Belize is a country of diversity…
Not only is it known for variety of geology and biodiversity but also for cultural diversity. Tourists and immigrants may be initially drawn to Belize for its biodiversity and topography, but its multicultural diversity makes tourists want to return, and immigrants want to stay.
Belize is known for its high biodiversity for a small country – boasting more than 150 species of mammals, 540 species of birds, 150 species of amphibians and reptiles, nearly 600 species of freshwater and marine fish, and 3,408 species of vascular plants.
These numerous species of flora and fauna call home Belize’s varied topography consisting of mountains, forests, savannahs, and beaches with varied bodies of water, including ocean, rivers, lagoons, wetlands, and swamps.
Belize is also home to the Belize Barrier Reef, the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere.
Despite its natural beauty and resources, it’s Belize’s people that are its crown jewel. For its size, Belize is ethnically diverse. Mestizos, Creoles, and Garifuna are the three largest groups with 49%, 25%, and 6%, respectively, while Mayans consisting of three denominations – the Q’eqchi’, Yucatec, and Mopan Mayas – collectively make up 11%. Other diverse and eclectic ethnic groups make up the rest of the population, including Mennonite, East-Indian, Middle Eastern, Indian and Asian inhabitants.
Belize is a “collection,” not a “melting pot” of cultures – with each culture standing out proudly, displaying their ethnicity, and sharing their culture. It’s this dynamic nature of Belize culture that effortlessly integrates and reflects facets from each group’s influences and food.
Here is a description of some of the principal cultures that make up Belize:
The Mestizo people were originally descended from a mix of Spanish and Mayan ancestry. Today, the Mestizo people consist of descendants of the original mix of Spanish and Mayans and recent immigrants from neighboring Central American countries.
The Mestizo people still cling to Spanish and Mayan cultural elements, including their food and belief systems.
Mestizo food consists of a balance of Spanish and Mayan elements combining staples such as escabeche and Relleno soup, tortillas, corn porridge, cochinita pibil, and tamales to name a few. The belief system follows mainstream Christianity. Christian holidays including Christmas, are celebrated Mayan food.
The Maya of Belize today are descended from one of three denominations of their people: Kekchi, Yucatec, and Mopan Maya. Each has a different spoken language, but their social structure and theology are virtually identical. Some of them still live the way their farmer ancestors did in small self-governed villages.
The Maya are a deeply spiritual people who hold a deep appreciation for the Earth. Today’s Maya still performs celebrations and rituals to honor spirits. They farm for subsistence and grow corn, beans, and squash – all staples of their diet.
The classification “creole” originated during the colonization of Belize when Africans brought as slaves mingled with the European Logwood cutters who brought them here. Today Creole represents a broad term for anyone who has mixed blood with African and is not a Garifuna.
The Creole people have been instrumental in creating some of the most iconic “Belizean” things, our native Kriol being one. This infamously fast dialect (everyone says it sounds like English spoken too fast) has been recognized as an official language.
Not only is the Creole language ingrained in Belize culture, but its food an iconic part of Belize culture, with rice & beans a common staple usually accompanied by other foods such as plantains (usually fried), salads, coleslaw, and meats.
The Garifuna are mixed heritage descendants of West African, Central African, Island Carib, and Arawak people. They hold true to their traditional practices, and although they’ve adapted to speaking Kriol, English, or Spanish among the general population, they speak their own Garifuna language to one another.
They cling to many of their traditional spiritual beliefs, such as the Dugu ceremony steeped in mysticism. The Garifuna still perform many of their traditional dances, such as the Jankunu dance during Christmas. Even more popular than the Jankunu is Punta dancing and punta music which has become very popular in Belize and the surrounding regions.
As for its food, Garifuna food is wildly popular in all of Belize – having transcended all cultural walls in Belize.
Diverse and Accepting.
Belize’s multicultural diversity has contributed to an accepting environment that spills over into warm acceptance of outsiders. It’s this welcoming and diverse culture that draws tourists and immigrants alike to Belize instead of other Central American countries that are less diverse.
Belize’s multicultural diversity is the lynchpin of a society steeped in rich and diversity:
This diversity encourages acceptance and offers unique experiences to visitors and immigrants that no other Central American country can offer. And that is the key element that attracts people to Belize.