I was born and raised in Belize City during the rule of British colonialism. Apart from three years studying in the United States and brief trips there and travelling through Mexico, I’ve spent my entire life in Belize City and surrounds.
I grew up as an NIP supporter because the Guatemalan general/president, Ydigoras Fuentes, was threatening to invade Belize, and Philip Goldson became the voice of Belizean resistance.
Amidst all the oppression and repression which were colonialism, there were Belizean expressions in sports and culture which fired our Belizean imagination and made us confident and happy. I would say the Dunlop football team, the first Lord Rhaburn Combo, the original Messengers, and the Independence football team were positive experiences for roots Belizeans in the late 1950s and through the 1960s.
One of the characteristics of these Belizean expressions which I have just arbitrarily cited are that they each only lasted for a few years. The greatness of Gerald Rhaburn lies in the fact that he was always able to rebuild and restructure. Remember, early on he lost the great Pete Matthews to the Messengers, and then Pablo Clarke, Prof Drummond and others from his original combo split for America.
Sports and cultural expression over the years have continued to energize our people, and indeed these bursts of creativity from the masses have taken place also in the Districts. There were the various Queen’s Park Rangers selections in Stann Creek, Avengers in Cayo, Sugar Boys in Corozal, all football teams. A musical group from Dangriga by the name of Sounds Incorporated took the nation of Belize by storm in the late 1980s thereabouts, and it may well be that they were the first national phenomenon of this kind. All the football teams and other music combos had essentially been confined to local areas, but Sounds and punta rock struck from Hondo to Sarstoon and from Benque to Half Moon.
Now here’s the thing. The colonialist controlled us through money, and the fact that we, the Belizean people, had none of this precious commodity and had to go seeking employment from him in his civil service, his public works, and his business groups. John Bull controlled us through his schools, because he taught us what he wanted to and skipped those matters which might endanger him by liberating us. And he controlled us, ultimately, through our politicians, who had become revolutionary in 1950 but soon became divided in 1956 and then were forced to make a deal with Buckingham Palace as we entered the 1960s.
Tropico y Ritmo, Rhaburn’s sensational first album cut in Guatemala City in 1962, should have ruled the government radio airwaves. But although Belizean nationalist energy was high, we were not to become self-governing until 1964. At exactly what point the British Honduras Broadcasting Service became Radio Belize, I cannot say. What I can say is that where I used to hear Tropico y Ritmo was at dances held by the old Princess Royal Youth Hostel, and, of course, on private record players and the jukeboxes at Rick’s Bar and Rick’s Club across Bolton Bridge from where I lived corner Regent Street West and West Canal.
In 1964, Radio Belize, as BHBS before it, was still determined to be a Belizean version of the British Broadcasting Service (BBC). Belizean music was considered quaint, I guess. More important, it was considered inappropriate. Jim Reeves and Patti Page ruled government radio here. Brenda Lee did open things up a bit, but Rhaburn and the Messengers were not welcomed or embraced by the British-trained executives at Radio Belize.
All this talk has been by way of reaching the point of saying that I believe our Belizean psyche, for sure in the old capital, is a delicate psyche. Beaten down under slavery and colonialism as we were, we yearned for something to make us feel good, to make us feel that we were somebody. We wanted to be winners, but our daily lives did not feature triumph. In sports and culture, however, every so often the spirit of our ancestors produced experiences which galvanized us and made us excited about life and life’s possibilities. These glorious experiences never lasted very long, unfortunately, and we always ended up withdrawing into depressing colonial reality.
Independence, beloved, was supposed to change all that, and independence came after a decade that was fabulous here in sports and in culture – the Seventies. I agree with Tony Wright, and he is the first one who dared contribute this thesis: it was after independence that everything went downhill around us in Belize City.
As we now mark the 33rd anniversary of our independence in a few days, my message to you is that this was the road we chose. There is no turning back. Over these 33 years, we have shed a lot of blood in our streets. At the same time, we have seen various of our people grow extremely wealthy in areas such as law, real estate, tax havens, politics, and so on. It seems sometimes that we have produced our own rulers to replace the colonialists. For the masses of the Belizean people, independence has been a rocky road. This is real.
I can’t say it’s going to get any better any time soon. All I see ahead of us is more of the same –turmoil and injustice. Our people have been taking refuge in God over and over. I don’t know if this is written in the Bible, but there is a saying that God helps those who help themselves. Belizean people, where we have life, we have hope. If it is prayers that comfort you, then say your prayers. But prayers won’t win this war. We have to dig deep down for this victory. I can’t give you any words of comfort. This is going to get worse before it gets better.
Power to the people.