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Friday, January 28, 2022
Home Editorial Centenary


In the late 1950?s and early 1960?s, the Battle of St. George?s Caye became a huge party political issue in British Honduras. The PUP dominated Belizean politics at that time. (From its birth in 1950, the PUP did not even come close to being challenged in a general election until 1974.) The ruling PUP tried to crush the Tenth of September march by hiring away all the bands for the government National Day parade. But the Tenth of September people, who were mostly supporters of the Opposition National Independence Party (NIP), made their own music, fought against the odds, and the Tenth remained alive.

In those days in the late 1950?s and the early 1960?s, the Creole population, which was dominant in the then capital,
Belize, was clearly the majority in the colony. Middle class Creoles, who practically monopolized the colonial public service, were a privileged class among the natives, and felt properly grateful to the British. Working class Creoles had overwhelmingly endorsed the anti-colonialist PUP in 1950, but after the ouster of Leigh Richardson and Philip Goldson, some working class Creoles became skeptical of the PUP. The clear majority of Creole workers, however, remained PUP.

The thrust of this editorial is towards explaining the unique relationship the Creole people have with the Tenth. Today, Belizean historians with different philosophical and political agendas, continue to argue about the
Battle of St. George?s Caye, but the issue is no longer as important. Large amounts of Creoles have migrated to the United States, to be replaced in Belize by Latin refugees from nearby Central American republics. Belize is an independent nation. The Mayans and Mestizos of the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts, who were downtrodden under British colonialism, have flourished under the new nationalism. What minority Creoles think about the Tenth is no longer a vital party political issue.

It is, however, an emotional, cultural issue. Creole people relate to the Tenth. They feel sentimental about
Belize at Tenth time; they feel patriotic at Tenth time, and this will not change in the foreseeable future. The critics of the Battle of St. George?s Caye story, say that the British colonial rulers actually brainwashed the Creole people into this love affair with the Tenth. But the history shows that the 1798 naval incident, the last Spanish/Mexican challenge to Baymen hegemony in the settlement of Belize, was not celebrated under 19th century Baymen/British colonial rule, not until a Creole man by the name of Simon Lamb in 1898 created the concept of ?Centenary? to celebrate the Battle of St. George?s Caye.

Even in the late 1950?s and early 1960?s, when the PUP and NIP politicians felt it important to play party politics with the Tenth, there were many, many Creole people who marched in both the parades. Party political lines for Creoles became unimportant on the Tenth. In retrospect, then, we feel at this newspaper that there is some unwritten tradition amongst the Creole people where the Tenth of September is concerned.

The largest slave revolt in the history of British Honduras took place on the Belize Old River in 1773, just 25 years before the 1798 Battle of St. George?s Caye. At St. George?s Caye, the slave population which had revolted in 1773, decided to make common cause with the white Baymen slavemasters against whom they had previously risen in a violent manner.

In 1752, the King of Spain had issued a proclamation ordering Spanish Governors (as in the Yucatan) to ?grant freedom to such Negro slaves as should fly from the English and Dutch Colonies to my dominions under pretence of embracing the Holly (sic) Catholic religion.?

By June 1773, the ranks of the slaves who had rebelled on the
Belize Old River, had swollen to 50. They had killed six white men and taken five settlements. Armed with muskets and cutlasses, they decided to head north to the freedom promised at the ?Spanish Lookout on the Rio Hondo.? On October 11, 1773, a committee of Baymen wrote to Admiral Rodney in Jamaica that ?19 surviving rebels? tried to reach the Spanish. A Captain Judd sent a ?commissioned officer, two non-commissioned officers and twelve marines? to cut off the rebels, but eleven of them reached the Spanish Lookout in the Bacalar area.

The American scholars who have been studying the Caste War in greater detail and publishing more and more texts in the last two or three decades, agree that there was a discernible mulatto population in the Yucatan by the first part of the 19th century. In the area of Tihosuco, the village which is considered the seed bed of the Caste War in 1847, it has been written that there was the greatest percentage of people with African ancestry. (Tihosuco is a little more than 100 miles due north of Bacalar.)

There was a scarcity of labour in the woodcutting areas of
Belize and southern Mexico (such as the Carmen region), so blacks moved to a level of freedom when they ran north to Mexico from Belize, or south to Belize from Mexico. It was a back and forth thing.

The thesis of this newspaper is clear and consistent. In 1798, for different reasons, blacks in
Belize decided to support the Baymen against O? Neil?s ?Spanish? invasion. After 1798, there were no more attacks from the ?Spanish? in Mexico. We know that the ?Spanish? in Merida and Campeche were fighting amongst themselves for most of the first half of the 19th century. Then the Mayan people whom the ?Spanish? in Mexico were oppressing, rose up in the bloody Caste War in 1847.

The Caste War lasted for most of the second half of the 19th century, and because of that war, thousands of Caste War Mestizo and Maya refugees settled in the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts.

In a scenario where the demographics and texture of British Honduras were changing, had changed, the Creole man, Simon Lamb, decided to organize the celebrations of Centenary ? the 100th anniversary of the Battle of St. George?s Caye. Simon Lamb?s Centenary seed fell on fertile ground. Tenth of September remains an emotional, cultural holiday amongst the African people in
Belize who are sometimes called ?Creoles.?
Power to the people.

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