One of the most distinct communities in Belize is the Mennonites. With several different sub-groups, the history of how Mennonites came to live in Belize is a long and interesting one.
Most of today’s Mennonites are descended from an old order of the religion which settled in West Prussia in the last part of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century. At the time, the area was under the control of the Russian Empire and most of Belize’s Mennonites today are still referred to as “Russian Mennonites” even though their first language is Plautdietsch, related to German and Dutch.
In 1873, a group of these “Russian” Mennonites moved to Manitoba in Canada. After a split on theological grounds, one group of Mennonites emigrated to Mexico in 1922. Around 1958, a splinter group of the Mexican Mennonites relocated to the territory known as British Honduras, today’s Belize. They were later joined by new waves of emigration of Mennonites from North America. Today, approximately 12,000 people in Belize are classified as Mennonites.
Often confused for being Amish, the Mennonites are only partially integrated in modern society, often eschewing electricity and gasoline-powered vehicles and equipment for the reward of honest labor and simpler living. Visitors to Belize can instantly identify Mennonites due to their predominantly Anglo appearance and simple rustic dress that includes straw hats and overalls for men and long dresses and bonnets for the women.
Today, Belize’s Mennonite community is renowned for their high quality fresh produce, poultry, beef, dairy, and apiary products as well as handcrafted furniture. Most Mennonites live in exclusive communities but some members regularly trade their goods in town fairs or at the local markets in the western and northern part of the country. Mennonite communities in Belize include Shipyard (Orange Walk District), Upper and Lower Barton Creek (Cayo District), Spanish Lookout (Cayo District), Springfield (Cayo District), Indian Creek (Orange Walk District), Little Belize (Corozal District), Pine Hill (Toledo District), and Blue Creek (Orange Walk District).
A sect of Christianity, Mennonites began as an offshoot of Anabaptism in Friesland (modern-day Holland) based on the writings of Menno Simons in the 16th century. Initially persecuted by Catholics and other Protestant sects, Mennonites have a strong commitment to pacifism and so regularly relocated in order to continue to practice their faith.
A video documentary of life in Spanish Lookout, Belize, from 1958 to 2008. Including Mennonite history.