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The Occoquan Tourism Company

  • Writer's pictureEarnie Porta

The Cultures of Belize

One the fascinating aspects of Belize that Team Occoquan-Prince William will encounter during the 170-mile 2019 La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge is the diversity of cultures in this small, Central American country. Four major groups make up more than three-quarters of the population. The oldest of these are three groups of Maya, descendants of the dominant inhabitants of the region until the coming of the Spanish in the 16th century. More than 10% of the population, they consist of the Yucatec Maya in the north, the Mopan in the south, and the Kekchi in the west. Though English and Spanish are increasingly widespread among the Maya of Belize, these groups have preserved their dialect of the Mayan language.

The largest ethnic group in Belize are the Mestizo, of mixed Spanish and Amerindian heritage. Most of the Mestizo population descends from refugees who left Mexico's Yucatan after the 19th-century War of the Castes, which pitted native Maya against the European-descended community known as Yucatecos. Belize's first Mestizo, however, are believed to have descended from the shipwrecked Spaniard, Gonzalo Guerrero, who arrived in 1511 and though captured by the Maya, grew to prominence in Maya society. He later rejected the entreaties of Hernan Cortes to join in the latter's campaign against the Aztecs in Mexico, and the Spanish were never to establish colonial settlement in what is today Belize. Most Mestizo today speak Spanish.

Creoles are another major ethnic group in Belize. Descended from African slaves and British baymen, loggers, and colonists, they today represent about 25% of Belize's population. African slaves played a critical role in the logging of Mahogany, whose extraction was once the industry for which Belize was most well known. Today's Creoles speak a unique version of English, which some have come to assert is indeed a separate language. The Creole greeting "Aarite" is common throughout much of Belize and the Creole community is responsible for the rural folk music tradition of brukdown, with its rhythms and call-and-response vocals.

About 6% of Belize's population consists of the fascinating Garifuna. Descendants of African slaves shipwrecked on St. Vincent in the 17th century and the Carib and Arawak natives, the Garifuna began spreading throughout the Caribbean after resistance to the British led to their deportation from St. Vincent at the end of the 18th century. Though the first Garifuna came to Belize at the start of the 19th century, the largest group arrived in 1832 in dugout canoes from Honduras. Their arrival is celebrated in Belize today as the national holiday, Garifuna Settlement Day. The Garifuna speak a combination of African and Arawak languages mixed with English and French. It is the Garifuna musical tradition that results in what is known today as Punta Rock.

East Indians, Chinese, Spanish, Arabs, and others also enliven Belizean culture, but among the most distinctive of these is the country's Mennonite Community. An Anabaptist group that originated in the Netherlands in the 16th century, the devoutly pacifist Mennonites have moved throughout the world, searching for places were they could live in accordance with their beliefs. The Mennonites of Belize came to the country in the late 1950s, largely emigrating from Mexico. Today they supply most of the dairy, eggs, and poultry products in the country, as well maintain a robust furniture-making industry.

Team Occoquan-Prince William will be participating in the Belikin La Ruta Maya 2019 Belize River Challenge March 8 through March 11. Please consider supporting our efforts as we compete and raise funds for ACTS and CASA of Prince William. You can pledge 10 cents, 20 cents, or more per mile of our 170-mile journey by clicking here and filling out the pledge form. We will collect from you after the race and your entire pledge will go to ACTS and CASA.

And please remember our wonderful sponsors!


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