Discovering Blue Creek in Northern Belize
They may look distinct, but these folks have become an integral part of Belize society.
The nation of Belize has a proud history of welcoming people of all faiths, colors and cultures. From the area’s oldest Maya settlements that extended past Belize’s current borders to the colonists who came to conquer and wound up being assimilated, Belize is as diverse as North America. And who could forget theGarifuna people whose origins can be traced back to shipwrecks that brought African slaves to Belize shores?
But for visitors interested in Belize’s migratory history, it can come as a surprise that among this melting pot of people are Mennonites, a radical faith that reaches back to 16th Century Europe. Dutch priest Menno Simons launched this Protestant movement, and while small, it has been around for five centuries, establishing communities throughout North, Central and South America.
Mennonites didn’t settle in Belize until 1960 but they’ve made their presence known, particularly in the Blue Creek area where their modest, reverent lifestyle is practiced with strict adherence to ultra-conservative beliefs. These people not only look different (they wear modest clothing and usually have blue eyes and pale skin) but they have worked hard to balance their way of life with that of their Belizean neighbors.
Rather than eating a typical Belizean diet, the Mennonites of Blue Creek stick to a wholesome, preservative-free diet of dairy, eggs, fruit, chicken, potatoes and bread. They speak an archaic form of German that further differentiates them from the nation’s populace and the folkways they practice are both stringent and traditional. In sum, visiting a Mennonite family is like stepping back in time.
Blue Creek Mennonites live secluded—almost cloistered—existences, preferring their own company and interacting with the community only for commercial purposes. The nation heavily relies upon Mennonite farmers, ranchers and carpenters for their output and expertise.
But just because these people prefer to limit contact with the outside world, that doesn’t mean that they haven’t become a big part of Belize’s dynamic mix of innovators and contributors to the nation’s economy and cultural mix. The story of how these people obtained electrical power speaks to their ingenuity: They installed a river dam to divert water and then converted the fuselage of a wrecked plane to build a primitive power plant.
If the story of these industrious people strikes a chord, visit Blue Creek and put yourself into the hands of Belizean guides who can take you to tourist attractions like the ancient Maya city of Lamanai that is located nearby. Want more? Belizean guides can also arrange boat rides, canoe trips, horseback riding excursions and tours that include visits to working ranches and cattle roundups.
What’s the secret to the harmonious relationship between Mennonites and the rest of the Belize populace? Tolerance. This is a nation of immigrants with roots first put down thousands of years ago. While not eager to blend in, the contributions of this small, North Creek Mennonite community are proving to be immeasurable.