Belize is often described as a "melting pot" of cultures
all intermingled to form a unique "Belizean identity". Even
with the many interracial unions, Belize boasts several
distinct and identifiable ethnic groups. These include the
Creole, Mestizo, Maya, Garifuna, East Indians, Chinese and
Mennonites. These all blend to form a people with a wide diversity of cultures, traditions and beliefs all co-existing
in harmony. The Belizean society exemplifies the preservation
of individual identities and ethnic differences.
Creoles make up one-third of the entire population (about
40%), being classified as one of the two largest ethnic
groups in the country. The Creoles are descendants of the
interracial unions of Africans (who were brought over as
slaves) and early European settlers of the Colonial era.
The Creoles mainly reside in Belize City, with small
groups unevenly scattered throughout the other five districts.
The ‘Creole' dialect is the dominant language throughout
Belize, even though English is declared the official language
and is taught in all schools. The Creoles are known for
their contribution of the famous "rice and beans" dish that
dominate the lunchtime cuisine throughout the country.
Mestizos account for 44% of the entire population.
They are descendants from the early Mayan and Spanish settlers
who immigrated to Belize during the Caste Wars of the Yucatan
in the mid-nineteenth century. The Mestizos mainly reside
in the districts of Corozal, Orange Walk and Cayo, as well
as on the northern islands of Caye Caulker and San Pedro
Ambergris Caye. Most of them speak Spanish in their
homes and English/Creole outside in the community.
Mestizo dishes like the escabeche, panades, tamales and
garnaches are favorites among all cultures and tourists
The Maya make up the
third largest ethnic group in the country (about 11% of
population) and are divided into three diverse groups.
They are the Yucatecan, Mopan and Kekchi Maya. It
is believed that most of the Yucatecan Maya immigrated to
Belize, like the early Mestizos, to escape the Caste Wars.
They now primarily occupy the districts of Orange Walk and
Corozal. The Mopan Maya entered Belize in the 1880's where
they established several communities in the mountainous
regions of the southern and western districts. The picturesque
San Antonio Village in Toledo is home to the Mopan Maya.
Around 1870, the Kekchi Maya entered the country from an
area around Verapaz, Guatemala. They settled in the southern
lowlands of the country, primarily near rivers and streams.
Majority of the Mayan population reside in the southern
districts of Stann Creek and Toledo. Their vibrant Mayan
history and culture is respected and celebrated in Belize.
Garifuna make up the fourth largest ethnic group (about
7% of the population). The Garinagu (plural for Garifuna)
came to Belize in the late eighteenth century. "Garinagu"
technically refers to the people, and "Garifuna" to the
culture and language. The Garinagu are descendants
of African slaves who intermingled with Amerindian natives
of the tiny Caribbean island of St. Vincent. In the
1800's British settlers exiled them to the Gulf of Honduras.
In 1832 the Garifuna made their way to the southern coast
of Belize, where they established five major settlements.
Garifuna Settlement Day is celebrated annually on
the 19th day of November to honor the arrival of Garifuna
to the southern shores. The Garifuna culture comprises of
a very distinct combination of arts, crafts, music, dance
and cuisine. The tasty "sere", "hudut" and "cassava bread"
are landmark dishes of the Garifuna communities.
INDIANS, ARABS, CHINESE & MENNONITES
ethnic groups make up the small remaining percent of the
population. The East Indian population is the largest
of this group. Most of them are descendants of indentured
laborers who were brought from their native India to work
on the sugar plantations of Corozal and Toledo. Most of
them did not return to their country. Because of
intermingling with the diverse ethnic groups in the country,
a distinct East Indian culture has become blurred over the
years. They primarily reside in the Toledo District.
small Arab population is composed of a mixture of Turks,
Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians. They immigrated
to Belize in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
They reside primarily in the Belize and Cayo Districts.
of the Chinese population living in Belize today immigrated
in the early twentieth century. Majority of the population
occupy Belize City, however, their presence is well established
in every district. Most of the Chinese communities
run grocery stores, restaurants, bakeries and are all in
the lottery business. They are considered an industrious
people. A few Taiwanese families have recently immigrated
to the country and have also become hard-working entrepreneurs.
first Mennonites, numbering about 5,000, migrated from Mexico
between 1958 and 1962. They purchased large chunks
of land, established settlements in Orange Walk, Cayo and
Toledo, and commenced their distinct agricultural lifestyle.
The Mennonites are members of a resilient religious sect,
which originated in the Netherlands in the sixteenth century
by a former Roman Catholic priest called Menno Simmons,
as a reaction against the deepening relationship between
church and state. Mennonites run their own church-based
communities, and in keeping with their traditions, close
themselves into reserved communities, maintaining the use
of their archaic German dialect, and living simplistic lifestyles,
as can be seen in their style of dress and their homes.
Men traditionally wear long beards, straw hats, and
dark trousers, while women wear long floral-print dresses
and head scarves. Even though they observe complete sovereignty
over their communities, they have slowly been incorporated
into the life of every Belizean, particularly through their
contribution to the agricultural industry. Mennonite
farmers can easily be considered the most productive and
successful in the entire country. They operate the best
dairy industry in the country that regularly supplies the
nation with eggs, poultry, fresh milk, cheese and vegetables.
They are also famous for their furniture and home construction.