Land in the Americas that had been violently wrenched from the hands of its Indigenous population centuries earlier produced highly desirable tropical products for the markets of Europe, but those millions of acres were most profitably brought into production using labour from Africa.
– pg. 286, BLACK AND BRITISH: A Forgotten History, by David Olusoga, Macmillan, 2016
October 12 of this year will mark 525 years since Christopher Columbus, an Italian in the employ of the king and queen of Spain, entered the so-called New World in the name of Spain and of European Christianity. Led by Spain, various European nations began to seize the lands of the native peoples of the Americas (people who used to be called “Indians” but are now referred to as “Indigenous” populations), and then the Europeans began to enslave Africans and transport them across the Atlantic Ocean to develop the lands which the Europeans had seized from the Indigenous peoples of the Americas.
In the official narrative which is taught to Belizean children, the Christian schools say that when British pirates began to settle in Belize in the first part of the seventeenth century, there was no one here. All the Mayan buildings and sites which have survived in Belize from the Rio Hondo to the Sarstoon, however, prove that there were Indigenous peoples who lived and worked here before the so-called Baymen came, and so the question would be: when did those Indigenous people leave, or was it that they went into hiding when they saw the Baymen.
Whatever the case, it is for sure that there were large Indigenous populations just north of Belize, in the Yucatan, and just west of Belize, in the Peten. These were basically Santa Cruz, Icaiche, and Itza Maya people, who were oppressed by Spanish imperialists and periodically fighting against that oppression.
The official British or Baymen narrative, which is taught to Belizean children in our Christian schools, is that in 1798 the Spanish from the Yucatan tried to invade Belize, but the African slaves owned by the British Baymen assisted the Baymen in repelling the invasion. There is almost no mention of Indigenous people in the official narrative of the Battle of St. George’s Caye, except for one reference to an “Indian” ally who supposedly brought intelligence to the Baymen about invasion preparations in the Yucatan.
In 1847, the Indigenous peoples in the Yucatan began a rebellion against the Christian Spanish imperialists, a rebellion which is referred to in history as the Caste War. For whatever the reason(s), the British in Belize began to accept Caste War refugees, from both the Ladino and Indigenous sides, into Belize, but as late as 1872 the settlers here needed help from the British West India Regiment in order to defeat the Icaiche Maya, led by Marcos Canul.
As British Honduras entered the twentieth century, then, the most critical division in our base population became that between the English-speaking Creoles, primarily resident in Belize City, and the Spanish-speaking descendants of the Caste War refugees, Maya and Mestizo peoples. That division became the great challenge facing the nationalist People’s United Party (PUP) in the middle of the twentieth century, as native Belizeans agitated against British colonial rule and fought for self-government and independence.
The official British/Baymen 1798 narrative encouraged division between the two native populations, because it stressed that the Creoles had fought alongside their white masters to defeat the so-called Spanish from the Yucatan. And so, when Rt. Hon. George Price became PUP Leader in 1956, he sought to de-emphasize the Battle of St. George’s Caye narrative. That matter became a source of substantial political contention, because the Opposition National Independence Party (NIP) included many Creoles who had been pro-British and were comfortable with being “British subjects.”
The divisive official narrative of 1798 has become a centerpiece of the colonial history which Belize now uses to attract tourists, the tourism industry now being considered Belizeans’ most lucrative industry. So how do we balance the nationally divisive liability of the 1798 narrative with its foreign exchange contributions to Belize’s treasury?
The ethnic issue in Belize has become exacerbated in the last three decades by the arrival here of thousands of Central American families from Honduras, Guatemala, Salvador, and Nicaragua. In appearance, the immigrants look just like the longstanding populations of Belize’s Corozal and Orange Walk Districts, and they have contributed to changing Belize’s population from Black majority to Mestizo majority. Remember now, Creole people were in the habit of referring to everyone who looked a certain way as “Spanish.” This was because of ignorance: we had not been properly educated.
This newspaper believes that we Black people have to begin educating ourselves about our situation in Belize, because our tendency is often to identify “Spanish” people as our problem. The world is run today by corporations, which may be seen as enormous accumulations of capital which roam the world in search of fresh natural resources and cheap labor in order to maximize their profits. The prominent corporations we now have in Belize include American Sugar Refinery, Santander, Norwegian Cruise Lines, and U.S. Capital Oil. In addition, Belize is now in the grip of enclaves which are exploitative and segregated: these include the Mennonites, the Chinese, and the Asiatic Indians.
At the base of our socio-economic pyramid, Blacks have identified “Spanish” as their enemies because they have taken away jobs we thought were ours. The thing is, if Belize is to survive as a nation-state by fighting off the Guatemalan claim to our territory, we need to be united as a people. We need to educate ourselves, and we need to communicate with each other. The colonial/imperialist game has always been to divide and conquer. If we Creoles defeated the Spanish in 1798 and it was such a glorious victory, why are we Creoles in the desperate socio-economic situation in which we find ourselves? Who were the real winners in 1798, and who have turned out to be the real losers?
We entitled this editorial, “Step up, Ras,” because we wanted to go a specific place with this essay. To a certain extent, we got sidetracked in properly establishing the historical landscape. Our fundamental point is that the schools which educate our children are controlled by the same European Christians who invaded Indigenous America and enslaved Africa. Until Belizeans run their own schools, our children will always be taught the narrative of those who conquered our ancestors. In Belize, the Muslims at least have opened a school. The Garinagu have opened a school. It is time for the Rastafarians to come together and open their own school. In 1996, the Rastafarians tried to come together, but their attempt at unity soon failed. The Rastas must make another attempt at unity and organization. Garvey and Morter deserve a legacy of knowledge and self-help.
Power to the people.