Migrating from the Netherlands in 1790, to Prussia, Germany, South Russia, Canada, the United States, and Mexico, the Mennonites finally settled in Belize in 1958. Under agreement with the government they bore all expenses of removal and settling, bringing with them capital amounting to one million dollars. They are exempted from military service; and although they pay all other taxes, they do not partake in any form of compulsory or social welfare schemes.
Initially, some 3,500 Canadian Mennonites arrived in Belize, and today form communities on the upper reaches of the Belize River: Blue Creek on the Mexican border; Shipyard, Indian Creek, Richmond Hill in the Orange Walk District; Spanish Lookout and Barton Creek in the Cayo District; Little Belize in the Corozal District. Comprising 3.6 percent of Belize’s population, they have made it a point to have their own school, church, and financial institutions in their various communities. No matter in which region of Belize the Mennonites live and work, they are liked and respected, especially for the true Christian characteristics and helpfulness to others which they willingly display.
The Mennonites of Canadian origin speak excellent English, although among themselves they use the original Low German. In general though they can be said to be trilingual, since the older generation who were born in Canada speak English, the younger generation who were born in Mexico speak Spanish, and they all speak their own German dialect, or another ancient form of High German.
Social Life and Food
To set the right balance between interacting with the larger society, while still maintaining their conscientious way of life, is something the Mennonite in Belize see as happening through a closer understanding of how they honor the world. At least two large commercial stores serve the large settlement of Spanish Lookout and other communities; and interestingly enough all members of the community receive a dividend every five years relating to the amount of money they spend in the store.
The Mennonite, especially those of Shipyard, are skilled carpenters, and can be seen selling their furniture in Belize City and other urban centers. Those in Blue Creek, for example, have made a name for themselves in building construction countrywide, including roads and bridges.
The Mennonite, with their farming tradition, are well grounded in agriculture, and most Belizeans benefit from the sale of their produce throughout the country. Practicing organic farming, they grow peanut, potato, corn, beans, tomato, watermelon, carrot, papaya, sweet pepper, cabbage, and coriander. They are also involved in cattle and feed farming. Their contribution to food production is great, and a lot of the foodstuff on the store shelves come from their farms. They have established an egg hatchery which supplies Belize with eggs and chickens on a permanent basis. Milk, butter and cheese are also produced. Their personal eating habits, as well as food selection, reflect the Mennonite's origin, as they tend to select the best dishes from each country in which they lived and adopt them as their own specialties.
Seeking to exist in isolated farming colonies without the benefit of much modern technology, the Mennonite are easily identified by their old-fashioned apparel. The women wear long dark dresses with aprons and hats, while the men wear coveralls and checkered shirts.
Varying degrees of acceptance of mechanized vehicles have resulted in traditional groups moving away, and leaving the Progressive group to practice more modern ways of transportation. This is perhaps an offshoot of the Mennonite church which has over the centuries been characterized by numerous splinter groups. It seems as if being a Mennonite has evolved into a culture, since their great faith in God is what influences their dress, work, thought, and interaction with each other.
This article can be found on the National Library Service of Belize site.