The Mennonites of Belize
(The win-win example in Belizean history)
In 1949, the then English colonial government in a bold move to install the large English owned company as the only large company of its type, the Belize Estate and Company, the colonial government devalued the British Honduras dollar (‘Belizean dollar’). This was a devastating motion to two large native-owned companies that were in the same type business of logwood and ‘Chicle’ (Chewing gum), which were at the core of the trade from British Honduras to the USA and England. It goes without saying that a native born resistance ensued. The first Belizean political Party was born via the General Workers Union, the People’s Committee. The peaceful revolution began.
By 1954 the Peoples United Party came through the gates swinging and won their first elections. After much political drama the negotiations with the British to move toward independence resulted in a move toward self government. This was a key turning point in the nation’s history. One of the major stimulus to move toward self governance as a part of the negotiations was the ability of the colony to feed itself.
With a population with over one hundred thousand people at the time, most people working in the Chicle and Logwood industry and many more subsistence farmers and a world that was rapidly changing, this was a tremendous task, seemingly, to amalgamate.
Up North, more specifically in the Northern part of Mexico in the State of Chihuahua, a people were making tremendous life-changing decisions. The government of Mexico could no longer promise them that their children could be exempt from the draft. The thing is, culturally, these people are pacifist. Their religion would never allow them to bend to that suggestion. It was unimaginable, even today. The German/Dutch Mennonite needed a place to call home. Interestingly, they had a skill that the then colony of British Honduras needed almost desperately to continue fulfilling its destiny.
A contingent of Mennonites came on a diplomatic visit in the year 1957 and had some discussions with the then Premiere of the country (later to become, the father of the nation), George Cadle Price. In a nutshell, the diplomatic mission negotiated was that the Mennonite were interested to make British Honduras their new home and that they would offer the necessary large scale agriculture that the colony desperately needed to secure the ambition of nationhood. In return, the Premiere and the colony were to guarantee them land on which to live and farm; the safety to practice their religion free from persecution and the promise that their children would never have to serve in an army.
The Premiere took a look at the list and ticked off land for living and farming because truly, there were ample amounts of farming land. He asked if the Mennonite were Christians and they agreed. He ticked that off because the people of British Honduras were God-fearing. Lastly, he ticked off the probability of the Mennonite joining the army because the British solely controlled the army. The Premiere then did like Bob Barker (From the game show, The Price is Right), and said “come on down!” In 1958 the first contingent of Mennonite trucked their way down to the then colony of British Honduras.
In the year 2008 the Mennonite celebrated 50 years of being in Belize. They have been stalwart cornerstones of our Independence and stalwart cornerstones of the economic activity in the country of Belize. In fact, the German Mennonites presently produce over 85% of the poultry and dairy products in the country of Belize.
They are a remarkable culture in the country of Belize. They are farmers originally, and they are great at it. Heavy Christian and directed to a mixed capitalist and socialist management system within their communities, they are a very successful culture. Bear in mind however, that the Mennonite community is divided in two: The Progressive Mennonites, normally from Blue Creek in the North of the country and Spanish Lookout in the Cayo district and the Conservative group, normally mistaken for Amish trekking down the country roads in horse and buggies. They are certainly tightly wrapped and knitted in the colorful cultural mosaic which makes this country unique in Central America.