Belizean Creole people
|approx. 260,000 (including 21% of the Belizean population)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Predominantly Belize Kriol, English|
Catholicism, Islam, Rastafarism minorities
|Related ethnic groups|
|Belizeans, Nicaraguan Creoles, Jamaicans, Baymen, Caracoles, Raizales, Afro-Caribbeans, West Indians, West Africans.|
Belizean Creoles, also known as Kriols, are Creole descendants of Black African slaves brought to Belize and English and Scottish log cutters, who were known as the Baymen. Over the years there has also been intermarriage with Miskito from Nicaragua, Jamaicans, other West Indians, Mestizos, and East Indians, who were brought to Belize as indentured laborers. These varied peoples have all mixed to create this ethnic group. The Belize Kriol language was historically only spoken by them, but this ethnicity has become synonymous with the Belizean national identity, and as a result Kriol is now spoken by about 75% of Belizeans. Creoles are found predominantly in urban areas, such as Belize City, in most coastal towns and villages, and in the Belize River Valley.
Until the early 1980s, Belizean Creoles constituted close to 60% of the population of Belize, but today they are about 25% of the population. This was due to an influx of Central Americans coming in from neighboring countries, as well as emigration of approximately 85,000 Creoles, primarily to the United States. Today, identifying as a Creole may confuse some; a person who identifies himself or herself as a Creole may have fair skin and blonde hair or dark skin and kinky hair. The term, 'Creole', denotes a culture more than physical appearance. In Belize, Creole is the standard term for any person of at least partial Black African descent, who is not Garinagu, or any person that speaks Kriol as a first or sole language. This includes immigrants from Africa and the West Indies who have settled in Belize and intermarried with locals. Indeed, the concept of Creole and that of ‘mixture’ have almost become synonymous to the extent that any individual with Afro-European ancestry combined with any other ethnicity—whether Mestizo, Garifuna or Maya—is now likely to be considered 'Creole'.
When the National Kriol Council began standardizing the orthography for Kriol they decided that they would only promote the spelling Kriol for the language, but they would continue to use the spelling Creole when referring to the people in English.
According to local research, the Belizean Creoles descended from polyglot buccaneers and European settlers who developed the logwood trade in 17th century, along with African slaves they imported to help cut and ship the logwood. The National Kriol Council of Belize says that black slaves had been established on the Central American coast from the 16th century and earlier and were working for the Spanish further down the coast. By 1724, the British too were acquiring slaves from Jamaica and elsewhere to cut logwood and later mahogany. So, the earliest reference to African slaves in the British settlement of Belize appeared in a 1724 Spanish missionary's account, which stated that the British recently had been importing them from Jamaica and Bermuda. In the second half of the eighteenth century the slave population hovered around 3,000, making up about three quarters of the total population. Most slaves, even if they were brought through West Indian markets, were born in Africa, probably from Ghana (Ga, Ewe, Ashanti - Fante), around the Bight of Benin, Nigeria (Ibo, Efik), the Congo, and Angola—the principal sources of British slaves in the late 18th century-. Also arrived Wolof, Fulas, Hausas and Kongos. The Eboe or Ibo seem to have been particularly numerous; one section of Belize Town was known as Eboe Town in the first half of the 19th century. At first, many slaves maintained African ethnic identifications and cultural practices. Gradually, however, the process of assimilation was creating a new, synthetic Creole culture.
By most accounts, they led a better life than most in the West Indies, but were still mistreated, systematically raped, beaten and bullied. Many ran away to neighboring Spanish colonies, or formed small maroon settlements in the forest. These slaves reputedly assisted in the defense of the fledgling settlement for much of the late 18th century, particularly in the 1798 Battle of St. George's Caye, though this is still a very controversial and political issue in Belize.
The Creoles settled mainly in Belize Town (now Belize City) and along the banks of the Belize River in the original logwood settlements including Burrell Boom, Bermudian Landing, Crooked Tree, Gracie Rock, Rancho Dolores, Flowers Bank, and Belmopan. There were also substantial numbers in and around the plantations south of Belize City and Placencia. Many Creoles were involved in the trade in live sea turtles, and other fisheries. As the 19th century progressed, they spread out to all the districts, particularly Dangriga and Monkey River, as the colony grew. Their sense of pride led to occasional clashes with authority, such as the 1894 currency devaluation riots, that foreshadowed greater conflicts to come.
In the 20th century, the Creoles took the lead in organizing the development of the settlement. Riots in 1919 and 1934, combined with terrible conditions resulting from a disastrous hurricane in 1931, led to Belize's first trade unions and eventually to its first political party, the People's United Party (PUP). Creoles continue to lead the nation in politics. But conditions in Belize City worsened after another major hurricane in 1961 and shortly thereafter large scale migration began (and continues) to the United States and England, where successful individuals sent back money to assist those they left behind.
Attempts to unite Creoles for development, such as the United Black Association for Development, met mixed results.
As part of the September celebrations the annual Creole Festival is held on the grounds of the House of Culture. The festival is notable because it is part of an effort by Belize's Creole population to assert itself as a distinct group, rich with its own traditions.
Maypole is a celebration that includes a maypole, which is a tall wooden pole, decorated with several long colored ribbons suspended from the top. This is similar to Palo de Mayo or Maypole in RAAS region in Nicaragua. There is no definite answer as to how it got to Nicaragua. Many historians point out that there are many differences in the celebration and that it came from the Nicaraguan Creoles that inhabited Nicaragua's Caribbean coast, other historians believe it came indirectly from Jamaica.
The traditional fire sambai of Gales Point Manatee is an unusual Creole dance which survives from colonial times, when slaves met in different parts of Belize City in "tribes" based on their African region of origin to celebrate Christmas holidays. Traditionally the group would form a big circle in the night around a full moon in the center of a square, and one person at a time would go in the middle of the ring to dance. The male dance is a little bit different than the female because it is a fertility dance. The dance marks the time when girls and boys are considered sexually mature.
From colonial days, music and dance have been an essential part of the Creole culture. Drum-led dancing was a major part of Christmas and other celebrations in Creole communities. A style of music called Brukdown originated from the all night brams or parties thrown by Creole families that focuses both on social commentary and hijinks. Brukdown is a genre of Belizean music. Its most well-known performer and innovator, Wilfred Peters is regarded as a Belizean national icon. It is a mixture of European harmonies, African syncopated rhythms and call-and-response format and lyrical elements from the native peoples of the area. In its modern form, brukdown is rural folk music, associated especially with the logging towns of the Belizean interior. Traditional instruments include the banjo, guitar, drums, dingaling bell, accordion and a donkey's jawbone played by running a stick up and down the teeth. Brukdown remains a rural, rarely recorded genre. This music and the social gatherings associated with it are on the decline as youths adopt the culture of the outside world.
Food and drink
Among the main staples of a Creole dinner are rice and beans with some type of meat for example stewed chicken, baked chicken, stewed pork, stewed beef etc. and salad, whether potato, vegetable, or coleslaw, seafoods including fish, conch, lobster, some game meats including iguana, deer, peccary and gibnut; and ground foods such as cassava, potatoes, cocoa and plantains. Fresh juice or water are typically served, occasionally replaced by soft drinks and alcoholic beverages (homemade wines made from sorrel, berries, cashew, sorosi, grapefruit and rice are especially common). Usually to be seen on a breakfast table are delicious creole bread and Kriol bun, johnny-cakes and frycakes (also called fry jacks). In recent years Creoles have adopted foods from other groups, particularly "Spanish" dishes made with tortillas, as a more general national Belizean cuisine has developed.
Creoles in general eat a relatively balanced diet. The Bile Up (or Boil Up) is one cultural dish of the Belizean Creoles. It is a combination boiled eggs, fish and/or pig tail, with number of ground foods such as cassava, green plantains, yams, sweet potatoes, and tomato sauce. Other important Creole foods are Cowfoot Soup, a thick stew with cocoyam and tripe, and a wide variety of dishes made with fish. Coconut milk and oil are common ingredients, though they have become increasingly rare and expensive due to the plague of lethal yellowing which killed most of the coconut trees in the 1990s. In Belize, cassava was traditionally made into "bammy," a small fried cassava cake related to Garifuna cassava bread. The cassava root is grated, rinsed well, dried, salted, and pressed to form flat cakes about 4 inches in diameter and 1/2-inch thick. The cakes are lightly fried, then dipped in coconut milk and fried again. Bammies were usually served as a starchy side dish with breakfast, with fish dishes or alone as a snack. Cassava Pone (Plastic Cake) is a traditional Belizean Creole and pan-West Indian cassava flour cake sometimes made with coconuts and raisins. Other common desserts include Sweet Potato Pone, Bread Pudding, stretch-mi-guts (a kind of taffy), tableta (coconut crisp), wangla (sesame) and powderbun, as well as a variety of pies.
- Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA)
- United Black Association for Development Education Foundation (UEF)
- National Kriol Council (NKC)
- Creole Gyal Prodokshans (local production company)
- "Diaspora of Belize" Council on Diplomacy, Washington, DC and Consulate General of Belize.
- Belize-Guatemala Territorial Issue - Chapter 1
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- Crosbie, Paul, ed. (2007) Kriol-Inglish Dikshineri: English-Kriol Dictionary. Belize City: Belize Kriol Project, pp. 196]
- Bolland, Colonial Society, p. 51.
- http://m.laprensa.com.ni/opinion/10808 La expresión musical popular centroamericana y la herencia africana (in Spanish: Central American popular musical expression and African heritage). Posted by Manuel Monestel
- Bolland, Nigel. "Belize: Historical Setting". In A Country Study: Belize (Tim Merrill, editor). Library of Congress Federal Research Division (January 1992). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- Flores, Yadira (2004). "Palo de Mayo: Bailando alrededor de un árbol". El Nuevo Diario (in Spanish). Retrieved 2007-07-26.
- Wilk, Richard (2006). "Home Cooking in the Global Village". Berg Publishers, Oxford UK.
- Krohn, Lita and Froyla Salam. Readings in Belizean History 3rd ed. 2005: Print Belize, Belize.
- National Kriol Council Website 
- Shoman, Assad. 13 Chapters of A History of Belize. 1994: Angelus Press, Belize.
- St. John's College. Notes and Readings in Introductory Anthropology. 2006.