People of Belize
Belize is the true definition of a melting pot, a land where many different cultures have blended together to form the special laid-back identity of a Belizean. With an open-minded attitude towards interracial unions, several distinct cultures still exist in Belize today, a mix of Creoles, European Mennonites, East Indians, Chinese, Garifuna, Maya, and Mestizo peoples. Despite their very unique origins, today these traditions and cultures have blended together in Belize to create a harmonious society.
Today, the Creole population makes up approximately 2/5ths of Belize’s population, forming one of the largest ethnic group in the nation. Completely different than the Creoles of Louisiana or elsewhere, Belizean Creoles are descendants of African slaves imported during the colonial era and Europeans.
The highest density of Creoles today center around Belize City in the center of the country, although they also live in the other five districts of the country. Most people in Belize speak Creole, a unique local variant of English, although standard English is the official language. Famous for their love of rice and beans dishes, Creole cooking has become a staple of Belize cuisine throughout the country.
The Mestizos, named for a Spanish word meaning “mixed”, are the other dominant population group found in Belize today. Descended from a mix of Spanish and ethnic Mayans who fled southern Mexico about 100 years ago, Mestizos today are predominant in the north of Belize, including Corozal, Orange Walk, and Cayo Districts. Most Mestizos speak Spanish at home, but are able to converse in Belizean Creole/English when interacting with outsiders.
The Mestizos peoples added their own unique contribution to Belizean cuisine in the form of tamales, garnaches, escabeches, and panades.
Descended from the ancient Mayan imperialists who once ruled the land now known as Belize, approximately 10% of the country today consider themselves ethnic Maya. Found especially in the northern districts of Orange Walk and Corozal, the Maya today are proud of their rich heritage. A sub-group of Maya, known as the Mopan Maya, emigrated to the country in the 1880s, especially around the area of San Antonio Village in Toledo. In the south of Belize, another sub-group of Maya, known as the Kekchi Maya, emigrated from Guatemala in the 1870s, and today are found in the southern districts of Toledo and Stann Hope Creek in Belize.
With approximately 8% of the population, the Garifuna have a unique history. The Garifanu culture was first developed on the small Caribbean island of St. Vincent, where the descendants of African slaves intermarried with indigenous people. In 1832, the British government forced them to leave en masse, which is when they fled by canoe overseas to the coast of Belize. Every year on November 19, the Garifuna people commemorate their arrival in Belize with the festival of Garifuna Settlement Day.
The Garifuna have also added their own imprint on Belizean cuisine, bringing the dishes sere, hudut, and cassava bread with them, now staples nationwide in the country.
Belizeans from East India were first introduced to the country during the colonial era, brought from India to work on the sugar plantations. Found today primarily in Toledo District, they added a rich patois of Indian dishes and culture to Belize.
Also found in Belize are Arab peoples, predominantly from Lebanon, with others originally from Palestine and Syria. First arriving about 100 years ago to form mercantile enterprises, they remain a distinct feature in both Belize and Cayo Districts.
Although relatively few in number, another distinct segment of Belizean society consists of immigrants from China, who first began arriving over a century ago to engage in trade, and today many local businesses in Belize are owned and operated by people of Chinese origin, especially concentrated in and around Belize City.
The German Mennonites form a very unique pocket of distinct culture, having first come to Belize about 70 years ago when they fled ongoing unrest in neighboring Mexico. Still speaking their own archaic dialect of German, this religious community is centered around villages in Toledo, Cayo, and Orange Walk Districts. Similar to the Amish, they preserve the old ways of dress and custom, and are today still mostly engaged in farming and traditional crafts like furniture making.
The smallest, but fastest growing, distinct community in Belize are the number of expats, mostly retired people from the United States and Canada. Drawn to the warm weather, use of English as the official language, and accommodating immigration laws, they add their own unique contributions to Belizean society. Found mostly in and around Belize City, a growing expat community is also beginning to form in the north of the country near the border with Mexico.