Peopling Belize

Friday, 13 January 2006

By William Ysaguirre

While the children in Belize’s primary schools are now being taught about the culture and history of the country’s indigenous peoples, the Maya and the Garifuna, not so much has been written about other ethnic groups who came to Belize and enriched its development and culture.

George St. John Robinson, a University of Montana languages professor who was born in Belize, has endeavoured to remedy this deficiency in his new book “Peopling Belize”

As Robinson explained when he launched his book at the House of Culture on Wednesday morning, January 11, it tells the story of many other groups who came and settled in Belize, who they were and why they came.

These groups include the British Loyalist settlers, who abandoned North America at the end of the American Revolution and moved to Jamaica. Some of them later came to Belize by way of the Mosquito shore of Honduras and Nicaragua. They had names like Cunningham, Card, Yarborough and Bennett.

There were the French settlers who came in the wake of the French Revolution in the late 18th century and early 19th; they had names like LeRoy, Robateau, Richard, Boiton, Bouloy, Chevannes and Blancaneaux. There were also Belgians who came from a failed settlement at Santo Tomas on the Bay of Amatique, families with names like Hinkes and Kuylen.

Belize also got its share of Jewish immigrants, people with names like Levy, Wischenka, Wolffsohn and Feinstein. An interesting fact which Robinson uncovered in his research is that on the eve of World War II, at the instigation of young Jewish leaders and on orders from London, the government in Belize issued over 400 blank passports, with appropriate visas, which allowed hundreds of Central European Jews to escape Nazi persecution for the safety of Canada and later the United States.

He devotes other sections of his book to the Germans, the Chinese community and the East Indians.

At 126 pages, Robinson’s book makes an interesting read for anyone interested in Belizean history. It’s chock full of little known facts not found in other history books, facts which are helpful in understanding who the Belizean people really are and how we came to be. The book is available from the House of Culture, NICH, the Image Factory and other fine bookstores.