Belize and Mexico History: People and Civilizations Essay

Introduction

Belize is located in the northernmost part of South America. On the western part of this beautiful country lies Guatemala while on the northern border lies Mexico with the Caribbean Sea occupying the eastern stretch. Its society is made up of people who speak many different languages and therefore culturally diverse. Some of these languages include Creole, Spanish, Garifuna, Chinese, and Hindi. This makes Belize a country of many faces and cultures but this does not separate its citizens as they live as one people in one nation.

Belize is the only country where English is the first and official language. The first settlers arrived in Belize about 50,000 years ago. These Asians had migrated from Asia to America using the Bering Strait that existed between the two continents. It has gone through early civilization, colonization and now it is an independent country with a rich heritage of cultures and languages.

Early Civilization in Belize

The Arawaks

The Arawaks together with Caribs were the earliest inhabitants of Belize. They were skilled farmers having acquired their skills about 9000 years ago (Johnson and Melissa 599). They cultivated yams, tobacco, cassava, maize, cotton, and wild seed fruits. They also had skills in angling and hunting.

The Maya

The Maya civilization existed between 1500 B.C and 800 A.D. “The peak of this civilization occurred during the classic period which began about 250 A.D” (Bolland and Nigel 72). The Maya society comprised of people with different languages who settled in different areas of Belize. These people include Yucatecan in Lamanai, Ch’olti’an in the lowland and Caracol in the south and centre of Belize.

The economy of the Mayans was diverse. It comprised of farmers, artisans, merchants, priests-astronomers, and warriors. The farmers grew various crops such as cocoa, Chile peppers, beans, corn, and cotton using labor-intensive irrigation and shift-to-virgin-land agriculture. Their crops were used to feed the other specialists such as the artisans who specialized in sculpture making. The merchants traded by land and by sea. They traded in various commodities produced by the farmers and others such as artisans.

The priests also played the role of astronomers. They were very important people in their duty of predicting seasons. They had the knowledge to study the movement of the planets, sun, moon, and stars that enabled them predict seasons and come up with calendars. The artisans created sculptures using stones some of which had images of their gods and heroes. They also specialized in pottery, carving, and weaving. They made clothes from cotton before dying them with big bright patterns.

The Mayan society was organized into ranks that comprised of ruler, farmers, and merchants. Their lifestyles varied depending on the rank and this included their diets. The supreme rulers held the highest rank in the society.

They inherited these positions from their relatives creating a monarchial form of governance. The merchants were also important people who wore jewelry and feathered headbands like the rulers. The farmers ranked the lowest. They wore simple cotton dresses and sandals. Their diet comprised of vegetables such as tortilla, beans, tomatoes, and pepper.

The Mayans had a well-developed writing system, which comprised of books from tree barks and stela; slabs made of stone. Mathematicians and priests-astronomers developed calendars. These calendars were more complicated than today’s calendars but as accurate. Most of the Mayan history was preserved in their sculptures that symbolized their gods and heroes.

The Maya civilization started to collapse in the tenth century. The cause of the rapid decrease in population is not clearly known. The speculated causes could be scarcity of new land for farming, war, scarcity of trading commodities, and lack of enough food to feed the people. In the later days, the European colonization of South America played an important role in the decline of the Maya society. They abandoned their temples and public building which today archeologists uses to study their cultural practices.

Colonization

The Spaniards first colonized Belize in the seventeenth century after suppressing the Mayan resistance. They established churches and burned the Mayan sculptures and books with the intentions of converting and controlling them (Robertson and Stuart 322). The first European settlers arrived in 1638 after a shipwreck in the Caribbean Sea. On the same year, the Europeans and Scotsmen also settled on Belize’s coast from where they pirated the Spanish ships. This is because the reefs on the coast provided good hiding places to the pirates.

The Europeans settled in Belize from this time and their interests were in wood logging for making dyes and piracy. Both the Europeans and the Spaniards claimed the ownership of land until 1798 when the Europeans defeated the Spanish in the battle of St. George’s Cay. In 1840, Belize, then known as the British Honduras, became the colony of the Great Britain and later in 1862, it became the Crown colony. To expand the representative government, Belize saw several constitutional changes during the British colonization.

Independence

Poor management of the country by the British representative government was the origin of Belizeans’ call for independence. This was further catalyzed by the slavery in the industries run by the Britons and the hurricane that hit the country in 1931. British response to this disaster was not satisfactory. The then British Hondura gained its independence in 1964. This however faced two obstacles: the Britain’s reluctance to set them free and Guatemala claims that Belize was their colony.

From 1964, Britain only controlled Belize’s defense and foreign affairs. George Price, the head of PUP (People United Party), became the first colony prime minister (Bolland and Nigel 75). British Honduras was renamed to Belize in 1973. Guatemala remained as the obstacle towards the independence of Belize with their territorial claims. However, Belize attained its independence in 1981 without reaching a consensus with Guatemala.

Until 1984, George Price ruled Belize under PUP party before Immanuel Esquivel took over as prime minister under the UDP (United Democratic Party). However, Price came back to power in 1989. In 1992, Guatemala recognized Belize as an independent nation and in the 1993; the British government announced that it was going to withdraw its military from Belize.

The military withdrew in 1994 (Greenspan 279). Nevertheless, according to the Guatemalan authorities, over half of Belize belongs to it despite relentless efforts by Belize to claim her sovereignty. In 2008, Dean Barrow became the prime minister under UDP; a position he holds to date.

Conclusion

Belize has seen a great transition from the pre-colonial times, through colonization to contemporary times where it stands as an independent country. It is from history that the current nation was built. It is a haven of many cultures and languages but this does not relegate the different people to their ethnic groups. Belize is a country of many faces but it has remained as one nation.

Works Cited

Bolland, Austin, and Nigel, Paul. Belize: Historical Setting. New York: Library of Congress publishers, 1922. 72-80.

Greenspan, Eliot. Frommer’s Belize. Harvard: Harvard university press, 1995. 279.

Johnson, Peter, and Melissa, Audrey. “The making of race and place in nineteenth- Century British Honduras.” Environmental History 8. 4 (2003): 598-617.

Robertson, John, and Stuart, David. “The Language of Classic Maya Inscriptions.” Current Anthropology 41. 3 (1989): 321-356.

Belize and Mexico History: People and Civilizations

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