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By Khaila Gentle BELIZE CITY, Mon. May 9,...

Our culture is our prize

FeaturesOur culture is our prize

One time, sometime back, the police had a checkpoint at Roaring Creek, and their business that day was an immigration check. My comadre was on the bus, going to Belmopan, and the young officer looked at her fair skin and straight hair and went up to her and asked to see her papers. The first few words out of her mouth made that young officer turn tail. My comadre was a grandmother, an older woman, and they are allowed their speech. The young officer said, ‘Show me your papers, Miss’, and my comadre said, ‘You out a yu BLANK mind?’

I told you that story before (maybe my comadre didn’t use those exact words), as a preamble to a discussion of the importance of Kriol in the definition of Belize. My comadre, a Mestizo, could have answered in our English or Spanish, and the officer would have understood immediately that she was a roots Belizean, largely because of her accent. We know when we are talking to an American or a person from England because of the way they pronounce their words. Spanish speakers who are familiar with Mexico and the countries of Central America can tell which one an individual is from the moment they engage them in conversation.

Dr. Silvaana could tell us why the way Belizeans taak Spanish and English is distinct. I think our accent and the words we choose are products of our culture, and huge in that is our national language, Kriol. English is our official language, but if yu kyaahn taak Kriol you aren’t melting fully in the national pot.

There are people in Belize who will get a little tochiz if they read that last sentence. Belizeans who live on the periphery, in villages that are far from urban centers, are excused, but all the rest need to get the sense. They and all born-ya Belizeans who dream of Mexico and the USA, I pray for them that they get to live where their hearts are. Some go for economic reasons, but those who can’t wait to leave us, I’m glad that if nostalgia hits them while they’re away they’ll get to have their little Belizean get-togethers, where they can play the music and eat the food of home, and drink the drink of home, rum made in Belize. If your heart isn’t here, you can go.

Some years ago, I went to the tourist village at Fort Street to see if I could find a vendor who wouldn’t mind trying to help me sell a few of my novellas, and I was shocked when I heard the music of the village. It was all foreign. People who come to live here will bring their home with them, but it is improper for them to promote their home in a place that is supposed to showcase Belize, like our tourism villages, like our airports, any place where there are visitors to our land. Belizeans who aren’t proud of our culture, I said already, try to get a ticket to foreign.

In another old story, a sincere naturalized Belizean who is very sophisticated told me in a conversation we had sometime back that brokdong was a simple music form and it would never get respect in the international arena. That isn’t a direct quote. The brother put it in a way not to offend, well, he tried to, but I got the drift. That didn’t bother me none. We can’t demand that everyone likes brokdong, but everyone must hear the sound when they come here.

There are other Belizean music forms, notably from the Garinagu. The paranda is super special music for those who like it slow, the punta for those who like it fast. Lucio and the New Generation and Super Furia do some Spanish music, and it’s a unique sound, full of Belizean flavor, but the music born of Belize is the brokdong. It’s a pity it will never get a foreign audience, and not all Belizeans like it, but it’s our roots culture.

Brokdong is BELIZEAN music. Brokdong comes from mahogany bush, and it was a mixture in those camps, just like our national food, which are pigtail and split peas, relleno and tamales and panades, hudut and darasa, tortilla/roti and stew beans, curry chicken, fry fish and Johnny cake, and rice and beans with stew chikin and salad. There were Waika and Maya and Garinagu and Mestizos and East Indians and Middle Easterns along with Kriols in those mahogany camps, in all kinda mix.

I think we’ve had too many leaders who aren’t proud of our country. How is it possible for us to be making foreigners into new Belizeans without demanding that they learn about our Belize? Just throwing people into the pot without them appreciating what we have here is unfair, especially to Belizeans who are far away from the European phenotype.

I have another old story. I learned a number of things back in 1989, when the PUP had a surprise victory in the general election that year. One of them was how fragile the national fabric could become if we embrace people before they accept our culture. When I came home from work, my wife told me that a band of new Belizeans had marched on the highway through the village, brandishing machetes and muskets, celebrating what they saw as “Spanish” rule. They were looking wholesale at the skin color and hair texture of most of the victorious PUP—and that’s so, so un-Belizean.

The parade was alarming. Let’s just say I am a firm believer in being preemptive. I made a rare phone call, and a call came back to tell me that a top PUP had said they would send someone to have a talk with the belligerents. I was told the top PUP also said that our great and beautiful culture would prevail because the children of these new Belizeans would attend schools in Belize, and those ones in school would become true Belizeans, and they’d take our culture back to their parents.

I think we’ll agree that that is not a bad vision, but when you are blending different tribes and religions, you have to do far better than that. Every day, the authorities must be about teaching newcomers the Belizean story.

Why do our political leaders insist on putting their narrow little agendas ahead of our country’s glory? Our culture is under assault, and none is more insidious than the army of ten thousand. What are the efforts of our leaders to defend the Belizean way from the glitzy package on television?

We are vulnerable, because we are confused. You know what happened. They made a MYTH of the 10th; they said it was causing division in our people. Making our people more united, that was a noble goal, but you never throw out the baby with the bathwater. The FACT is that the reason why we are different, distinct in this region, distinct in the world, the greatest melting pot in God’s great garden, is that we are not Mexicans or Guatemalans or Americans. Bully for them, they are all great people, but because of the 10th we are different, unique.

Of course there’s some difficulty in the 10th story. Is there ever a perfect solution? All we have is truth. But I’ll need a whole column for that, so we’ll let that lie, for now.

These brothers and sisters we are welcoming into the fold, they have to know about Belize. They have to know that we were really a peaceful haven of democracy, and most of our political leaders were foundationally honest. It’s a nice joke on us to say modern Belize was founded by pirates. The fact is they were less terrible than those who were murdering natives in their lust for gold, or running slaves.

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