History of Belize
THE ANCIENT MAYA
Before the Europeans ever dreamt of coming to the new world, there was a large region expanding from Mexico in the north to Honduras and El Salvador in the south commonly referred to today as “La Ruta Maya”. Inhabiting this diverse region was a vibrant culture sharing unique characteristics that included an impressive calendar, hieroglyphic script, intriguing ritualistic beliefs and a very well structured empire. They were the Maya. Archeologists date the Maya culture back as early as 2500BC. It is believed that between 250 and 900AD, Mayan cities experienced the pinnacle of their power and prosperity. (The ancient remnants of these complex cities can be found scattered throughout the country, quietly sitting in their forested homes.)
In the the sixteenth century, the Spaniards disembarked on this sacred Mayan territory. In contrast to their knowledge of the developed civilizations encountered in North Mexico and Peru, the Spaniards saw the Maya as disorganized. Their search for treasures in this newly discovered area now appeared easier than they had anticipated, and the Spanish conquest shattered what was left of the ancient Maya culture. In their journey to colonize the lands of La Ruta Maya, Christianity was spread. Hundreds of friars were brought along and scattered throughout the area to convert as many of the “uncivilized” Maya people as possible.
Because the Spaniards were unable to successfully inhabit the area now known as Belize, buccaneers (primarily British) seized the opportunity to conquer and loot Spanish treasure fleets harboring along Belize’s coastline. Between the late seventeenth to mid-eighteenth centuries, numerous treaties were signed between Spain and Britain. Originally the idea behind the treaties was to forbid buccaneering activities, but in the end the British, much to Spain’s dismay, established logwood camps along the riverbanks of Northern Belize. These logwood cutters were later referred to as the Baymen. Eventually, the demand for logwood decreased and rich plantation owners decided to replace logwood with the abundant mahogany wood thriving in pristine forests.
With great fortunes being made from the forests of Belize, the dangerous life of the Baymen soon brought about great apprehension in the camps. Apart from worrying about poisonous snakes, deadly tropical diseases and the discomfort of working amongst clouds of mosquitoes, there was the predominant threat of the Spanish raids of the timber camps, which occurred throughout the seventeenth century.
The ultimate conflict occurred on the 10th of September 1798, when the Spaniards were finally conquered at the battle on St. George’s Caye. They finally relinquished their claim over the region. Today, The Battle of St. George’s Caye is still celebrated as a national holiday.
ROAD TO INDEPENDENCE
Belize was ruled by the British crown from 1798 and was declared British Honduras in 1862. The standard of living was very low and most Belizeans were granted very little rights. After the terrible hurricane of 1931, which devastated the city and other parts of the country, the economy was in dire need of repair. In this desperate atmosphere there existed the budding aspiration for independence. On January 1, 1964, a group of Belizeans, led by George Price, was able to successfully negotiate a new constitution, which granted the colony full internal self-government. Hon. George Price soon became the first Prime Minister. The name was changed to Belize in 1975, then finally on the monumental day of September 21, in the year 1981, Belize finally gained her long-awaited independence.