The Creole of Belize share a common ancestry, they are the offspring of African slaves imported to work the logging camps and European adventurers. Most of the slaves came from West African (between the present countries of Senegal and Angola) by way of Jamaica. Many of the Europeans came from Scotland and North Britain. While the majority of the Creole population claim a slave/European ancestry, East indians, Mestizos, Asians and Garinagu have all intermarried with Creoles and have adapted the Creole culture.
The word "Creole" comes from the Portuguese "criar" meaning "to raise a child born into a family". As the Portuguese expanded their empire into Brazil, the word mutated to "crioulo" with a meaning of African slaves born into the New World. Eventually the meaning included Europeans born into the New World. Today, the word defines the language and tradition of the African-European community. Belizean Creoles have created the word "kriol" to mean the language of the Creoles.
In addition to standard English, Creoles in Belize speak the "Kriol" language, considered by some as a completely distinct language evolved from but no longer a dialect of English. Creole traditions in Belize are a collection of cultural aspects from many other ethnic groups. For example, their proficiency at dory (small wooded canoes) building was inherited from the Miskito Indians; their love of Cricket and sports comes from the English; and the Anancy stories brought with the slaves from Africa.
Just as many Creole traditions are derived from other cultures, so the food has been adopted from other ethnic groups. From the Mestizos comes chimole, escabeche and panadas. From Africa comes bambam and dukunu. The Creoles love coconut milk and use it to prepare the staple rice and beans, fish stew and Creole bread.
Even after the abolition of slavery, the Creoles continued to work the logging camps. Today, this tendency is reflected in the location of the dominant Creole towns - Monkey River and Punta Gorda - along waterways and the coast.
Under British colonialism in the 1800's, thousands of people in India had become unemployed. Many were starving because of droughts and increased food prices. Between 1844 and 1917, British landowners brought East Indians from Jamaica and India to work on logwood and sugar plantations as indentured servants.
Under the indenture system a person was encouraged to come to the Caribbean to work for a "master" for a certain number of years. After that he was free to work as he pleased. But too often circumstances forced him to "re-indenture" themselves, and agree to work for a further number of years.
The exact number of indentured labourers brought to Belize is not known. However, the numbers were never large. The census of 1891 lists only 291 persons living in the colony who were born in India. East Indians were put to work in the sugar estates in the Toledo and Corozal districts. Their descendants can still be found in areas such as Calcutta in the Corozal District and Forest Home in the Toledo District. They have now largely become "Creolized" (see above).
More recently, in the 1970's, a small number of East Indians have migrated and settled in areas near Punta Gorda, Belize City, and Orange Walk Town, but have no cultural ties with the descendants of earlier immigrants. They tend to be tradesmen, merchants and service providers.
A group of Chinese workers were originally imported as labourers and farm workers in 1865. They were first sent to Northern Belize, but met hostility with the mestizos already settled in the area. In 1866, they were quickly transferred to Toledo. The majority of todays Chinese population stems from immigration that has occurred since just before WW II . Today, Punta Gorda has the second largest population of Belizean Chinese after Belize City.
All Chinese share a common written language, but spoken Chinese differs in dialect from place to place. A Chinese speaking one dialect may not understand a different dialect, and the tow must resort to written Chinese to communicate. The young Chinese in Belize appear to be loosing their ability to converse in Chinese, and gradually spoken Chinese may die out in Belize.
Many of the older generation Chinese in Belize practice a form of Ancestral worship and Buddhism. Most younger generations have converted to Catholicism. Vegetables make up a major part of the Chinese diet. Except for turnips, ground crops such as potatoes and cassava are not eaten. Surprisingly, the Chinese do not eat beans, though rice cooked without salt or animal fat is a staple.
Just as the younger generations are loosing the language of their ancestors, so specific Chinese traditions are slowly being lost as the Chinese community is fully integrated into Belizean society. Yet, some customs remain. A child's one-month birthday is celebrated - it will be the last. Annual birthdays are not observed. No ancestral rites are performed at death, though offerings of food and the burning of "joss sticks" (similar to incense sticks) on the grave is still observed. Also, the eldest male child customarily receives twice the inheritance of any other child in return for complete obedience to hist father's wishes.
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