“One of the brutal consequences of the Spanish Conquest was the division of the Guatemalan population into criollos (native-born Spaniards), ladinos (the product of intermarriage between Spaniards and natives), and the native population, called ‘indios’ by the Spanish but who refer to themselves as ‘naturales.’ The distinction between Indian and ladino is still present today but it is cultural rather than racial. Racially, most of the Guatemalan population is some degree of mixture between Indian and early conquerors or later immigrants. Culturally, however, there are differences in dress, language, and customs that set the indigenous population apart from the others. The ethnic boundaries are not always clear, but by most definitions over half of the Guatemalan population still can be defined as ‘Indian,’ in spite of the official census figure of 43 percent (1964).”
– pg. 28, GUATEMALA, North American Congress on Latin America, 1974
During the thirteen years I attended schools in Belize, from 1952 to 1965, I can recall just once coming across a reference to the Caste War in one of the many textbooks I was required to read. This reference was in a single sentence, and that reference left me with many questions in my mind.
Just when it was that the Rt. Hon. George Price began referring to Belize’s Maya past and the Maya glory in his public speeches and conversations, I am not in a position to say. If I had to guess, I would say it must have been after the PUP won 18 out of 18 seats in March 1961 in the first national elections held here under a new Ministerial constitution. In 1961, Mr. Price was at the zenith of popular power, having survived expulsion from a London conference by the British in 1957 and a sedition arrest/trial by the said British in 1958.
Apart from the fact that Mr. Price’s mother was of Maya extraction, exactly how much Mr. Price himself knew of the Maya it is hard to say. He never went beyond generalized references to the ancient Maya civilizations which existed in this territory before the British came. For my generation of “Baby Boomer” Creole students in British Honduras in the 1960s, then, we had no real idea of what Mr. Price was speaking when he spoke of the “Maya.”
The only thing we were sure of in the capital city was that we ourselves were not Maya. Remember now, we were ignorant of the differences between Spaniards, Mestizos, and Maya. They were all a hodge-podge of people from the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts, and from San Pedro Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, whom we, in our ignorance, referred to as “Spanish.”
There was no black consciousness in Belize, in the sense of knowledge of Africa, in the early and middle 1960s. This was in marked contrast to Jamaica, where the people knew of Nelson Mandela and the struggle against South African apartheid, or even Trinidad, which had produced the great George Padmore (1903-1959). Garveyism had flourished in British Honduras after World War I, but had faded by the time of World War II. In the 1960s, British Honduras was still visibly black where population majority was concerned, but our people were not, to repeat, black conscious. We knew very little of the world outside our borders.
The consciousness which existed in the Opposition NIP during the 1960s, we black radicals later described as “Afro-Saxon.” This was a play on the fact that the white British and their American cousins are sometimes described as “Anglo-Saxon,” because they are mostly descended from two barbarian tribes of a thousand years ago – the Angles and the Saxons. An “Afro-Saxon,” then, was someone of African descent whose ideals, values, ambitions, and education were primarily British in texture.
The same way all “Spanish” looked alike to us naïve black youth in the 1960s, so it was that all of us “Creoles” looked alike to the people from the Northern Districts and the two large cayes – San Pedro and Caye Caulker.
The fact of the matter was that “Spanish” people were being discriminated against where government jobs were concerned during the British colonial administrations which had groomed and integrated Creoles in the civil service. This grooming and integration took place in the first half of the twentieth century. “Spanish” public officers were a very small minority when Mr. Price became PUP Leader in 1956. The significance of this discrimination was that Belize’s private sector was relatively tiny during the first half of the century. The majority of jobs were in the public sector.
The Garifuna people had also been discriminated against in the civil service, and that was why, in the aforementioned first half of the twentieth century, their intellectual elite accepted the tough job opportunities in teaching which the Roman Catholic Church offered them in the District towns, villages, and cayes.
Because of Mr. Price’s political power, Belize began to be “Latinized” in the late 1950s/early 1960s. I use the term “Latinization” to refer to Belize’s increasing contact with the Mexican and Guatemalan culture, food, music, and language which were across our borders, and the fact that the confidence of our “Spanish” Belizeans grew quickly as discrimination against them was decreased.
There was, naturally, a Creole backlash against this Latinization, but that backlash was essentially confined to the Afro-Saxon element. The Creole working class base remained PUP, and the most indelible and lasting aspect of this phenomenon, to me, was the long-playing album, Trópico y Ritmo, Gerald Rhaburn and his combo cut in Guatemala City around 1962. I believe elements in the PUP government facilitated Rhaburn’s trip to Guatemala City, but the reality was that the album was so seminal and so beautiful, it filled my generation of Belizeans with pride and excitement. In the 1970s, Rhaburn became linked with Dean Lindo’s UDP because of his business arrangements with Henry Young and Compton Fairweather, but in the early 1960s Gerald was just a Creole youth looking to make his fortune, and his fabulous career took off with Trópico y Ritmo. (Part of Belize’s music Latinization in the 1960s included visits from exceptional Mexican combos like Los Aragon, Los Platinos, and Los Dinners, which were very well received here, indeed.)
Around the time Rhaburn cut his album, the Guatemala claim began to get serious, with the Puerto Rico conference of 1962. In the absence of any knowledge of Maya history in the old capital, Mr. Price’s Maya references began to become disturbing in a population center which had to deal with the Thirteen Proposals in 1966, and then the Seventeen Proposals two years later. The Proposals called for Belize to become a kind of satellite state to Guatemala, and this was taking “Latinization” too far where roots Creoles were concerned.
There was never any attempt to educate Belizean schoolchildren about the Maya, much less Africa, in the 1960s. Mr. Price’s Maya references amounted to whistling in the dark where the black majority were concerned. Because Mr. Price was Mr. Price, he got away with it, but black Belizeans were puzzled: what was he talking about?
In 1969 UBAD was accused of seeking to stir up racial hatred amongst Belizeans, but the historical evidence shows that what UBAD really sought was for education concerning Belizeans’ ethnic origins to become a part of our school curricula. The post-Columbus historical difference between the Maya and the Creole was simply that it was the Spaniards who crucified the Maya and the British who did the same to the Creoles. The Maya and the Creoles came from cultures which stressed similar values, social structures, lifestyles, and so on. And, for their European part, the Spaniards and the British have ended up as one: there is no real difference between Rome and Canterbury.
Power to the people.