At the end of their lecture presentations on Wednesday morning at the Bliss glorifying the British Baymen and the Battle of St. George’s Caye, Mr. Fred Hunter concluded that “it was the Africans who won the battle,” but Mr. Francis Humphreys, the UDP Mayoral candidate in Dangriga, conceded that nothing changed in the enslaved condition of the said same Africans after September 10, 1798.
In 1798 there were some naval episodes and confrontations between September 3 and September 10, featuring an invading Spanish fleet from the Yucatán and the defending British Baymen from the settlement of Belize. There were no casualties of any kind on the Baymen side, and no battle casualties of any kind on the Spanish side. This was not much of a battle, when we consider Borodino in 1812, say, and there is no record of its being celebrated until exactly 100 years later, because of an initiative organized by a BEC employee and subsidized by the colonial government of British Honduras.
That 1898 celebration initiative, known as “Centenary,” took place just four years after serious labor uprisings in Belize Town and just five years after the 1893 Mariscal-Spenser treaty between Mexico and Great Britain finally fixed the border between Yucatán and Corozal at the Rio Hondo. From 1847 onwards, the northern part of Belize had been an area of instability, to put it mildly, because the British were selling arms, ammunition, and supplies to the rebellious Santa Cruz Maya, while the Mérida/Campeche Yucatecans became allied with the Icaiche Maya. The Caste War of Yucatán had begun in 1847, whereupon refugees form both the ladino and Maya sides began to settle in Corozal and Orange Walk.
The British are notorious tightwads, but in 1898 they began the financing of the annual Centenary celebrations. The only other celebrations held in poor Belize Town at that time were Christmas celebrations, which involved wild spending by the mahogany camp workers, who afterwards had to obtain loan advances from their contractor bosses before they went back to camp in January. Tenth of September was the only time the colonial masters spent a little money. On the face of it, the Centenary party looked free, but this was a party which, as time went along, served a propaganda purpose: it divided the Africans from the Mestizos and the Maya in Belize, because, just as Mr. Hunter was declaring on Wednesday, the British passed credit for the “big victory” in 1798 to the same Africans they had enslaved and were continuing to oppress.
September 1798 was one more clash between two imperial masters – the Catholic Spanish and the Anglican British, and these two had been fighting each other for more than two and a half centuries before 1798. In the Western Hemisphere, they were fighting for control of the riches of the New World. In this part of Central America, African slaves were running from Belize to the Yucatán in the north and to Petén in the west. There was some movement of African slaves south from the Spanish Yucatán to British Belize, but the research of the Penn State University professor, Matthew Restall, and others has proven conclusively that slaves preferred to run from Belize to the Yucatán rather than vice versa. Check the stats.
In Belize in 2014, the descendants of the Baymen’s slaves of 1798 are not carrying “pocono boy” sticks to fight Spaniards: they carry automatic pistols with which they shoot each other. The Centenary celebrations have now been largely commercialized, and, if you think about it, in 2014 it is the masses of the Belizean people who will end up paying for the celebrations – either directly or through our taxpayers’ monies.
We have to get real here. Where the masses of the Maya and the masses of the enslaved Africans were concerned then, and as far as we are concerned now, the Spanish and the British are the same thing – enslavers, oppressors, and imperialists. There’s nothing wrong with a Centenary party, except when Buckingham Palace uses it to divide us Belizeans along ethnic lines. In September of 1798, the Spanish and the British fought against each other. We black people were extras on that movie set.
The new Belize History Association made a late switch from Wednesday night to Wednesday morning on the grounds that they wanted to facilitate students. Pardon us for our cynicism, but this was a decision designed to prevent the adult crowd which would have come in the night from articulating dissenting views. Wednesday morning amounted to colonial propaganda and an exercise in Union Jack waving. Jolly good show, old chaps.
Out here in the streets where roots smoke weed instead of drinking Scotch whisky, Hunter and Humphries might as well have been talking to themselves. Down here the issues begin with hunger. To repeat, there’s nothing wrong with some Centenary partying, but let’s get the facts straight. 1798 did not liberate African people and it did not liberate Maya people. In 2014, that’s pretty much who we are in Belize – African and Maya. Talk to me.
Power to the people.