Is it possible to write a “short history” about a land that’s been occupied for millions of years? We’ll try. But put on a seat belt because our tale will move along at a fast clip.
The story of Belize, say young archaeologists taking issue with claims that the roots of this region’s peoples reach back only to the Pleistocene era, happens to be longer and deeper. Early man wandered from Asia to the Americas over natural ice bridges, bringing people to this continent around 14,500 years ago.
Having wandered into the region that now encompasses Mexico, Belize and Guatemala, vegetation, warm breezes and the beautiful Gulf of Mexico were reason enough to settle Central America. Mayans were the undisputed first society of this land and their presence was profound.
Palaces were built. Ballfields established. Places of worship dominated the land and occupied hiding places in caves that were home to fierce rituals that included idol worship and human sacrifice.
Amid agriculturally prime land, capitols like Lamanai, Caracol and Xunantunich arose from the landscape and despite tragedies that wiped out generations, from the ruins emerged three distinct Mayan occupation periods: The Pre-Classic (1000 BC to AD 300), Classic (AD 300 to 900) and Post-Classic (AD 1000 to 1500).
Nobody knows how or why Mayans vanished for good by 1500 AD but by the time explorers like Christopher Columbus reached this region in the 16th century and skirted Belize’s Barrier Reef, the territory was primed for occupation, which is how English Puritans came to put down roots here.
Over time, migrants from all points on the compass came ashore. Some kept going. Others settled. Trading posts were established and commercial success was found in Belize’s verdant forests. A vibrant logging industry thrived as battles for dominance between Brits and Spaniards continued until the 18th century.
Britain laid claim to this area of Central America and named it British Honduras, establishing a colonial relationship that remained into the 20th Century. Migration, intermarriage and market expansion throughout Europe, Asia and North America morphed Belize into a commercial crossroads and melting pot of cultures.
People settled here for myriad reasons: rebellions in homelands; religious freedom; a chance to start anew in a region filled with natural wonders. As an outgrowth of this amalgam of refugees, Belize society diversified at a brisk race.
Today, North Americans, Europeans, Africans, Asians, Creoles, Garifuna, Mennonites and latter-day Mayans share 8,867 square miles of territory that they all call home.
Gaining freedom from England’s influence, Belize declared its independence on September 21, 1981. Since that time, it has become Central America’s honeymoon capital is fast becoming the hemisphere’s favorite retirement destination.
Hurricanes have assaulted the land. Tourism has replaced logging. Belize moves confidently into the future by re-inventing herself with every new year, so there’s plenty of history yet to be written in this small, thriving nation.