“It is one of the richest ironies of the Amazon that the supposedly civilized outsiders who spent five centuries evangelizing, exploiting, and exterminating aboriginal people are now turning to those first inhabitants to save ecosystems recognized as critical to the health of the planet – to defend essential tracts of undeveloped land from the developed world’s insatiable appetites.”
– pg. 53, National Geographic, January 2014
In certain disciplines, what formal education sometimes appears to involve is learning how to make simple things become complicated. At this newspaper, on the contrary, what we try to do is figure out how to make complicated things become easier to understand. This is how we seek to empower our Belizean people, by enabling a greater understanding of the relevant issues.
The process that led to the establishment of the settlement we call Belize involved crimes against two sections of humanity. The British committed crimes against West African people which had to do with the enslavement, transportation, and captive labor of our ancestors. The Spanish committed crimes against the Maya people which involved the violent conquest of the Maya, the seizure of Maya lands, and the forced labor of Maya people for the enrichment of Spanish rulers. In Belize, the British also committed crimes against the Maya, while the Spanish, in their fight against the British for regional hegemony, offered freedom to African slaves fleeing from Belize.
The way the British wrote the history of the settlement of Belize, they said that they found the territory between the Rio Hondo and the Sarstoon in a basically uninhabited state. The first British pirates reportedly began seeking refuge here around 1638, but the Spanish had been wreaking havoc on these parts from as early as 1519 with the coming of Cortés and Alvarado. The Spanish devastated the Maya, which is why Maya territory appeared the way it did to the British pirates (or Baymen). All the archaeological discoveries of Maya sites, tools, implements, writings, and art in the territory we call Belize, prove that this Belize was a place of the Maya.
In any case, let us look at it this way. The Maya were here. Then the Spanish came, and began beating up on the Maya. Then the British came, and they began fighting with the Spanish. The British brought African slaves to work for them. As time went on, Belize became British, while the Yucatán to the north of us was Spanish, and the Petén to the west of us was Spanish.
With the passage of time, British men were using African women sexually, and Spanish men were using Maya women sexually. These constitute more crimes against African and Maya humanity. As a result of these British and Spanish sexual crimes against African and Maya humanity, new kinds of people emerged whom we may call “mulattos” (children of British men and African women) and “Mestizos” (children of Spanish men and Maya women).
Both the British and Spanish conquerors believed in a Christian God. The Spanish were Roman Catholics, while the British had created their own kind of Catholicism in the 1520s, which was an Anglican Catholicism. The two conquerors, then, were very similar religiously, and they were both criminals.
The very first thing the Spanish and the British felt they needed to teach the Maya and the Africans, respectively, was about their Christian God. The sinners began to teach those who had been sinned against to adore the God of the sinners. The reverse could not be the case, because it was the sinners who were in power by force of arms, which is to say, criminal violence.
In the case of the British, they began a primary school system here around 1814, and high schools like St. John’s College and St. Catherine Academy began in the 1880s. The British controlled the education system here until 1964, when Belize gained self-government, and a Belizean Minister of Education, Hon. Gwendolyn Lizarraga, was appointed.
By the time of self-government, the vast majority of the Belizean people were Africans, Maya, mulattoes and Mestizos. These were all, ultimately, victims of the crimes against humanity we discussed in the opening paragraphs of this essay. But when the children of the victims of crimes against humanity went to the schools controlled by the British conquerors, they were never taught about the relevant crimes against humanity. These were like sex: you had to learn about that outside of school.
In 1969 an organization was established in Belize which argued that Belizean children could not be considered educated unless and until they knew about African and Maya history, which is to say, unless they knew about the crimes committed here against humanity. Since it was supposed to be, according to the terms of self-government, that the very people whose ancestors had been victimized by these crimes, were now in control of the education system, no one would have expected it would take 44 years for African and Maya history to become an accepted part or the Belizean education curriculum. This is what happened last year when St. John’s College took the lead and stepped into the “brave new world” of African and Maya history. All the other previous initiatives now have to be seen as only experimental. The St. John’s College initiative is a big time initiative. The bosses of the other high schools and junior colleges have declined to follow the SJC lead, and for this, we submit, they must be publicly censured.
Crimes against humanity took place with our African and Maya ancestors as the victims. These are indisputable historical facts. Who is it really who considers the Belizean history of our people to be such dangerous realities as to require being swept under the rug? All over the literate world, such matters have become part of the education of the children of planet earth.
When the PUP Said Musa government of 1998 to 2003 first began what this editorial has described as experimental initiatives in African and Maya history, the big problem was that none of the primary school teachers knew the subject matter. In Belize, such territory was uncharted. Since teachers, by definition, are people who impart knowledge which they possess, asking them to learn and teach specific subject matter at the same time was asking a lot.
Early reports from St. John’s College are that the African and Maya history curriculum is a hit with students. Since we know two of the teachers in the program and know that they are enthusiastic about their subject, we readily understand the positive nature of their students’ response.
When Belizeans began nationalist agitation against British colonialism in 1950, there was no real knowledge here of African/Maya history and of the crimes against humanity which had been committed against the ancestors of the Belizean people. In 1950, all Belizeans sought were constitutional advances which would give us self-rule and empower us in our quest for a better life. In 1950, we still held Europe in a kind of awe. Our grandparents knew we had to find our own Belizean way forward, but our grandparents did not know that our ancestors built civilizations which the Europeans had cynically damaged and destroyed.
Planet earth in 2014 is challenged by serious dangers, such as nuclear weapon proliferation, climate change, destructions of natural habitats and invaluable ecosystems, and the raging financial greed of Eurocentric neoliberalism. Some of the solutions to our third millennial problems lie in the ancient wisdom of our African and Maya ancestors. Knowledge of our ancestral history is not preparation for bloody revolution: such knowledge will be a valuable tool in our understanding of what should really constitute progress and such knowledge is a prerequisite for our charting of our Belizean way forward.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.