Belize City ‘s Culture

Belize City has a very rich cultural background which evolved from the events that took place in that part of Belize during the initial stages of the town’s growth. Although Belize City may have transformed into what can be described as a typical English speaking Caribbean town, the remnants of the Mayans who first settled the area are exhibited through the art and craft of Belize City, and found in existing physical remains of temples and tombs. With the arrival of Spanish adventurers to the island, Belize City’s culture is also influenced by the Spanish, though they moved on to other countries within Latin America and left Belize to the English who successfully established themselves in Belize City through the development of trade and other commercial activities.

Belize City was first identified as Belize Town by the British and was always the area that seemed to have been more favorable for settling compared to other parts of the island. The existence of rivers in flat lying coastal regions or that directly lead to the sea has always been a factor that influenced the growth and development of towns and cities throughout the world, and such was the case of Belize City, where the presence of the tributaries of the Belize River proved to be conducive for internal and external trade as well as fishing.

While other Caribbean islands would have developed along the path set by the sugar industry and structure of the sugar plantations, Belize City’s society grew according to the social structure that was established by the two major trading activities that were developed: logwood and mahogany cutting. Sugar plantations demanded extensive areas of flat land and thousands of laborers, while the exploitation of logwood and mahogany was done in the interior forests and did not require large numbers of workers.

The economic activities that developed as a result of this landscape shaped the cultural background of Belize City since it became the first major settlement of the British in Belize. This made the architecture of the colonial buildings in and around Belize City different from the rest of Latin America and similar to those found in other English speaking Caribbean islands such as Jamaica, Dominica and Barbados.

Belize’s economy was thus based on the exploitation of its forest resources such as sapodilla trees that are used for the extraction of gum known as chicle, logwood – a versatile product used for building and extracting dye and mahogany, which is used for the construction of bridges, furniture and railways. These economic activities very much shaped the activities of Belizeans and became the main income earners for over a hundred years.

The mannerisms and customs of the British were also been adapted by the native Belizeans since the educational and social training that were introduced were based on British standards. Belizean English and Legal System were also inherited from Britain.

However, the arrival of other ethnic groups such as the Africa Slaves added to the cultural heritage of Belize City. The introduction of native African dances , blended into and added to the dances introduced by the British, while the mélange of African dialects and the English language evolved into Belizean Creole and English pidgins. Belizean cultural expression through song, dance, religion and art thus blossomed from the new traditions and expressions that developed during that particular era. In addition, the intermarriage of Africans and British resulted in the formation of a new group of people identified as Creoles or Mulattos.

The union of Spanish and Mayan had also lead to the creation of a Mestizo ethnic group, while the arrival of indentured laborers from Asia after the abolition of African slavery introduced Indian customs and traditions to Belize. Each of these ethnic groups, however, would have formed their own settlements, which resulted in communities in Belize being identified by the ethnic group that was mainly found there. Belize City is known as the Cultural Capital of Belize.

Social stratification during the early stages of development of Belize City was primarily based on skin colour since slavery had attributed the concept of ‘inferiority’ to being ‘black’. However, the formation of a national identity and culture in the 1950s as well as the universalisation of education and increase of education opportunities, social elevation became based on one’s educational background.

Belize City has an interesting and diverse cultural background which is the result of the different peoples who settled the country throughout its history. Belize’s culture continues to grow as Belizeans become more and more aware of the need to preserve and develop their cultural traditions which add to the uniqueness of Belize City as a tourist destination.