“Such calls for unity overlook a glaring historical fact: Americans have been deeply divided since the days of Jamestown and Plymouth. The original North American colonies were settled from distinct regions of the British Islands, and from France, the Netherlands, and Spain, each with their own religious, political, and ethnographic characteristics. Throughout the colonial period, they regarded one another as competitors – for land, settlers, and capital – and occasionally as enemies, as was the case during the English Civil War, when Royalist Virginia stood against Puritan Massachusetts, or when New Netherland and New France were invaded and occupied by English-speaking soldiers, statesmen, and merchants. Only when London began treating its colonies as a single unit – and enacted policies threatening to nearly all – did some of these distinct societies briefly come together to win a revolution and create a joint government. Nearly all of them would seriously consider leaving the Union in the eighty-year period after Yorktown; several went to war to do so in the 1860s. All of these centuries-old cultures are still with us today, and have spread their people, ideas, and influence across mutually exclusive bands of the continent. There isn’t and never has been one America, but rather several Americas.”
(pg. 2, American Nations, Colin Woodard, Penguin Books, 2011)
Primarily in an attempt, we suppose, to explain historical voting patterns which still hold true today in the United States of America, the historian and journalist Colin Woodard published an intriguing book entitled American Nations in 2011. He identified eleven rival regional cultures in North America, which included what he called Yankeedom, New Netherland, the Midlands, Tidewater, Greater Appalachia, the Deep South, New France, El Norte, the Left Coast, the Far West, and First Nation.
For us at this newspaper, one importance of Woodard’s book is that it confirms the academic legitimacy of micro analysis within the national framework. There are historical realities which many people, including leaders, prefer to gloss over from day to day, but which help to explain the various socio-political behaviors of certain groups of citizens within the same national borders.
Belize Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington got himself into trouble in 2010 when he described Belize’s border with Guatemala as “artificial.” The adjective he should have used is “arbitrary.” Africa is probably the continent where we can see the most arbitrary of national borders, because most of these states were created by various imperialists and colonialists, not by the people who had lived in these territories for centuries and millennia.
This newspaper itself got into a modicum of trouble when we created the Southside analytical model about two decades ago. We were accused of trying to divide Belize City, but over the two decades since the creation of that model, we have all seen where the data for murder and violence clearly show an overall difference between the Southside and the Northside.
Today we would like to place Belize within a regional context. Doing so will make it easier to understand certain attitudes and behaviors which are characteristic of different Belizeans.
At some point in the seventeenth century, this territory began to become an anomaly in Central America because it was being settled and controlled by pirates of British origin who spoke English. The rest of Central America spoke Spanish and was Roman Catholic. This territory had been Maya territory, but the Maya were being regionally decimated by the Spanish, beginning with Cortés in Mexico and Alvarado in Guatemala in the early sixteenth century.
The settlers of Belize were not British, note: they were British pirates. This is to say that they were outlaws, and for that reason we have not mentioned their religion, only their language. Pirates were not religious people.
As the outlaw pirates began to metamorphose into “respectable” woodcutters, they forged links with people of British background in Caribbean Jamaica and Central American Nicaragua. Thus it was that the Anglican Church came here in the eighteenth century. There was an influx from Nicaragua of settlers of British origin in the decade before the Battle of St. George’s Caye in 1798, and it was to Jamaica that the woodcutters of Belize turned for assistance in that said Battle.
A major change in the composition of Belize’s population took place after the Caste War began in the Yucatán in 1847. This was when the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts were settled by Mestizo and Maya refugees from that Caste War. These refugees spoke Spanish and they were mainly Roman Catholic.
At some point between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, however, the importation of African slaves by the British pirates to cut logwood had resulted in the majority of Belize’s population becoming black, which remained the case even after the large influx of Caste War refugees in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
The story is that financial problems forced the Belize elite, descendants of the Baymen pirates and woodcutters, to ask for British colonial status in 1862. No one has ever suggested that fear of the Icaiche and Santa Cruz Maya is what pressured the Baymen descendants into giving up their independent status and becoming a British colony. But today, this newspaper does so suggest.
In any case, when the People’s United Party (PUP) came on the scene in 1950, they found a British colony with a majority black population which spoke English. In Central America, Belize had been seen as an illegitimate black child of the British. The first Central American leader to accept Belize as Central American was Panama’s Omar Torrijos in 1977. In 2014, even though the majority of Belizeans are now Mestizo and Maya, Belize’s substantial black, English-speaking component makes us the anomaly in Central America.
It is Belize’s black, English-speaking component which feels most threatened by the Guatemalan claim to Belize. In defining Belize’s national reality, however, it is precisely that black, English-speaking component which made us very different from Guatemala, the nation which has claimed Belizean territory. Woodard defines a “nation” as “a group of people who share – or believe they share – a common culture, ethnic origin, language, historical experience, artifacts, and symbols.” (The commonalities allow, of course, for diversities.) He defines a “state” as a “sovereign, political entity.” Using Woodard’s definition, we can argue that Belize is a nation which became a state on September 21, 1981. This is the reality which Guatemala seeks to reverse. This reversal is what we, the Belizean people, have vowed to resist.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.