Belize may be known for its breathtaking scenery, second largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, Mayan Ruins, exotic jungles, and mystical caves. However, what many people don’t know is that Belize’s culture plays a huge role in its beauty and appeal to visitors.
Thanks to its geography and history, Belize is a culturally diverse nation. Situated on the Caribbean Sea, previously under British rule, and bordering other Central American countries, the people of Belize can best be described as having a laidback, island attitude with the formalness of the British, combined with the heart and soul of Latins.
Belize is made up of several different ethnicities, but what all Belizeans have in common is that they all place importance on making everyone feel welcome, and they share a commitment to preserving their country’s unique attributes and charm. Let’s go over the top reasons why Belize culture is unlike anywhere else in the world.
Ethnic Groups that Contribute to Belize Culture
Belize is home to 321,115 residents, which mostly represent eight different ethnicities, including the cultures listed below.
The Maya that live in Belize today are descended from one of three denominations – Kekchi, Yucatec, and Mopan Maya. While different languages are spoken between these groups, they share the same social structure and theology. The Maya live in small villages in Southern Belize, and still embrace their ancient rituals which honor spirits and show their sincere appreciation for the earth.
The Mestizo people of Belize were initially descendants of the Spanish and Maya. Today, many people of this ethnic group living in Belize are recent immigrants who have left neighboring countries in Central America to seek refuge from civil turmoil. The Mestizo people incorporate both Mayan and Spanish culture in their belief systems and food.
During the colonization of Belize, Africans were brought over as slaves and procreated with European Logwood cutters. In Belize today, many people who have any African in their blood identify as Creole, if they’re not Garifuna. Thirty years ago, Belize’s population was comprised of 60% Creoles but that number today has decreased to about 25%. This is because many Creoles have emigrated to the U.S., while many Central Americans have immigrated to Belize in their place.
The Garifuna people of Belize are descended of mixed heritage from West African, Central African, Caribbean, and Arawak people. During Caribbean colonization, slaves were brought to this region, and over a few generations, they resisted British rule and were exiled and pushed back from island to island, until they settled in Belize. As a melting pot culture themselves, the Garifuna are now regarded as one of Belize’s most predominant ethnicities.
The Mennonites came to Belize in the 1960s and today live in secluded communities which consist exclusively of their own people. But they are still friendly to locals who are welcome to visit their villages, shop at their stores, and eat at their restaurants. The Mennonites are mostly farmers and craftsmen who provide an ample supply of grains to the Belizean market, as well as furniture, industrial vehicle parts, poultry, and dairy products.
After slavery was abolished, East Indians were brought to Belize to supplement the workforce on plantations. After their contracts were completed, many then turned to their own entrepreneurial ventures. Today, the East Indians have immersed themselves into Belize’s melting pot culture.
In recent decades, Belize has welcomed an increasing number of Middle Eastern people from Lebanon and Syria, who have come to Belize as merchants, entrepreneurs, and professionals. Their culture is starting to make its presence around Belize with Arab food restaurants, and a small Mosque which is located in Belize city.
After Central Americans, Asians – specifically from Taiwan and China – are the fastest growing ethnic group in Belize. Many have immigrated to Belize as entrepreneurs owning supermarkets and restaurants which are popular with locals and tourists. The current generation of Asians in Belize go to the same schools as other Belizeans to become professionals and have formed close bonds with other locals, more so than their parents have done in the past.
There are also a large number of expats from the U.S., Canada, and Europe living in Belize, many of them who are retirees. This blending of various cultures from all over the world is what makes Belize a peaceful country and friendly tourist destination.
Most Popular Foods in Belize
The food in Belize is as diverse as its people who prepare and eat it. The mix of different cultures provides an array of tantalizing dining options which appeal to all types palates. Below are some of the must-try foods in Belize.
- Rice and Beans. As a classic dish in this region, red beans cooked with rice and local spices are often enjoyed alongside meat, fish, or poultry for a satisfying meal. Hot sauce is optional but recommended if you can stand the heat.
- This dish consists of freshly caught seafood chopped up with fresh vegetables, like cucumbers and onions, and served chilled. It’s full of flavor and pairs well with an ice-cold beer.
- Fry Jacks. As a breakfast staple in Belize, this puffy, soft bread tortilla is typically filled with cheese, beans, and/or meat. They also make a savory anytime snack.
- This dish, also known as “black dinner,” is a hearty stew which comes from Mexican and Maya culture. Typically made with chicken, it gets its distinct flavor using local spices such as achiote.
- This favorite snack food is made of small corn tortillas which are fried and topped with chicken, cabbage, avocado, and local hot sauce for an added kick.
The Languages of Belize
English is the official language of Belize and is actually the only English speaking country in Central America. Not surprisingly, Spanish is widely spoken, and Garifuna, Maya-Kekchi, Maya Mopan, Mandarin, and German are other languages that can be heard throughout the country, representing all of its different cultures.
However, all street signs, restaurant menus, official documents, and more –are all in English. Language is one of the aspects which makes Belize so attractive to North Americans who choose to visit or live here. As everyone can speak English, it’s convenient to dine, shop, and ask for directions, without having to master a new language.
Music, Arts, and Sports in Belize
It’s no surprise that when it comes to music in Belize, its Caribbean influence makes reggae and calypso the most popular genres. As many Belizeans have family that live in the U.S., American hip-hop, rap, and rock music are also popular amongst locals. In fact, Dean Barrow, who is Belize’s Prime Minister, has a son named Shyne who is a famous rap artist living in New York.
As for sports, soccer is becoming the main sport of Belize due to its Latin American influence. At one point, it was cricket, which is still enjoyed today by the older Creole generation. Basketball is another sport that is becoming increasingly popular in Belize, due to the country’s links to the U.S.
There is no doubt that Belize’s colorful and diversified culture is one of the many reasons that tourists, vacation home buyers, and retirees are choosing to visit or relocate here.
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