St. George's Caye Day Celebrations in Belize City, postcard from long ago. Also some history of the battle
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Tuesday September 10, 2019

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St. George's Caye Day Celebrations in Belize City, postcard from long ago. Also some history of the battle

This photo was at the Battle Field in front of the Supreme Court. The building in front was used for many purposes - Military, Judiciary, Post office and finally a concrete Building was built for the Barclays Bank.

My Early Memories of the 10th Parade

by Jerome Straughan

The 1960s saw the Peoples United Party at the height of its political power winning three consecutive general elections. With control of the government, the party continued to put forth its view of the Battle of St George’s Caye and sponsored events and activities leading up to the Tenth that it felt would promote a sense of nationalism and patriotism. Speeches were a very important part of the Tenth parade. But while a part of the speeches of members of the opposition tended to laud “our forefathers the Baymen” the speech of Premier George Price, leader of the PUP tended to focus on the PUP’s brand of patriotism and nation building . This was very much the kind of Tenth speech gave in 1963, afterBelize achieved internal self-government(January1, 1963), the last step before full independence.[i]In 1964, reflecting the PUP led government’s desire for independence, the government sponsored pageant changed their winner's title to "Miss Independence."

But in the 1960s Belizeans continued to believe in the Battle of St. George’s Caye.Those who believed in the event included many in the PUP. The spirit of Simon Lamb was very much alive into the 1960s. Many Creoles continued to believe in the Battle and they saw the Baymen, freed blacks and slaves who had fought for the territory as “our forefathers.” As for the opposition, they continued to celebrate the Battle and did so with what the Amandala newspaper described as a pro-British flavor.In turn, the NIP continued to sponsor its Tenth celebrations. Their supporters marched in the party’s Tenth parade with a sense of pride and determination, despite the party suffering one election defeat after another. Short of winning a general election, the parade provided one of few opportunities for the party to project its growing support, other than when it held demonstrations to oppose such things as the Webster Proposals. In its editorial titled “Centenary” the Amandala newspaper stated that the Battle became a political football in the1960's and 1970's.

In 1969 a third parade came on the scene, when after the formation of the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) early that year, the organization sponsored its own parade in predominantly black Belize City. The formation of UBAD reflected the coming of age of a new generation. Many were attuned to what was happening in the United States and elsewhere, and frustrated with the politics of their parents generation they wanted to challenge the two party system. The formation of UBAD also reflected what was going on outside of Belize, namely in the United States where the civil rights struggle gave way to a more militant black power black nationalism. Overall, there was the greater impact of the culture of black America on Belize. Reflecting its black consciousness and black nationalist agenda, the UBAD parade became a parade that projected black pride. And so there was no talk in this parade about slaves fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with the Baymen. Leading up to the parade UBAD held a Miss Afro Honduras pageant. An expression of black pride was also seen in the look and dress of many of the participants of the parade who sported an afro hairstyle and wore berets and dashikis.

The UBAD parade was a more youthful parade than the others two parades, the tall UBAD member called “Popa Tree Top” (Jack Jordan) being the elder statesman of a parade that had a few other older supporters. The youthful parade that was long on attitude and militancy. Indeed, some in the parade tried to imitate the militant posture of the Black Panthers in the United States through their attire. There was the expectation that there would be disorder at the UBAD parade and violence would break out. It was a parade many “respectable”middle class Belizeans saw as a riot waiting to happen. This was certainly,“you baaad” in my elementary school thinking (not knowing what the acronym stood for).

In 1969 when I started elementary school the school children’s parade that my mother spoke about as part of her growing up in the city was still a part of the Tenth celebrations. The parade was held in the afternoon after the tenth parade and was unlike the Tenth parade in the morning in that there was only one government sponsored parade(Belize having a church state educational system). After going home from the morning’s Tenth parade, school children returned to their respective schools in the afternoon and assembled outside the school. Then leaving from their respective schools on the north and south sides of the city, they then linked up with others primary schools and proceeded to march through the city

In my first year of school I and other students at Wesley Infant School on Albert Street boarded parade trucks and road in the parade through the city (because it was deemed too young to march). While the older infant and middle elementary school students marched through the city, we rode around on the trucks peering out of the windows to see bystanders watching the parade. Aside from sitting on wooden seats in the truck, the ride on the trucks was not much of an enjoyable one because we were not marching through the city and there was so little to see on the trucks. Nevertheless,I do remember going through government house yard and seeing the governor as we drove by. Fortunately, in Infant two I was able to march through the city with older school students because there was not enough space on the trucks for me and a few other infant two students.

One of the highlights of the parade was the march through the compound of government house, where the British Governor decked out in full regalia stood at attention at the government house while primary schools passed by. There are some who saw this as the governor presiding over his young colonial subjects.” My mother told the story of being a primary school student in the 1930s and having the responsibility to give the command “eyes right” when her primary school passed the governor reviewing the parade. Instead of giving that command, she remembered saying “eyes left,” which meant that the students would be looking away from the governor. Regardless,they knew it was an error on her part and they looked towards the governor. A remainder of the status of British Honduras as a colony, this practice of marching through government house yard annoyed Belizean nationalist and anti-colonialist.

After the march though the city, school children went back to their respective schools and there they were given “refreshments.” The refreshments consisted of a pint of lemonade and a small and sometimes greasy brown paper bag containing a slice of cake and sweets (candy). At Wesley school what distinguished the younger kids from the older ones is that the younger children got an ideal, while the older children got lemonade. Regardless, school children anticipated the refreshments, like a box of cracker jacks, and it is something older Belizeans remember with a great degree of nostalgia.

In 1972 the children’s parade was discontinued by the government and replaced by a school children’s rally. The rally was held the Friday before the Tenth parade, first at Memorial park and then at Roger’s Stadium. It was the intent of the rally to engender a sense of patriotism among school children. For many supporters of the political opposition, this rally amounted to an attempt at indoctrination session. The rally was not well liked by many teachers at protestant schools like Wesley Primary School where I attended, and this also highlighted the fact that along with civil servants many teachers were supporters of the political opposition. Correspondingly, being a Wesley School student, the rally highlighted the role that religion played in the politics of Belize in that many Methodist and Anglicans were supporters of the opposition. While most parents sent their children to school that day, some were reluctant to do so and even kept their children at home.

Meanwhile, the two political parades continued. In 1973 the opposition NIP formed a united opposition with small opposition parties (Liberal, PDM, and elements of UBAD). In the general election of 1974, a month after the Tenth celebrations, the party had its best showing in the general election. The party then went on that November to win the city council election in Belize City. It then won several town board election in the districts of Belize.

With a UDP controlled city council,the party had access to Memorial Park and held some of its events at the part,including the Tenth parade ceremony[ii]. The opposition also had some of its events like the Queen of the Bay pageant at Birds Isle, owned by UDP party member Henry Young. Now a more competitive political party, the party’s popularity was reflected in the size of its events leading up to the Tenth and the parade itself. The party was now more in a contest with the government (a game of one-upmanship) where activities and events leading up to the Tenth was concerned. When the government had its Battle of the Bands at the MCC grounds, the opposition held band concerts fest at Memorial Park. And when the government had a Military tattoo at MCC, and flares were shot into the night sky as part of the tattoo, the opposition had a fireworks display that was launched from Birds Isle. Overall,events sponsored by the government, such as a Tribute to Belizean patriots, tried to engender a sense of patriotism, while most of the events sponsored by the opposition tried to entertain.

By the mid-1970s, around the timethat carnival started, more Belizeansfrom abroad started returning home to bea part of the Tenth Celebrations. They were returning at a time when most Belizean in the United States were undocumented immigrants in that country, butthere return reflected the growth of the Belizean population in the UnitedStates and increasing number of Belizeans who were obtaining legal status. Those who returned were often treated like royalty given a certain status and they in turn highlighted the good American life when they treated family members and friends to food and beverages.

Reflecting the politics of migration, this was a time when the majority of Belizean in the United States were supporters of the opposition,and those who were documented and returning were even more so. There was a timewhen Belizeans in cities like new York had excursions to Belize for the tenthCelebrations. In the late 1970s one image that captured the return of Belize from abroad for the 10thwas a picture on the front page of the Amandala Newspaper showing Compton Fairweather, founder of the British Honduras Freedom Committee and a key supporter of the UDP in New York getting off a plane on the tarmac of what was then the Belizeinternational Airport. The picture was accompanied by a headline. And soBelizeans visiting from abroad tended to boost the events and activities of the opposition leading up to the parade and the parade itself.

During this time, Belizeans in cities like New York, where there is a large concentration of Belizean immigrants, also held their own Queen of the Bay pageants, and queens from these cities were often part of Tenth ceremonies in Belize City[iii]. Interestingly,reflecting the politics of these Belizean communities in the US, there were never Miss Belize abroad pageants, just the Queen of the Bay.

In the old days when events were held leading up to the Tenth parade the spirit of the Tenth was felt on the streets of the old capital. Nowhere was thismore evident than in the downtown area of the city, which was decorated for the festivities. Albert Street, the main commercial street, would be festooned with flags and buntings on lamppost and buildings. Some of these flags were strung from one side of the street to the other. And much like pinetrees would be used at Christmas, palm trees were cut from up the northern highway and used to decorate the street and other streets in downtown Belize City.

With its Victorian architecture, one of the more decorated houses in the city during the Tenth celebrations was the three story Pitts house on lower Albert Street,. The home of Roderick Pitts, one of LPOB’s founders,was always festooned with the Union Jack (British flag) leading up to the Tenth parade, and this reflected Pitt’s politics and his loyalty to British colonialist. Near to my family home, the Bracket house was also festooned withUnion Jacks. Now elderly, Egbert Brackett had also been a member of the LPOB and supporter of the NIP. And less than a block from the Brackett home facing West Street, the modest Tigris Street home of staunch NIP and later UDP supporter Wilfredo“Shubu” Brown house was decorated as well. Shubu, who became the neighborhoodDJ, would play Tenth tunes leading up to the parade.

Back in the day, excitement filled the air on the night before with the fire engine parade. That night some residents of the city had parties that ran into the wee hours of the morning, enough time for some revelers to get a brief shut eye before they became a part of the morning festivities in the city. Some went from party to parade for fear that they wouldn’t wake up early on the morning. There was one memorableTenth parade for me when I missed the parade completely. I stayed up during a party my brothers had, and when the party was over I went downstairs of our two storyhome where the party was held and drained the liquor bottles of their contents to make a drink. Needless to say, I was “knocked out.” I didn’t get up to the parade, and it was only when the parade passed Euphrates Avenue (the streetparallel to the street I lived on) and the marching band made noise that I woke up and realize that the parade was almost over.

On the morning of the Tenth it was ashort walk from my family house to South Street where I met a growing throng of people heading for one of the two parades. Usually in the heat of early September, as summer came to an end, most wore clothes to be comfortable watching the parade or being in it. The parade clothes of some revelers was colorful and in turn memorable. Many wore t-shirts that were either tie-dyed,or redesigned with a scissors, which cut holes or slits in a patterns on the shirt. Many wore shorts in the heat of late summer, whether they were marchers of onlookers. Aside from those Belizean visiting from the United States, the Tenth parade was a time for many residents of the city to wear their casual states clothes.

If there was anyone who embodied the spirit of the Tenth parade for the political opposition it was my neighbor Guatemalan born Shubu. As stated, Shubu’s house was decorated in the spirit of the Battle of St. George’s caye and starting in late summer he started playing Tenth music on heavy rotation. On the morning of the Tenth, Shubu mounted his two largespeakers on a car and went around the city making announcements for the parade.After returning home, he put on his marching clothes and headed for the parade sponsored by the political opposition. (My mother’s political orientation dictated that I do the same – head to the opposition parade.) Shubu was often always flamboyant on the Tenth, from the hat he wore all the way down to his high tube socks and sneakers. A many of many hats on the Tenth, one year he donned a large straw and the following year it was a red, white, and blue umbrella hat. His Tenth shirt was “loud” (colorful) like his personality. With that he wore his Bermuda type shorts. Shubu came out to march.

Back in the day, the walk to ceremonies for the parade usually took one to Court House wharf on the south side ofBelize City or Memorial Park on the north side. The walk to the starting ceremonies was most often determined by one’s political affiliation or the political affiliation of one’s family. As stated, my mother and her family were supporters of the then opposition (NIP and later UDP) and this meant that while I often made an attempt to view both parades, it was the UDP Tenth parade ceremony that I went to. When I reached Albert Street on the morning of the Tenth no thought was given to which parade I would be a part of.[iv]

If one did not meet a friend or acquaintance on the way to the starting ceremony for the Tenth Parade, they would likely meet them at the ceremony, depending on their political affiliation. There was always a festive atmosphere at thisstarting ceremony as people greeted each other and engaged in conversation,while they watched the ceremonies and listened to speeches that often discussed the significance of the event. (This was different at the government sponsored ceremony) But with politics being so much a part of marking the Tenth and the two parades, there was often a political speech. In time, the speeches gave way to the crowning of the Queen of the Bay, with the sing of the Queen of the Bay song composed by one Roderick Pitts and the rituals of the queen and her court.The queen and others then departed the stage ready for the parade.

The “brown skinned” woman who year after year faithfully carried the flag at the start of the NIP and then UDP parade represented the spirit of the parade much likeWilfredo “Shubu” Brown. Leading the parade, Mrs. DeShield proudly stepped as the flag bearer to the music of a marching band like Imperial or Colonial band playing such Battle of St. George’s Caye classics as “The Tenth Day of September (theTenth Song), “We areMarching Today” and “Vamos Compadre a St. George’s Caye.” Until the mid1970s she carried the Union Jack, reflecting not only the colonial status ofBelize but the pro British sentiments of many within the opposition. By the mid 1970s the UDP had designed its own flag and it was the party flag that Mrs. DeShield carried though Belize City.

The marching band leading the parade was followed by politicians (some trying to project a certain image of themselves), some dignitaries, VIPs and others in this citizens parade. With the martial music of the band, party leaders “marched” with admiring supporters and hangers on. While some in the front of the parade walked, others truly marched and tried to keep time with the beat of the band. Then there were many who as they tried to keep time with the beat of the band put an extra bonce in their step making it one stepaway from dancing.

If anyone wanted to know who was who in this part of the parade, and doubted whether there was a hierarchy in this part of the parade, all they had to do was observe the body language and gestures of those in the front of the parade. Conscious of their status, many politicians in the parade waved to their supporters and acted distinguished, while loyal supporters admiringly or even fanatically walked beside or behind them.

For some,marching in the parade alongside a political leader was the highlight of their year, especially for those who lived a working class life or a life without distinction. Marching alongside a their leaders gave them a sense of belonging,pride, and even importance. A friend once told me that his father who was a carpenter was a supporter of the PUP, and while he might not have live a life of distinction, on the Tenth he wore his guayabera marched beside the country’s Premier George Price. One of the men who was a fixture alongside Price was ReginaldFarber, who provided security for Price and was the mace bearer in Belizean House of Representatives.

Then there are the others in the parade who did more than march, in a parade where there was a continuum from walking, to marching, to dancing from the start to the end of the parade. If many at the start of the parade marched with some restraints, rarely bouncing along to the beat of the marching band or breaking into a dance as they tried to keep in step with the beat of the band, then most revelers in the middle and rare of the parade “cut loose,” often in a style of dancing that waspart march.

I am not sure when or how the practice began,but in what seem like a spirit of unity and camaraderie, as the bands played on, row after row of those in the parade formed a line and locked shoulders together, and as they “marched” (as if performing a line dance) kept in stepwith the marshal beat of the band and in sync with their line. This must havebeen unique to Belize. Often, spectators joined in the parade as the music became infectious or when they saw someone they knew. Some stayed for a short time while others stayed for the duration of the parade.

In the Tenth parades that I remember,the float carrying the Queen of the Bay and other pageant contestants was one of the highlights of the parade, and most memorable. The same was true of the float carrying Miss Independence in the government sponsored parade. Near the front of the parade, where the most important people in the parade were located, the vehicle carrying the queen was often one of the moredecorated floats. It was often followed by other vehicles carrying other beauty queens, at times from abroad.

In the opposition parade, the float carrying the Queen of the Bay was usually followed by at least one floatwith a historic theme that heralded the legacy of the Baymen and highlighted the significance of the Battle of St. George’s Caye. With a strong belief that theBattle of St. George’s was a glorious victory, this was the opposition’s way of expressing its brand of Belizean patriotism, by honoring those they considered their forefathers.

In contrast, having declared theBattle a myth and wanting to use the day to promote national unity and the desire for independence, there was no float in the government sponsored parade honoring the Baymen and celebrating the Battle of St. George’s Caye. Instead,the theme of few of the floats in that parade focused on the PUP government’s brand of nationalism, especially in relation to promoting national unity in a diverseBelize and nation building. In essence,there were floats in the parades that that were used to make political statements.

At a time when the private sector in Belize was much smaller and some did feel a need to advertise, not too many businesses sponsored floats. However, there were one or two floats sponsored by businesses in these parades. With resources, and the intent for the float to serve as advertisement for its products and services, the floats sponsored by these businesses tended to be more elaborate than other floats in a parade that tended to not have too many floats and floats in the parade tended to be small, poorly designed, and not elaborately decorated. Indeed, what passed off as floats mostly consisted of a truck or another vehicle that some attempt was made to decorate them. Hence, most of the floats in the parades barely qualified as such.

By the late1970s, the greater availability of flatbed trucks to use on the narrow streets of Belize City and greater access to portable generators that were mounted on vehicles help transform the Tenth parade. There was more decoration done on floats constructed on these types of vehicles. Yet, while the floats made the parademore colorful and festive, many of the trucks were not elaborately decorated, as one would see in an American parade.With generators making it possible for a band to play on the flatbed truck or a sound system to be mounted on a truck, the float serving the greatest purpose in the parade was the one providing the musical entertainment (whether it’s a band or sound system).

In these parades, and by the late 1970s, not onlywere the bands and sound systems playing Tenth music, they were also playing other music such as soca. Many still marched to the beat of a marching band and the marshal music of Tenth songs that help to define the 10th parade;but with amplified sounds and a greater range of musical selection (namely soca),the bands and the sound system added energy to the parade and changed the way some participated in it.

In the late 1970s the Trinidadian calypsonian CalypsoRose became a big part of the September celebrations. Brought to the country by a buoyant opposition UDP, she came at a time when calypso was transitioning into the upbeat soca. Accompanied by a band, she livened up the10th parade with her soca tunes, making the music of the Tenth parade much more like the music of the Port of Spain carnival. Calypso Rose is remembered for turning martial sounding ‘It was the Tenth Day of September” song into a bouncy soca tune. During her performance, hundreds of revelers dance behind the big truck she was performing on in the middle of the parade. From that first performance Rose became a regular visitor to Belize and garnered many Belizean fans[v].

In 1981 when Belize obtained its independence, and there was no longer a need for the Battle of St. George’s Caye day to be calledNational Day, it was hoped by many in the PUP that the Battle of St. George’sCaye would decline in importance. Independence Day for Belize come eleven days after the celebration of theBattle of St. George’s Caye, and for many in the then political opposition this timing was more than just mere coincidence. The PUP led government explained that with Guatemala’s unfounded claim to Belize following the country into independence, the 21st ofSeptember was chosen as the date for Belizean Independence because the date coincided with the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. For some in the opposition who remembered the 10threnamed National day, the choosing of a day for independence was as much a deliberate attempt to diminish the significance of the 10th and whenthis occurred there would no longer be a to celebrate the Battle of St. George’s Caye.

If the two celebrations occurring so closely to each other was not a problem for Belizean at home it was for many Belizeans abroad who had visited for Tenth celebration, and were able to see carnival because it was the Saturday before the Tenth parade. As stated, because the majority were supporters of the UDP and had great nostalgia for the Tenth (reflecting when they left Belize) Belizeans abroad were some of the biggest supporters of the Tenth parade. Because of limited vacation time, many could not stay for both the 10th and the21st. And while many were nostalgic about the Tenth, and as UDP supporters did not like how Belize went into Independence (and had suspicions about the date chosen for independence), they still wanted to experienceIndependence Day in Belize. And so they had to make a choice about when to goto Belize. While some continued to visit for the Tenth, others started visitingIndependence Day.

The Tenth received somewhat of a boost by the mid-1980s with the UDP 1984 election victory, the party that has consistently been a strong supporter of the Battle of St. George’s Caye. With the UDP election landslide, Manual Esquivel, a “Creolized” Belize City Mestizo became Belize’s second Prime Minister. The editorial in the Amandala newspaper titled “Centenary” suggested that that of the UDP leaders Esquivel cherished the Tenth pomp and circumstance the most[vi]. Undera UDP government, Tenth parades held by the two main political parties became one. And so the Tenth parade survived, between a carnival that was growing and becoming more popular and an Independence Day that it was suggested by some would diminish the importance of the Tenth.

Having faded in popularity by the end of the 1980s, the parade continued to wax and wane.With carnival’s popularity and growth, the eventual demise of the 10thwas again eagerly anticipated by some during the 1990s. The year 1998 marked the 200th anniversary of the Battle of St. George’s Caye and a UDPled government planned an ambitious calendar of events for the anniversary. That year was also a general election year, and in mid-July of that year the PrimeMinister called for the election to be held in late August. The date was just short of two weeks before the celebration of the Battle of St. George’s Caye.

On August 23, 1998, almost two weeks before the 200th anniversary of the Battle, an article I wrote about the Battle of St. George’s Caye titled “Deconstructing the Tenth” was published in the Amandala newspaper. In the article I analyzed why and how the celebration of the battle had been discussed and debated over the years. In response to the article that I had written for the Amandala, an anti Battle of St. George’s Caye article titled “Battling the Battle” was printed in the PUP newspaper the Belize Times a week later.Written by my former high school history teacher and staunch supporter of thePUP, the article raised questions about the historical narrative put forth by those who believe in the Battle of St. George’s Caye and have a certain view of slavery at the time of the Battle. The article highlighted the fact that for many in the PUP it was still important to battle the battle.

Perhaps leaders of the ruling UDP thought that buoyed by the spirit of the celebration of the 200thanniversary of the Battle the electorate would have given their unpopular government a second term in office. This did not happen. In the 27 August election the opposition PUP won by a landslide. Carnival was held about a weekafter the election, and with the success of carnival one columnist in the Belize Times (the newspaper for the party that was now in power) wrote glowingly about carnival describing it was dazzling (the vibrant,bold, and beautiful). While not stated explicitly, carnival had become the parade that could “kill off” the Tenth Parade. But it is certain that the columnist did not grasp the irony of wanting carnival to kill off the Tenth parade, considering that carnival was introduced to Belize by individuals who were supporters of the then oppositionUDP, some of whom saw carnival as a way to compete with the PUP led government sponsored events leading up to the Tenth.

The success of Carnival stood in contrast the failure of the Tenth parade. A friend who saw the parade that year observed that it was poorly attended. It would seem that most of the plans by the outgoing and now dejected UDP government fora grand Tenth parade were scuttled (or not carried out in full) by the incoming and euphoricPUP government. And with many in the new government not being fans of theBattle of St. George’s Caye, the 200th anniversary, no effort wasput forth to celebrate the event. Indeed, many saw this as an opportunity to hasten the demise of the celebration once and for all.[vii] The parade didn’t die. The band played on, and though many were still dejected from the results of the election, the faithful marched in their resolute (or even defiant) pro Baymen way. They probably did so in a way that would have made the LPOB proud.

By 2000 an editorial in the Amandalanewspapers stated that having become a political football in the 1960's and1970's, Carnival finally decided the issue of celebrating the Battle in the 1990's. The Tenth,the Amandala editorial noted, had become an excuse to fete by the 1990s, as the masses of the Belizean people did not really care about the specifics of the historical debates about the Battle of St. George’s Caye. Nevertheless, those with a memory of things past and true Believers of the Battle of St. George’s Caye continued to celebrate the Tenth and the parade continued.

The Battle of St. George’s Caye has been discussed,debated, and written about. In recent years, whatever little has been written about the parade commemorating the event has mostly been about the decline and eventual demise of the parade. After each10th parade it has been customary to gauge the size of the paradefor signs of its decline or revival. Interestingly, few explanations for are vitalized of the Tenth focuses on the desire of young people for a fete (Amandala), not on their desire to commemorate an event that has been important to the history of Belize and important for those who think nostalgically about the Tenth.

It was with a sense of nostalgia that I thought about the 10th parade. But recognizing that the parade was in decline, I was fearful that there would not be much of a parade. Fortunately, there was a revival of the 10thparade, coming on the heels of a UDP victory in municipal elections held a few months earlier. Furthermore, even if there were few people in the parade, there would have been something to write about the oldest parade in the city. If nothing else, I would write about who still participated in the parade and the extent to which the parade had spectators.

[i] Ina Tenth of September speech at Memorial Park that year Premier George Price spoke about self-government: “Full internal Self-Government for Belize is not only a responsibility but a challenge to develop and to improve our country’s resources at all levels; in the villages and towns, in the farms and factories, in a word, on the nationallevel.” He went on to say: “Let there be no mistake about it. We are building anew Nation on the Central American mainland – proud and free. Thanks to our endurance and courage, we have gone a long way towards nationhood. Our progress towards independence can be seen in our symbols: our new constitution, our flag, our national anthem. Our proposal to give the country a name which reflects the history and the heritage of the people.”

[ii] Past ceremonies took place at the Court House Wharf, andI even remember one year the parade ceremony took place an open lot on Regent Street, behind the original Chrystal Bottling Works plant on King Street.

[iii] Wilk (1998) notes that as early as 1957 the Queen of the Bay pageant in Belize City was attended by the "Queen of theBelize Honduran Association of New York."

[iv] Aside from the children’s rally, there were some events sponsored by the PUP led government that I attended (I remember going to theMiss Independence pageant one year); and with the government having control over the colony’s one radio station, I listened to events such as tribute to heroes, battle of the bands, the Miss Independence pageant, and the military tattoo. But most of the events I attended leading up to the parade were events sponsored by the political. For the few years when UBAD had its own parade and drew a lot of young people to its parade, the parade was a mix of people of both blue (PUP) and red (NIP) lineage. I never went to the UBADparade but several of my older cousins went to that parade.

[v] Perhaps as a response to the opposition bringing Calypso to perform in Tenth festivities, in the 1979 Tenth celebration the PUP government brought the Jamaican Calypsonian Lord Laro.

[vi] One of the reasons given by Belizean nationalist who support the PUP for no longer Celebrating the Tenth is that it was offensive to Belizeans of Latin descent and therefore divisive. This would make the Northern Ireland situation applicable. But growing up in Belize City,there was no hint of the celebration being divisive as all groups participated in the celebration. The same was true for others parts of Belize. Furthermore,many Belizean Mestizos were supporters of the Tenth. Indeed, one of the popularTenth songs was composed by a Mestizo by the name of Chuchin Acosta. Also aMestizo, Paul Rodriguez, a former UDP Mayor of Belize City once wrote nostalgically about marching in the school children’s parade as a child.

[vii] Because of whatthey thought the Battle of St. George’s Caye represented, Wilk (???) noted in an article “Beauty and the Feast,” that the PUP never gave up its opposition to the celebration of the battle. In turn, many wanted to see an end to the parade.

The MYSTERY of Celebrating September 10

by Rolando Cocom

We may all agree that the historicity of the Battle of St. George’s Cay, having took place or not, is not in debate; rather, it is the diverse meanings that have been applied to this celebration which remains problematic.

A familiar argument among historians is that the celebration of the Battle was tied into an ideological myth which was used to harmonize the master-slave relations, as popularized in the notion that slaves and masters fought “shoulder to shoulder”.

The evidence supports this. As early as 1823, the Battle was being used to falsely suggest that enslaved Africans were treated like family members, slavery as a “family affair”.

After an Emancipation Parade held on August 1, 1888, some persons in Belize Town “reacted to the August Emancipation Jubilee by marking the battle anniversary a month later with a private evening entertainment”. Those in attendance and others would later unite to form the Centennial Committee to celebrate the Battle of St. George’s Caye.

The first major celebration of the event occurred in 1898. This was one hundred years after the Battle took place and a decade after the Emancipation Jubilee. This was also four years after a major riot had taken place. It was organized by middle-class "Creole" persons, such as merchants and clerks.

The Committee was of the opinion that the Creoles were entitled to equal status in the society because their ancestors had fought in the Battle.

The Committee did not desire that slavery be remembered as they believed that memories of slavery could provoke unrest. An article of the time argued that "the slavery of British Honduras . . . was unlike that of the other British colonies in the New World, as [it was] slavery but in name’” (Macpherson 2003, 115).

For many years, the celebration march included the ritual of stopping at the Government House (now the House of Culture) and giving allegiance to “Great Britain”.

There were changes to this tradition from about the 1930s and into the 1950s when the movement towards independence began gaining momentum. Some of the leaders of the movement said that it was irrational to continue celebrating a Battle which pledged allegiance to the colonizer.

Once Independence was achieved, September 21 and Carnival was given much more recognition than September 10.

The white landowner elites used the Battle to celebrate their triumph over territory. Middle-class Creoles used it to claim native rights and celebrate the Baymen and bravery of the enslaved. Political parties use the Battle to mobilize political support and in an attempt to build a nationalist narrative.

Full Article and References: Rolando Cocom. 2012. The Battle of St. George’s Cay Celebrations: Retracing Its Development.

For more on the events of The Battle of St. George's Caye, click here.

Photograph by Marty Casado

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