The origin myth promoted by the “colonials” proclaimed that the most important event in Belize’s history was the defeat of one European empire of another over possession of a land that belonged to neither of them; that it was necessary to look outwards to the “mother country” to make sense of, and improve, the landscape; that Belizeans should be proud to be part of a great empire, even though they were a dependent and inferior part.
– pg. 154, THIRTEEN CHAPTERS OF A HISTORY OF BELIZE, Assad Shoman, Angelus Press Ltd., 1994
By 1916, there were many, particularly among the unemployed, who could see no benefit to them accruing from the ultimate victory of the Anglo-Saxon powers. Such creeping disloyalty manifested itself again in the last year of the War when in August 1918 the Public Buildings caught fire and burned to the ground. The conflagration was obviously the work of an arsonist (although no miscreant was ever brought to book) and the CLARION agreed that the populace of the City had done little to save the government edifice. The general attitude had been “let it burn,” the fire brigade had been jeered and its hoses sabotaged, and there had been some looting of deserted stores. Acting-Governor Walter who witnessed these events believed there to be “a dangerous and ugly spirit abroad.”
– Peter Ashdown, THE GROWTH OF BLACK CONSCIOUSNESS IN BELIZE 1914-1919: THE BACKGROUNDTO THE EX-SERVICEMEN’S RIOT OF 1919
Saturday, July 14, 2018 marks the 229th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille prison by the French masses in Paris. Thus began the historic, cataclysmic French Revolution, which in turn spawned the Haitian Revolution in 1791, which constituted the only successful slave rebellion in history and gave birth to the first Black republic in the so-called New World in 1804.
What the French masses were violently overthrowing in the French Revolution was a monarchical system of government with all its attendant evils, primarily a privileged, parasitic, and brutal aristocratic class. Whereas the French guillotined their King, Louis XVI, in 1793, the English, led by Oliver Cromwell, had beheaded their King, Charles I, in 1649, 140 years before the storming of the Bastille.
Although royalist elements regained power in England, the monarchy never again ruled England as absolutely as it had before the beheading of Charles I. The English Parliament, representing the masses of the English people, has given instructions to Buckingham Palace, a figurehead monarchy, ever since.
In the case of the French and their 1789 revolution, an army corporal by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte rose to power in France in the latter part of the 1790s and crowned himself Emperor. Still, in 2018 France does not even have a figurehead monarch. The French Revolution changed some fundamental aspects of French society, and it changed them forever.
Now then, beloved, there is a class of Belizeans which reveres the Battle of St. George’s Caye, which occurred in 1798 and has been celebrated on the Tenth of September in British Honduras/Belize every year since 1898. We are told by some Centenary proponents that it is the Battle of St. George’s Caye which empowered, and empowers, us Belizeans in The Jewel, but the terms of the Treaty of Amiens in 1802 and the Treaty of Madrid in 1814 appear to us to negate the historical impact of the St. George’s Caye skirmish.
When Belize began its anti-colonial, nationalist campaign in 1950, after a while it appeared to the leaders of the ruling People’s United Party (PUP) that the Centenary celebrations were divisive, because they emphasized the role of a basically brown, minority Creole class in alliance with the white supremacist Baymen against an armada invading from the Spanish-held Yucatán. So that, the Battle of St. George’s Caye vibes had reached the point in the 1950s where the celebration was saying that the brown, minority Creole class, supported by the Black, majority African slaves, had defeated the Spanish ancestors of Belize’s Mestizo population in 1798. Once Hon. George Price rose to power in the PUP in 1956, one of his aims was to integrate Belize’s Mestizo population into a mainstream, nationalist society.
The PUP was seeking to build a nation. The fundamental problem was that the British had built a colonial society where Mestizos and Garinagu were inferior to Creoles. The single, most deadly British propaganda narrative was that African slaves had supported their Baymen and Creole masters in 1798. In other words, in 1798 African slaves preferred submission in Belize to freedom in the Yucatán.
The research of eminent scholars like the Penn State University professor, Matthew Rastall, says otherwise. African slaves in Belize were always fleeing north to the Yucatán in search of freedom. There is almost no evidence of Africans in the Yucatán fleeing south to Belize. What happened in the Yucatan was that African slaves escaping from Belize were freed once they accepted the Roman Catholic religion. They married into Yucatán society (mostly Indigenous), and their generations were integrated into everyday Mexican life.
Still, let us say, for argument’s sake, that on the occasion of the St. George’s Caye skirmish in September of 1798, for whatever the reason(s),the Belizeans of color chose not to rise up against their masters. As human beings, would enslaved Belizeans of color not have welcomed Emancipation Day in August of 1838? Would such a day not have been considered of greater liberation significance to the masses of Black Belizeans than the Battle of St. George’s Caye? Remember, slave revolts in Belize continued in the years after the Battle of St. George’s Caye, as late as 1820.
The fact that the white and Creole people in power in Belize made it so that Emancipation Day is not celebrated in Belize, which makes Belize unique in the British Caribbean, and the fact that, beginning in 1898, St. George’s Caye Day received massive official support, should provoke us to do some historical research and ask some hard questions. In July of 1919, just 21 years after the first Centenary celebrations, the black masses of Belize Town rose up violently against the power structure, the same power structure which had organized, financed, and extolled St. George’s Caye Day in 1898. In Belize, Emancipation Day, to repeat, is not celebrated. The history of the events of July 1919, the so-called Ex-Servicemen’s Riot, has been deliberately obliterated.
You cannot build a strong, unified nationalist society if your origin thesis is based on a lie, or at best, a half truth. England was living a lie until Oliver Cromwell beheaded Charles I. France was living a lie until the French people stormed the Bastille. An official Belize which does not celebrate Emancipation Day, an official Belize which will not honor the centenary of the Ex-Servicemen’s Riot next year, is living a lie. That is our editorial submission.
In conclusion we note, as a relevant geographical aside, that the Haitian Revolution of 1791 spawned by the French Revolution of 1789, led to the rise of a Black Haitian, Toussaint L’Overture, who defeated French, Spanish, and British armies during the course of the 1790s. At the time of the Battle of St. George’s Caye in 1798, Toussaint was the most powerful man in the Caribbean. In Europe, the most powerful man was Napoleon Bonaparte. In line with the philosophy of white supremacy, Napoleon felt it was incumbent upon him to humble Toussaint and return Haiti’s Blacks to French slavery. Napoleon’s decision to send his brother-in-law to reclaim Haiti resulted in massive bloodshed and the physical destruction of the territory which had been France’s most prosperous colony.
There was a small Haitian colony in the northern part of the Yucatán at the time of the Battle of St. George’s Caye. The Haitians had been sent there as refugees in 1796 by the Spanish King because they had sided with Spain against Toussaint and would have been in extreme danger in Hispaniola.
The Battle of St. George’s Caye narrative is romance and nostalgia. It has almost nothing to do with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) arbitration which has become an existential threat to Belizeans. ICJ arbitration has much more to do with the 1859 Treaty. From another angle, the Battle of St. George’s Caye narrative, at its core, has to do with exalting white supremacy. In 2018, Belize’s narrative should be about African and Mayan resistance to racism, imperialism, and colonialism. In 2018, Belize’s narrative should be about the self-determination of the masses of the Belizean nation.
Power to the people.