents and the seas, beginning nearly 500 years ago in the 17th Century on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent.
Today, evidence of this great ancient civilization is found throughout Belize in the form of ancient archeological sites to modern day Mayas practicing many aspects of their impressive heritage. Belizean descendants of the ancient Maya, known as the modern Maya, have formed three distinct groups: the Yucatec, the Mopan and the Ketchi. The Yucatec Maya refer to themselves simply as Mayan and live in the Corozal and Orange Walk districts of Northern Belize. The primary language spoken is Spanish, but Yucateco is also used. The Mopan Maya of Southern Toledo and Stann Creek Districts are originally from the Petén region of Guatemala, while the Mopan of the western areas of Belize centered on San Jose Succotz in the Cayo District are a mix of Petén and Yucatecan stock. Immigrating from San Pedro Corcha, Guatemala, the Ketchi are found in several villages in the Toledo District.
Like their ancestors, Modern Maya primarily still lead an agrarian lifestyle with corn, beans and various starches and vegetables raised. Corn is ground into masa on grinding stones to make tortillas, tamales and other dishes. Many Kekchi Mayan women wear blouses and skirts decorated with hand woven geometric embroidery. Slate carvings, jewelry and baskets are some of their many handicrafts.
Mestizo is the name for a culture that developed on the Yucatan peninsula as a mix between local people of Mayan heritage and people of Spanish heritage that arrived during the Spanish colonial period. Over time many Mestizo left the Yucatan and came to what is now Belize. One of the largest migrations occurred during mid 1800’s when Belize was known as the colony of British Honduras. At that time the Yucatan region was suffering through La Guerra de Castas (the caste wars), one of the most violent conflicts of the Spanish colonial period, and the ancestors of many Belizean Mestizos first came to Belize to flee that conflict. More recently, in the 1980’s, Mestizo from Guatemala, Honduras and EI Salvador have established communities within Belize. Today, over 500 years later, the Mestizo culture accounts for almost 50% of Belize’s population and still displays a beautiful blend of Spanish and Maya customs, from the food and the language, to their Roman Catholic faith.
As unions formed between the Europeans and Africans, the children that were borne of these unions became known as Creole. During the 1800’s, Creole people started to extend away from Belize City into other areas of Belize, and today the villages of Freetown Sibun, Gales Point Manatee and More Tomorrow Village are considered to be key cultural centers. Even after the abolition of slavery occurred, many Creole chose to stay and continue to work in the Mahogany plantations, and to this day nearly 25% of Belize’s population are Creole descent.
Creole culture has some very key practices associated with it, including an indigenous language, and food and cooking. The word, Creole itself, defines the language and tradition of the African-European community. Belizean Creoles have created the word “Kriol” to mean the language of the Creoles, which is considered by some as a completely distinct language evolved from, but no longer a dialect of English.
Chinese culture arrived in Belize in a similar way to Indian cultural influences, through an influx of migrant labor in the 1800s during the British colonial period. Descendants of this wave of Chinese immigrants still remain, but the majority of todays Chinese population stems from immigration that has occurred since just before World War 2 and currently Punta Gorda has the second largest population of Belizean Chinese after Belize City. Chinese is still spoken among some communities, but more so among the older generation, while the younger generations also appear to be becoming more “creolised” over time and there is fear that spoken and written Chinese will die out in Belize.
Mennonites in Belize have different ethnic backgrounds and have formed different religious bodies. More traditional and conservative Mennonites are found in Shipyard and Upper Barton Creek, while more modernized communities are found in Spanish Lookout and Blue Creek. Most Belizean Mennonites are descendants of Mennonites that settled in the Russian Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1873, 7,000 Mennonites emigrated from Russia and settled in Manitoba, Canada and some later resettled in Mexico. In the late 1950s some of these Mexican Mennonites settled in then British Honduras. Additionally, some Old Order Mennonites from Pennsylvania in the USA settled in Belize. Many Kriol and Mestizo Belizeans have converted to Mennonitism. Mennonites only accept adults as members.