A Melting Pot of Cultures
Belizeans have long described themselves as a “Caribbean nation” that just happens to be in Central America, for they have more in common with the distant islands on the Caribbean than their next-door neighbors of Central America. They share a British heritage, the English language and cultural influences such as music, dance and folklore. Belize’s colorful history has blessed the country with a diverse and rich cultural heritage. Generations of racial mixing have made it impossible to describe the “typical” Belizean, with a complete range of skin tones and eye colors. And despite the diversity, there is strong national pride and unity, where everyone, despite their varying ethnic backgrounds, describes themselves first and foremost as a Belizean.
Faces will captivate you as you travel the country. Direct descendants of the ancient Maya can still be found in remote villages. The Garifuna, a mixture of escaped African slaves and Caribbean Indians, arrived in Belize in the early 1800’s after an epic 200-year persecution by European powers across the Caribbean. The Mestizos (a mixture of Spanish and Indian descent) found refuge from war-ravaged countries in Central America. The Mennonites, a hardworking and intensely private community, have also found a home in Belize. They are part of a resilient religious sect that traces its roots back to 16th century Netherlands, similar to the Amish in Pennsylvania. Also, in recent years there has been a flux of East Indian, Syrian, Lebanese and Chinese immigrants into the country. Add to this mix a group of international wayfarers (including many Americans and Europeans) who wandered into Belize, fell in love and never left, and the result is a people of storybook character that are as warm and welcoming as the tropical weather.
All these cultures have their own unique languages, celebrations, religions and cuisines. Although the official language is English, as you travel the country you are likely to hear Creole (the most widely spoken language), Spanish, Mayan (who have conserved their language through the centuries), Garifuna (the Africanized language of the Garifuna), Chinese, the archaic German of the Mennonites, Hindi, and countless other colorful languages. Belize, as such, is a combination of these cultures. Belizean cuisine for example borrows elements from English, Mexican and Caribbean dishes, where coconut milk, spices and fried plantains add a tropical flavor. Another important aspect of Belizean culture is music and dancing. From the Garinagu’s Africanized celebrations with deep drums, to the laid-back Caribbean vibes of reggae, you’ll never find Belizeans sitting politely through a party without dancing. For most Belizeans, this diverse cultural heritage is as much a national treasure as the Barrier Reef and Maya ruins.