History has tended to portray the native peoples of the Americas as mere extras or scenery in a Western drama dominated by actors of European and African descent. Because this book is primarily concerned with the ethnocultural nations that have come to dominate North America, it will reluctantly adopt that paradigm. But there are a few factors to bear in mind at the outset about the New World’s indigenous cultures. Before contact, many had a standard of living far higher than that of their European counterparts; they tended to be healthier, better fed, and more secure, with better sanitation, health care, and nutrition. Their civilizations were complex: most practiced agriculture, virtually all were plugged into a continent-spanning trade network, and some built sophisticated urban centers. The Pueblo people the Spanish encountered in New Mexico weren’t Stone Age hunter-gatherers; they lived in five-storey adobe housing blocks with basements and balconies surrounding spacious market plazas. The Aztecs’ capital in Central Mexico, Tenochtitlan, was one of the largest in the world, with a population of 200,000, a public water supply fed by stone aqueducts, and palaces and temples that dwarfed anything in Spain. The Americas were then home to more than a fifth of the world’s people. Central Mexico, with 25 million inhabitants, had the highest population density on Earth at the time.
- pg. 26, AMERICAN NATIONS, Colin Woodward, Penguin Books, 2012
Therefore, when we commemorate the abolition of the slave trade, it should not be forgotten that it took nearly three hundred years for the British Parliament to be told, collectively, that its slavery of black people was inhuman and wrong. Before 1782, the Church and the Nation benefited in silence as many millions of slaves suffered and died. The Church of England owned slaves and branded SOCIETY on their chests; the Church of Scotland did not petition for abolition and excluded slaves from its church services in Jamaica during slavery.
- pg. 19, THE ENLIGHTENMENT ABOLISHED: Citizens of Britishness, by Geoff Palmer, Henry Publishing, Midlothian, Scotland, UK, 2007; e-mail: [email protected]
It was a noteworthy coincidence for students of the Maya that the very controversial Rupert Myles incident should have taken place in a Maya village called Santa Cruz. There was a village called Chan Santa Cruz in the southeastern part of Yucatan before the Caste War broke out in 1847. As the Caste War became extended, the Maya rebels made Chan Santa Cruz their retreat and stronghold, whereupon they re-named the village Noh Cah Santa Cruz. There, the Maya held their rebellion together with a kind of religion called “The Talking Cross.” Today, what was once Noh Cah Santa Cruz is a town called Felipe Carrillo Puerto.
Thousands and thousands of Belizeans pass through Felipe Carrillo Puerto every Easter on their way to and from the Mexican resort city of Cancun, but, regrettably, there are only a very few Belizeans who know the historical importance of the area and its relevance to Belize.
Remember now, when we speak of the Maya of Noh Cah Santa Cruz, we are talking about Yucatec Maya, whereas the Maya of Toledo today are mostly Kek’chi and Mopan Maya. The legendary Jesus Ken, a descendant of the Santa Cruz Maya of the Yucatan, has told this newspaper that the Maya were never a monolithic nation, that there were at least twelve or thirteen different Maya nations.
Also, the territory we call Mexico today sustained different Indigenous peoples who were not Maya, such as the Aztecs, the Toltecs, the Olmecs, the Yaqui, and so on. But, the Yucatan itself for centuries after Columbus was a territory unto itself. In fact, you should note that until modern times, it was much easier to travel by sea from the Yucatan to Texas than to travel from the Yucatan to Mexico City, the capital of Mexico. Both the Yucatan and Texas were Spanish possessions, and they both had a history of secessionist tendencies with respect to, first, New Spain, and later, to federal Mexico. Eventually, Texas ended up as a state of the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, around the same time that the Caste War broke out in the Yucatan.
Belizean students of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1940) will be fascinated to learn that the final military push of federal Mexico against the Santa Cruz Maya in the Yucatan in the early years of the twentieth century was led by Victoriano Huerta, the Mexican general who was later responsible for the murder in 1913 of President Francisco I. Madero, the democratically elected Mexican president who had succeeded the dictator, Porfirio Diaz, who was forced into exile in 1910.
There were many reasons why the Caste War should have been a priority matter where the education of Belizean children was concerned, the most obvious being that two of the six administrative Districts of British Honduras – Corozal and Orange Walk, were mostly populated by refugees from the Caste War and their descendants. But the British colonizers and the European-based Christian churches which controlled education in Belize colluded in an absolute education blackout in Belize with respect to the Caste War.
It is one of the few failures of the Right Honorable George C. Price that, even though his mother was Maya and he had an expressed Maya consciousness, he decided not to rock Belize’s education boat when he led the colony to self-government in 1964 and political independence in 1981. Generation after generation of Belizean children grow up without any knowledge of the Caste War. This newspaper’s thesis is that to be ignorant of the Caste War is to be ignorant of our real identity as a Belizean people.
It was a fundamental policy of the Europeans during their conquest and colonialism of Africa and America to mandate the Christianization of all African, Maya, and other Indigenous peoples. Christianity proved to be a factor which weakened the resistance tendencies and capacity of native peoples. Christianity made the natives fearful.
Of the three largest groups of Indigenous peoples in British Honduras, the Creoles were the ones who most willingly embraced the Christian denominations and abandoned their African beliefs and practices. The Garinagu, for their part, forced the Roman Catholic Church to accept core Garifuna ancestral beliefs and practices. The Maya have been the most mysterious of our native peoples, and they have proven to be capable of fairly organized resistance in Belize’s modern era. We suspect the Maya have found ways to retain their ancestral beliefs and practices, but such a suspicion on our part amounts to speculation. We too are the unhappy victims of the deliberate ignorance the British and the Christian churches designed for us in their schools.
When we at this newspaper looked at the Rupert Myles incident, what struck us was the ability of the Maya village to impose discipline. The vast majority of Creoles saw the racist appearance of the rope on a Creole Gulliver. This was a natural, understandable response. In the aftermath of the Santa Cruz incident, however, we Creole people must ask ourselves why we, as a people, are now unable to impose any kind of discipline on our children and our communities. In the absence of law and order, a community is unable to protect and rear those talented children who can help that community to achieve real growth and development. In a community ruled by drug dealers and murderers, creative intellects are lost. Belize City is such a community.
It appears that Garifuna leaders, who were holding their communities together when and after Belize City began to collapse twenty five years ago with respect to discipline, have begun to experience similar discipline problems.
Of the three largest Indigenous groups in Belize, then, it is the Maya who, in their remote villages, have held their world together. In the cities and towns of Belize, “things fall apart.”
Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie.