“On Baron Bliss Day, 9th March, 1928, the writer journeyed on his bicycle from Belize to the Pine Ridge near Freetown on the Old River, about ten miles, to witness a cricket match. On arrival he found quite a large number of people from Belize, including thirty or forty bicycles and four motor cars. On returning the idea came to him or organizing an expedition from Belize to Cayo on bicycles. At first the subject was dismissed as impossible. But, like a recurring decimal sum, the thought came back again and again.”
– pg. 11, BLAZING TRAILS, by Monrad S. Metzgen, BRC Printing, 2002, edited by Emory King
Colonialism in British Honduras for native schoolchildren meant that they sang “God save the Queen” twice a day. When citizens of this colony traveled abroad, their passports said, “British subjects.” The tariff structure was such that we imported almost all our manufactured goods from the colonial motherland – Great Britain. Where infrastructure was concerned, such as roads and bridges, these were built for immediate utility. Because there were no plans for Belize’s future, it being the case that all the colony existed for was to enrich the motherland, roads and bridges here were built as narrow as possible. Check Swing Bridge, Haulover, and Hawkesworth – all colonial productions.
About the only areas where a kind of nationalist mentality developed were in sports and music. Even though two of the three main sports played in the colony, football and cricket, were British in their origins and their rules, Belizean heroes began to emerge. Basketball was introduced to Belize by the American Jesuits, and basketball began becoming nationalist in flavor when Hurricane Hattie destroyed the original Holy Redeemer Parish Hall in 1961, and the sport moved to the inner city St. Ignatius School basketball court around 1964. The most nationalist of sports here was cycling, where Belizeans “invented” the Holy Saturday Crosscountry race in 1928.
Under the British, the government monopoly radio station – the British Honduras Broadcasting Service (BHBS), did not play our native “brukdown” music, but the introduction of jukeboxes in the 1950s saw roots music from the Caribbean entering British Honduras, and during the Christmas season and other festive occasions in homes and on the streets, Belizean musicians composed and played local music.
Where culture was concerned, the only facility with an adequate stage, lighting, and curtains – the Bliss Institute in Belize City, featured only European-derived plays, musical performances, and dance, until Mrs. Gladys Stuart began doing comedy routines in Creole and Bob Reneau began choreographing Creole dances. On BHBS, incidentally, the first skits in Creole were performed by George McKesey and Gwen Murillo (Gillett). All this began taking place in the 1950s, the nationalist revolution having begun in British Honduras in 1950.
Where everyday life is concerned, the colonial mentality amongst natives which is engendered by colonialism is marked by the consciousness that one does not own or control one’s community and the appurtenances thereof. In Belize’s case, the British owned the place, made the rules, enforced the discipline, and extracted the profits.
Belizeans had developed close-knit families and extended families, and institutions such as lodges, churches, membership clubs and the like provided mechanisms for community interaction amongst natives. Overall, however, the Anancy mentality dominated colonialism, which meant that the native individual was more interested in outsmarting/exploiting the system than in building the system.
The challenge for the socio-political leadership of Belize, as we headed towards self-government and independence, was to convince the Belizean people that the system would now belong to us, and that we should begin making sacrifices in order to build and strengthen the system, because we, the people, would be the beneficiaries. Remember now, under colonialism the beneficiaries were the British: we Belizeans were just appendages, and expendable ones at that.
Belizeans travel frequently to Chetumal, Cancún, Mérida, and other cities in Quintana Roo, so we know what a nationalist system looks like and what it feels like. The Mexicans fought revolutions and shed blood in order to reach their high level of nationalism. Mexico was a colony of Spain’s until 1821, and then the Mexicans had to fight a revolution from 1910 until 1940 in order to ensure that the masses of the Mexican people had a real say and an abiding interest in the affairs of their republic.
Because we can see for ourselves how differently we Belizeans think and behave as compared to Mexicans, we should understand that we have not made the transition from colonialism to nationalism. In Belize, we still have the colonial mentality, which we have also described as the Anancy mentality. We are more interested in outsmarting/exploiting the system than in building the system.
Nowhere has the colonial mentality been more manifest on a daily, public basis than in the attitude and behavior of our elected political leaders over the last 15 years. Our governments have become free-for-all exercises internally, wherein Cabinet Ministers, their cronies, and second-tier party operatives focus intensely on self-enrichment, and essentially ignore the present and future interests of the Belizean nation state.
The colonial mentality which remains in Belize serves the interests of those “Friends of Belize” who began indicating in 1968, with the Seventeen Proposals, that they envision a future for Belize as a satellite state of Guatemala. If Belizeans become too nationalistic in their thinking, it would make it more difficult for Belize to be absorbed into Guatemala. So far, as colonial as the Belizean mentality has remained, there has always been resistance amongst the Belizean populace when any form of such absorption is proposed.
The colonial mentality at the leadership level in Belize explains the extraordinary situation where conditions at the MCC Grounds and the Civic Center are concerned. These are the leading venues for football and basketball activity, respectively, in the population center of Belize. The fact that these two vital facilities were allowed to deteriorate, and in fact actually violated in the case of the MCC, over an extended period of time, is surprising only if you do not factor in the colonial mentality at the top. National sports teams are dangerous concepts for those who control Belize and wish to decide our future. National sports selections can galvanize the consciousness of a nation to a point where all differences on the ground are forgotten, and the people come together, at home and abroad, in national embrace. We saw this happen in 1998 with Belize’s CARICOM basketball champions and just last year in the case of Belize’s football selection qualifying to the Gold Cup in the United States for the first time ever.
Sports may seem frivolous to some geeks, but the rulers of our region understand fully well how dangerous sports can be at the national level. Because it was not intended in London and Washington for Belize to become truly independent and sovereign, Belizean political leaders have exhibited the colonial mentality which London and Washington desire. That is why Belize’s two most important sports, football and basketball, have been violated for so long at every level in Belize. Sports are too nationalistic in nature: they would damage the colonial mentality in Belize. Elite elements, Belizeans and otherwise, wish for this colonial mentality to persist in Belize. By their fruits, ye shall know them.
Power to the people.