When I was a child, my mother told me, on more than one occasion for sure, that my great great grandmother, the one Elizabeth “Betsy” Kingston, of Sittee River, had been a “coal black woman.”
In British Honduras in the 1950s when I was growing up and attending primary school, it seemed to me that, at least in the capital city, it was basically “Creoles” and “Spanish.” There were also “coolies”, which is how we referred to East Indians.
I can’t recall meeting any “Caribs” at Holy Redeemer Boys School, but they must have been there. I did meet older Caribs at a hostel in the Holy Redeemer School backyard in the northern section. These included Harry Servio, Greg Arana, and Callistus Cayetano. They were attending St. John’s College, and when I began SJC I met more Caribs.
The difference between brown and red Creoles, on the one hand, and black Creoles, on the other, was not a big deal for me as a child. It may well have been, nevertheless, that it was a big deal for adult Creoles in our society. As a child, I knew that I was of black descent, thanks to Elinor Wilson, but I probably had somewhat of an East Indian finish. Also, because of being in the sun a lot, I was not as light in color as I am today.
At the Bliss Institute, where I performed several times in elocution and on piano as a child, there were two large stone stelae with Maya hieroglyphics written on them, but in the city, otherwise from that, we knew almost nothing of the Maya. For us, everybody who looked a certain way was “Spanish.”
In the Indian department, aside from the aforementioned “coolies,” and I mean absolutely no disrespect when I use the term, we also heard a lot about a people called “Waika.” These were the most mysterious of all Belizean people to me, the Waika, and I can’t say that I can remember a specific individual I positively knew to be a full-blooded Waika. For some reason, the Waika, to me, were associated with the Christmas season and Christmas excesses, and I suppose they must have been workers in the mahogany camps. My understanding of Waika is that they are what are called Mosquito Indians, from Nicaragua.
The few “Syrians” and “Turks” seemed pretty white in appearance, though some had wooly hair texture. We knew nothing about Palestine as such back when I was a child.
I’ve tried to give you an idea of how mixed up the whole race and ethnicity thing was in British Honduras. If you wanted a recipe on how to produce a divided population, Belize was it. This was how the British wanted it. Rule Britannia. The one thing was that the majority of the population were clearly of African descent, but these were perhaps the most internally divided of all the groups.
When the People’s United Party (PUP) set about building a native nation in 1950, Belize City was the big cheese, so to speak, and Creoles ruled, by numbers, by culture, and by the choice of the British. This situation has changed substantially over the last five to six decades. For me, the question is: have we Belizeans as a people become more unified or have we remained a confused and polyglot society?
It served the personal business interests of the remarkable native entrepreneur, Robert Sydney Turton, for Belize to seek independence from British colonial rule. Around 1944, he sponsored the entry of his personal secretary, George Cadle Price, into electoral politics in order to pursue the goal of Belizean self-rule. Mr. Price became PUP Leader in 1956, a year after Mr. Turton died, and it is fascinating to me to wonder how much of Mr. Price’s early PUP leadership agenda was his own, and how much of it remained Mr. Turton’s. My personal feeling is that if Mr. Turton had been resurrected by some miracle in say 1964, when Belize became a self-governing colony, he would not have recognized Mr. Price’s leadership as his own, so to speak. Mr. Price, who had spent a few years training to be a Roman Catholic priest in Mississippi and Guatemala, probably became his own man.
The important thing is that Mr. Price believed in Mr. Turton’s goal of Belizean self-rule. Mr. Price made independence for Belize his personal Holy Grail. Younger generations of Belizeans will not know this, but there was a time, especially in the late 1970s, when the Opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) was first coming on like gangbusters and when independence for Belize was really becoming a questionable proposition.
Independence first became questionable because the British and the Americans were demanding that Belize cede territory to Guatemala, and the possibility is that Mr. Price would have been overthrown had he yielded to the Anglo/American demands. The paradoxical aspect of our situation in the late 1970s, where I am concerned, is that the UDP, philosophically, appeared to be on a journey unruly and unique in Belize’s political history.
Looking back, the sensational aspect of the UDP ride in the 1970s was that this was a pro-American ride at a time when Belizeans were flocking to the United States in droves. The UDP was avowedly and pointedly anti-communist at a time when Mr. Price’s PUP was playing ball with the young socialist attorneys, Assad Shoman and Said Musa. Although the largest component of the three-party coalition that became the UDP in 1973, was the National Independence Party (NIP), the UDP immediately shoved the core NIP message of “No Guatemala” into their back room. The UDP was a party that was focused on attracting campaign donations. For that reason, the UDP allowed the smallest of their component parts, the pro-business Liberal Party, to dominate their message. It is hardly a coincidence that when the UDP finally came to power in 1984, their Leader turned Prime Minister was a Liberal Party original – Dr. Manuel Esquivel.
Looking back, we can see that the early UDP positions were what we would now call neoliberal capitalist ones. What this means to me is that if the UDP had been elected in the 1974 or 1979 general elections, Washington would have been allowed to implement most of its 1968 Seventeen Proposals. As it is, in 2016 Guatemala is calling a lot of shots in Belize, which is the way Bethuel Webster designed it in 1968.
When the UDP was established in September of 1973, Dean Lindo’s People’s Development Movement (PDM) may have served as a kind of bridge between Mr. Goldson’s NIP (Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition) and the new Liberals, who were leaderless. Lindo had been an NIP who challenged Mr. Goldson for leadership in 1969, lost, and left to form the PDM.
Mr. Esquivel defeated Mr. Lindo and Mr. Goldson in a three-way race to become UDP Leader in January of 1983. Even though Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow is Dean Lindo’s nephew, and although PUP leaders were convinced that he was working against Mr. Esquivel’s leadership in the interests of Mr. Lindo, the first UDP Leader who became UDP Chairman in 1983, in my private conversations with Mr. Barrow between 1983 and 1986 say, he always insisted that he preferred Mr. Esquivel to Mr. Lindo. In the present UDP configuration, PDM thinking would perhaps be represented by Housing Minister Michael Finnegan, who is very close to Prime Minister Barrow but remains loyal to Mr. Lindo.
The strangest thing about the present UDP is the now consistently expressed thinking of Foreign Affairs Minister Sedi Elrington. The Elrington family was hardline “No Guatemala” NIP in the 1960s, but Sedi is definitely not now representing the views of the late Mr. Goldson. It should be noted that in the 2016 UDP it is only Mr. Sedi whose history can be traced back to the NIP Sixties. All the rest, such as Patrick Faber and Boots Martinez, are new kids on the block.
And, where our national ethnic and color landscape is involved, one difference between 1956 and 2016 is that now we have a Maya presence. Now, we have Garinagu instead of Caribs. We have a significant, landed white American element. Now the Mennonites are large. And now, the Creoles have dwindled to a precious few. The one constant is that we are as divided as we ever were. I’m just saying.