The term Creole was originally applied to persons born in the West Indies of Spanish parents. While today it is used in reference to descendants of non-Indian peoples born and settled in the West Indies, in concept it has more of a cultural meaning locally. Therefore, in Belize, a Creole is any person who has some African blood, and in a few instances some locally born whites. They are mainly the descendants of the slaves brought to Belize in the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth centuries; of subsequent immigrations of people of African origin; and of the British settlers.
Traditionally forming sixty percent of the population in past years, the Creoles today (due mainly to their migration to North America and to the large influx of Central American immigrants to Belize) constitute only about 24.9 %. They live mostly in Belize City, and in villages along the Belize and Sibun Rivers; as well as along the Western and Northern Highways. Locations in which Creoles are mostly found include: Monkey River, Double Head Cabbage, Lemonal, Gales Point Manatee, Gracie Rock, Placencia, Crooked Tree, Bermudian Landing, and Burrell Boom.
The Creole culture of Belize has emerged from the fact that as urban-focused people who worked seasonally in the forests, they looked for other occupations on the waterfront, in service industries, and in government jobs when forestry declined. Some Creoles still carry on small-scale subsistence farming mostly along the Belize River and near to the roads.
The small town which grew up at the mouth of the Haulover Creek, consisting of free coloured people and free Blacks produced by racial mixing, was further increased by the immigration of hundreds of pensioners from the West India Regiment when the Napoleonic Wars ended. By 1805, the population of Belize consisted of some 2000 slaves, 700 Blacks, and 200 whites.
The Creolization of Belize involved the relations of slaves and their European masters, resulting in a culture which eventually left the Creoles fully in charge and in the majority. The best example is in the Creole language. The masters taught the slaves the English language; thus, the Belizean Creole became a version of English which has African words, and became the means of expression through which proverbs, sayings, and folktales conveyed African values and wisdom. Creole is being used more as a common language, and in 1994, a group was formed to attempt to set standards for writing Creole.
The basic food of the Creole consists of rice, beans, bread, fish, and most any type of meat. Creole dishes can be very exotic in flavor, and some of the delicacies include rice-and-beans, cowfoot soup, crab soup, stew fish, boil-up, and conch soup. Although things grow in Belize as if they liked to grow, a lot of foodstuff is still imported as the Creole community looks down on farming as a menial occupation. The Creole, however, enjoys all the various seasonal fruits and vegetables available in the markets.
The style of dressing among the average Creole reflects their unassuming character. Western styles are adopted usually in informal, but fashionable wear. Formal occasions might demand coats and neckties. The females use the latest fashions in keeping with international trends.
Music and dance were always parts of religious ritual and magical practices in Belize. Despite efforts by the masters to suppress music that they considered a nuisance or an encouragement to revolt, the GOMBAY as a musical recreational event survived, and was recreated in today’s “boom-and-chime” bands. The Creoles enjoy rhythm and love to dance. The BRUKDOWN perhaps comes closest to being their traditional dance, as well as the BRAM which is performed only at Christmas. They possess a great aptitude to play most musical instruments, but still hold an affinity for those employed by their African ancestors: drums, rattles, sticks knocked together, bottles hit with metal, and grater rubbed with fork.
Most Creoles are engaged in minor manufactures like cabinet making, upholstering and carpentry, trade, construction, and other urban occupations. Many believe in wakes for the dead, obeah, and bush spirits like the DUENDE. They subscribe to a number of proverbs, stories and Anancy tales, handed down to them from the days of the mahogany camps.
The Creoles, as a cultural group, although not as numerous as before, still regard themselves highly in Belizean society; and can also be said to be the only group who think in national rather than racial terms.
This article can be found on the National Library Service of Belize