Teleport back to the 1600s and imagine a Bayman’s life in early Belize…
A world away from your native England, you find yourself strolling the white sandy beach on Ambergris Caye. You’ve left the dreary grey gloom of your home country behind… far behind. In this colorful, tropical paradise, the uninhabited jungle offers you beauty and adventure you never dreamed of.
Crystalline blue water and comforting white beaches make you feel clean, even though you are, in fact, a dirty pirate. The glowing amber sun shines brighter than the gold you search for. You realize, as many travelers have before and since: this place is actually your home. It’s strange, but true. Sometimes we finally “come home” to places thousands of miles away from wherever we were born.
You discovered this beach accidentally when your ship wrecked; you and your crew found the place deserted. Not that you mind – there are worse places to wreck than in a colorful, plentiful utopia. After discovering a wealth of logwood on the land, you picked up a new trade; chopping and selling wood back to Britain.
When not trading, you scan the waters for passing ships that seem worth a plundering excursion. You and your clan of Baymen are living the good life, except for one tiny annoyance: the Spanish are constantly attacking your shores. As far as you’re concerned, the Spaniards are only good for one thing: pillageable wealth. You want their silver, gold, and wood. Once you get it, the Spaniards can go back to Spain for all you care.
Sometimes, you and the other Baymen have to attack ships that don’t even promise any valuables. But you can’t have other groups trying to settle your territory here in Central America. Spain already has a grasp on many other parts of the area, so it is vital for you and the Baymen to retain control of this caye. The land is rich with Mahogany wood, plentiful fish, lush jungles with fruits and vegetation, native plants and a plethora of jungle creatures. You’re prepared to spend your life protecting your territory in paradise.
Photo by Chris Evans
These British buccaneers and Scottish pirates named themselves “Baymen” after the Bay of Honduras. They took to Belizean shores to fight off other Spanish settlers and retain the area for themselves, often harassing lone ships that sailed by.
The pirates in Belize colored in the margins of this small country’s history. Unfortunately, they also darkened this country’s past by bringing in slavery and war. Fighting between the Spanish and British continued until the Battle of St. George’s Caye in 1798. This battle represents Spain’s final attempt to gain control in Belize after years of trying to push out the British; the Battle of St. George’s Caye was also one of the more notable battles between the European superpowers.
Interestingly, this battle lasted a mere two hours. The pirates of Belize enlisted their slaves to fight beside them, and they defeated the Spanish after the brief (but brutal) two-hour battle. Spain finally gave up attempts to control the area, and they set out to conquer elsewhere. Modern Belizeans commemorate this day, said to be the day Belize’s destiny was determined, on September 10 every year. This Belizean national holiday is known alternately as St. George’s Caye Day or simply National Day.
British colonials and the British pirates in Belize continued to establish “British Honduras,” trading logwood and harassing the Belizean natives. Due to this early British influence in Belizean history, this country now holds the distinction of being the only Central American nation where English is the official language.
While many believe Pirates of the Caribbean is nothing more than a fanciful Disney franchise, history points to a few true notes in their presentation of piracy. The pirates in Belize wanted land, wealth, and rule, and they defended those pristine Caribbean environments that are presented in the blockbuster movies. You’ll find those white beaches and gorgeous jungles in Belize cayes.
The last time you thought of “piracy,” you were worried U2 was going to come after you for illegally downloading their album. Today, where many consider piracy as copyright infringement, isn’t it kind of exciting to imagine a time when piracy was a way to defend your home in paradise?
While trekking through the jungle on your Belize vacation, imagine yourself as a pirate, discovering this place 400 years ago. Today, you don’t need to pillage, plunder, or steal in order to find adventure in Belize. But I think once you visit, you’ll understand why pirates would go to such lengths to ensure their continued existence in this part of the world.