The People of Belize - History

The People of Belize - History

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Belize is the most sparsely populated nation in Central America; it is larger than El Salvador and compares in size to the state of Massachusetts. Slightly more than half of the people live in rural areas. About one-fourth live in Belize City, the principal port, commercial center, and former capital. Most Belizeans are of multiracial descent. About 44.1% of the population is of mixed Mayan and European descent (mestizo); 31% are of African and Afro-European (Creole) ancestry; about 9.2% are Mayan; and about 6.2% are Afro-Amerindian (Garifuna). The remainder, about 9.2%, includes European, East Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and North American groups.

English, the official language, is spoken by virtually all except the most recently arrived refugees.

Population, total (millions)
Population growth (annual %)
Surface area (sq. km) (thousands)23232323
Population density (people per sq. km of land area)8.210.814.116.1
Poverty headcount ratio at national poverty lines (% of population)........
Poverty headcount ratio at $1.90 a day (2011 PPP) (% of population)10.113.9....
Income share held by lowest 20%33.2....
Life expectancy at birth, total (years)71687070
Fertility rate, total (births per woman)
Adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 women ages 15-19)126977265
Contraceptive prevalence, any methods (% of women ages 15-49)47565551
Births attended by skilled health staff (% of total)771009497
Mortality rate, under-5 (per 1,000 live births)39241915
Prevalence of underweight, weight for age (% of children under 5)5.4..6.24.6
Immunization, measles (% of children ages 12-23 months)86969895
Primary completion rate, total (% of relevant age group)94100101106
School enrollment, primary (% gross)112.7115.9112.5114.7
School enrollment, secondary (% gross)61687587
School enrollment, primary and secondary (gross), gender parity index (GPI)1111
Prevalence of HIV, total (% of population ages 15-49)
Forest area (sq. km) (thousands)16.214.613.913.7
Terrestrial and marine protected areas (% of total territorial area)......20.6
Annual freshwater withdrawals, total (% of internal resources)0.10.7....
Urban population growth (annual %)
Energy use (kg of oil equivalent per capita)566..597..
CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita)1.661.61.681.41
Electric power consumption (kWh per capita)........
Net migration (thousands)-9687

Belize Culture: Ethnic Groups Explained (2021 Update)

Belize is often called a "melting pot" of cultures, but this may be a bit of a misnomer. Belize culture is far better described as an elegant latticework of different peoples weaving around and between each other. The term melting pot is inaccurate because Belizeans don't meld into one homogenous people, but stand out proudly, displaying their ethnicity and sharing their culture. Of course, not melting into one does not ensure segregation, the dynamic of Belize culture effortlessly reflects facets from each group's influences and food.

The Garifuna Culture’s Impact on Belize

The Garifuna people helped to establish the Belize towns of Barranco , Georgetown, Hopkins, Livingston, Monkey River, Seine Bight, Punta Negra, and Punta Gorda . Given the freedom to pursue their ambitions and dreams, the people established a unique community that included practices, rituals, customs and historical roots from the past. Furthermore, a distinct music genre grew from the establishment of a homeland as did dance and storytelling traditions heavily influenced by their African heritage. Song and dance were used to heal, relax, celebrate and showcase the past, all driven by a pulsating drumbeat that continues to be the soul of Garifuna music.

Photo Courtesy: Leonardo Melendez

These days, around 15,000 Garinagu live in Belize, though some estimate there are half a million members throughout the world. Impacted by social change, modern influences and understanding the importance of maintaining a distinct identity, the youngest members of this ethnic population are putting their spin on Garifuna culture and bringing it into the modern world.

The People of Belize

In absolute numbers, the United States has a larger immigrant population than any other country. However, the people of Belize is as suitable of a poster child for a “mixing pot of cultures“. Here, a wide variety of cultures marry their own traditional sensibilities with our Belizean history. Belize’s open-mindedness toward cultural disparities has allowed many groups to thrive. Depending on where you go, it’s not that hard to run into groups of Chinese, Creole, East Indians, Mennonites, Garifuna, Maya, and even the Mestizo. Despite the drastically different origins of these cultures, many of their traditions and beliefs have blended into a harmonious Belizean society.

The Creole

In Belize, Creole people comprise nearly 40% of all Belize, making it among the more sizable ethnicities throughout the country. While Creole people can be found in other regions, like Louisiana in the United States, Belize’s Creoles are descended from the union of Europeans and African slaves during the country’s colonial period.

While Creoles are most frequently encountered within Belize City, you are just as likely to run into them there as you are any of the other five districts. Although most Belizeans speak Creole, which is a variant of English, Standard English remains the country’s first language. Creole cuisine is famous for its rice and beans dish, making these crops a staple of Belize’s culinary fare.

The Mestizo

The Mestizo, meaning “mixed” in Spanish, is another one of Belize’s most prominent ethnic groups. Descended from the Spanish and the Maya cultures, the roots of the Mestizo are in southern Mexico. As such, they’re commonly found in northern Belize, like Corozal and Orange Walk, plus in Cayo District. When it comes to Belizean cuisine, we can thank the Mestizo for many masa-based meals! Specifically, panades (fried and filled empanadas), escabeche (a vinegary, brothy onion and chicken soup), garnaches (a fried corn tortilla topped with beans and cheese) and tamales.

The Maya

Roughly 10% of Belize can trace its heritage back to the ancient Maya empire that once ruled the country. The Mayas are most frequently found within the northern districts of Corozal and Orange Walk and are especially proud of their rich and storied heritage.

The Mopan Maya is a subgroup that emigrated to Belize in the 1880s. Today, they’re most prominent in Toledo’s San Antonio Village.

Kekchi Maya

This is another Maya subgroup that emigrated from Guatemala – a decade before the Mopan. A large majority of Kekchi have settled in Toledo and Stann Creek of Southern Belize.

The Garifuna

This ethnicity accounts for roughly 8% of Belize’s populace and has a rather unique history. The Garifuna culture was born on St. Vincent, a small island in the Caribbean. There, descendants of African slaves fell in love with St. Vincent’s native peoples. Come 1832, the British crown demanded they leave at once, forcing a mass exodus by canoe that led them to the Belizean coast. This event is honored in Belize by celebrations and a re-enactment every November 19th as “Garifuna Settlement Day“. When it comes to food, the Garifuna have brought sere (a coconut-based chowder), hudut (a fish, plantain and coconut stew) and cassava flatbread – all of which are staples of every Belizean kitchen.

Infinitum Blog

Belize is a small country with only around 360,000 inhabitants, but the country has one of the most diverse populations of any country on the planet. A truly harmonious melting pot society, the disparate ethnic and cultural groups in Belize each have their own unique culture and story of how they came to settle in Belize.


Sometimes spelled “Kriol”, the Creole are the largest ethnic group in Belize. Primarily descended from enslaved Africans, the Creole can be found in every district of the country.


When enslaved Africans intermarried with Caribbean islanders on British-run sugar plantations, they developed the unique Garifuna culture. After rebelling against the British, the Garifuna fled westward, eventually arriving in Belize approximately 200 years ago. Officially, the people are called Garinagu while the adjectival form is Garifuna.


From a Spanish term meaning “mixed”, the Mestizos emigrated to Belize in the early 19th century to escape an ongoing civil war in Mexico. The Mestizos speak Spanish as their native tongue and have contributed many culinary delights to Belizean cuisine. Most Mestizos live either in the north or west.


The original inhabitants of the area, today the Maya are divided into three sub-groups: the Kekchi Maya, Nopan Maya, and Yucatec Maya. Some of these groups were originally from other regions of the Maya empire but emigrated following the Spanish conquest. The Maya tend to be found in the north, west, and south of the country.


Still largely speaking an archaic version of German (called Plattdeutsch), the Mennonites emigrated from Europe in the first wave and from North America in a second wave of immigration. The Mennonites of Belize are known for their furniture making, dairy production, and self-reliance.


Originally brought to Belize as contract laborers in the 1860s, the Chinese population quickly acclimated to the country. Due to laws prohibiting them from farming, many Chinese moved to Belize Town (now Belize City) to set up small shops and laundries. Today, the native Chinese population makes up 2% of the people in Belize.


Following the American Civil War (1860-1865), some Confederate soldiers emigrated to southern Belize near the town of Punta Gorda. In more recent years, American expats have begun to increase in numbers, particularly in Corozal District in the north.

East Indian

Once slavery was abolished in Belize in the 1870s, many people from British colonies in the Indian subcontinent began to emigrate to Belize. Today, they can be found particularly in Belize City and the southern Toledo District.

Black Orchid Resort

The Black Orchid Resort is the perfect jungle resort to stay for your Belize vacation.

This eco-friendly, modern, jungle resort is located only 30 minutes outside of Belize City and 15 minutes from the Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport, a perfect base for you to access the mainland and islands. Enjoy world-class luxury in a natural setting with gorgeous suites, elegantly-appointed air-conditioned rooms, and quiet beauty.

This is an excellent alternative to Belize City and the perfect getaway to explore Belize. Launch your daily adventure from here, whether it’s bird watching, scuba diving, snorkeling, deep sea fishing, tours to top destinations on the mainland, rainforests, waterfalls, caves, or ancient Maya ruins.

The weather in Belize is characterized by two seasons: a rainy and a dry season. Belize annual rainfall: most of the year’s rainfall occurs during the period June to November, that is, the rainy season. It is noted that the transition from dry to the rainy is very sharp. Annual rainfall ranges from 60 inches (1524mm) in the north to 160 inches (4064mm) in the south. Except for the southern regions, the rainfall is variable from year to year.

The onset of the rainy season begins in the early May in Toledo, (where the annual rainfall is highest) progressing north to the Stann Creek, Belize, Cayo and Orange Walk District in late May, followed by Corozal District in early June. The mean temperature varies from 81°F/ 27°C along the coast to 69°F/21°C in the hills. The coldest month is January while the highest temperatures are experienced during the month of May.

Cultures of Belize: The Garifuna People

Since 1987 when we first took guests to experience the wonder of Belize, we had an immediate connection with the people and culture. To this day, we still continue to have a special interaction with the Mayan, Creole and Garifuna people of Belize both through our adventure trips and with our incredible Belizean guides.

Here we look at the fascinating Garifuna culture and how the people of Belize celebrate Garifuna life through song, dance, music, language, food, dress and fantastic costumes:

The Garifuna are descendants of a shipwrecked slave ship, who intermarried with the Arawak Indians of the island of St. Vincent, in the Caribbean. Escaping persecution, they fled to the island of Roatan, and then the rest of Central America. Today, the Garifuna people live mainly in small towns on the Caribbean coasts from Belize to Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In Belize, the town of Dangriga in southern Belize is considered the spiritual capital of the Garifuna people, as it has the greatest concentration of them in Belize. Other Garifuna villages and towns in Belize include Hopkins, Punta Gorda, Barranco, Livingston, Monkey River, Seine Bight, and Punta Negra. Of course, Garifuna people are throughout Belize, but these villages developed with their unique culture, that continues today through song, dance, food, and language.

Music is a very important part of Garifuna culture. Traditional Garifuna music is defined by the use of percussion instruments and drums, specifically the beats of Primero (tenor) and Segunda (bass) drums. It is often accompanied by shakkas (maracas) and singing.

One well known and great example of Garifuna music is from Umalali: The Garifuna Women's Project . It’s a musical collection of stories, built upon the voices of local Garifuna women and produced by Ivan Duran.

Another well-known genre of Garifuna music is Punta and also a contemporary version of punta known as punta rock, a mix of traditional drumming, heavy bass, turtle shells, electric guitar, and enthusiastic lyrics.

Find out more about Garifuna music of Belize in these articles:

Traditional Garifuna music

Along with music, dance is also an important part of the Garifuna culture. One of the most well known traditional Garifuna dances is the Jankunu Dance which is performed over the Christmas holidays.

Learn more about the Jankunu dance:

Garifuna Dancers performing at the John Canoe Festival

Traditional Dress and Costumes of the Garifuna People

One of the best times to see the traditional dress and costumes of the Garifuna people is during the festivities of Garifuna Settlement Day and the Jankunu dance over the Christmas holidays. The costumes feature headdresses, shells around the dancer's knees and white shirts with white or black pants bearing a black, green or pink ribbon across the chest.

Traditional Costumes of the Garifuna People worn at the Jankunu festival

Traditional Garifuna dishes are based on fish, chicken, cassava, bananas and plantains. Some of the best-loved Garifuna dishes include Hudut (fish and coconut stew) and cassava bread.

Check out this article and find out which are the must-try Garifuna dishes when you visit Belize:

Fish is a staple part of traditional Garifuna food

Language of the Garifuna People

Garífuna is an Arawak language with many vocabulary words and affixes from the Carib language. Arawak and Carib are just two of the various indigenous languages of Central and South America. Today it is estimated that there are about 200,000 speakers of the Garifuna language in Central America.

Preserving the Garifuna language is important to the people of Belize

Find out more about the Garifuna Culture in Belize in this video:

Join us on a Belize adventure vacation and celebrate Garifuna life in Belize. Our Belizean guides love to share their culture, stories and history of the Garifuna people with guests. At the Glover's Reef Basecamp on Southwest Caye and Lighthouse Reef Basecamp on Half Moon Caye, you will be able to experience a cultural night. The evening is filled with traditional Garifuna drumming, music and dancing!


Surrounded by Latin America, Belize is… well… not Latin American. Well, maybe it is a little bit, now.

It’s “Latin American-ness” is starting to increase as the Creole majority of Belize (called Kriols) turns into a minority. And the mestizo (Mayan/Spanish mix) minority turns into the majority. Despite Belize’s efforts against joining Latin America, it seems demographics are making that happen anyway.

The Creoles – descendants of African slaves – used to make up around 75 percent of Belize. Over the years, emigration from Belize to (mainly) the US has lowered the Creole population to around 25 percent. During this time emigration to Belize from its neighbors has boosted the Latino population to more than 50 percent.

Brianfagan/ Flickr / Commercial Use Allowed

While English is still the official language of Belize, Spanish is the first language of the majority. Most Spanish speakers in Belize are also fluent in English, making Belize a bilingual country. And if you count the third, informal language (but still a real, accredited language) Belizean Kriol, it’s a trilingual country.

The other major ethnic group in Belize are the original Mayans who make up over 10 percent of the population. There are also the Garifuna, who account for six percent of all Belizeans. The Garifuna are descendants of shipwrecked Africans and native islanders from the Antilles. Over time the shipwrecked slaves and the native cultures intermingled and became one. The British deported the Garifuna from the Antilles to Central America in the 1730s. They have lived there ever since, in Belize and on the Caribbean coasts of Guatemala and Honduras.

Other ethnicities in Belize include large Indian and Chinese populations. There are also the German-speaking Mennonites, who now make up almost four percent of Belizeans.

The Real Cloud 2013 / Flickr / Commercial Use Allowed

Belize’s culture is a mixture of laid-back Caribbean style and British formalness.

For example, addressing people by their first name unless they’re a good friend is frowned upon. So too are impromptu house visits without prior warning. There is something very 1950’s Middle England about Belize in many aspects.

Yet Belizeans also shout greetings at one another and fist-bump instead of shaking hands. It’s both very formal and very relaxed at the same time. The changing demographics mean that a Latin, “touchy-feely” way is becoming more acceptable.

When it comes to music, the Caribbean is still king. Reggae and calypso rule. The Belizean brukdown (breakdown) form of calypso is still very popular. Most Belizeans have family in the USA, so American hip hop, rap, and rock music are also very popular. The current Belizean prime minister’s son is New York rapper Shyne. This fact shows how intertwined the people of Belize are with US urban culture.

As Belize becomes more Latin-influenced, soccer is becoming the main sport in a country once dominated by cricket. It’s fair to say that the older Creole generation still prefers cricket. But younger generations are into soccer and also, increasingly, basketball – another sign of the strong links with the US.

The people and culture of Belize are about as mixed a bag as you can get. There is a strong English feeling but with a Caribbean vibe and a Latin heart. And deep down inside lies the soul of the Maya.

The Food

Belizean food is as much of a mix ‘n’ match as the people who prepare and eat it.

The mestizos and the Maya prepare their food with a Latin American influence. Corn-based fare with shredded cheese and chicken with tomatoes, peppers, and avocado. It feels a little more Mexican in many ways than the blander Central American staples.

Kent Wang / Flickr / Commercial Use Allowed

Creole cuisine has an Afro-Caribbean vibe to it. Lots of seafood cooked in coconut milk and rice with root vegetables like sweet potatoes, yams, and cassava. The closest thing to a national Belizean meal is called the bile up. Not as disgusting as it appears when you account for the fact that “bile up” means “boil up”. It’s a plate of boiled eggs, with fish or pigtail served with root vegetables in a tomato sauce. Most local eating spots in Belize will serve a variation of this dish.

The Garifuna also have their own cuisine. Famous Garifuna dishes include a cassava bread called ereba and various rice dishes.

Bernt Rostad / Flickr / Commercial Use Allowed

Belize is the only country in Central America with zero US fast-food chains like McDonald’s or KFC. They don’t exist here. Of course one can buy a pizza or a burger, but it will be from local restaurants and barbecue stands. The touristed cayes and Belize City are the best places to find international food.

27 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Belize

Here are 27 quirky facts that many travelers to Belize are not aware of.

1. The official language of Belize is English.
2. Most Belizeans are trilingual and Spanish and Kriol are also widely spoken in the country.
3. Belize was once home to over 1 million Maya people.
4. Belizean cuisine is an amalgamation of all ethnicities in the country.
5. If Belizean food is what you like, then don’t miss trying the traditional Belizean rice and beans.
6. Placencia, the captivating Peninsula of Southern Belize, offers a tropical paradise with everything from sun-kissed beaches to awe-inspiring diving sites. Arguably, Placencia is one of the most visited vacation spots in Belize.
7. After the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Belize stands second in the world with its longest reef featuring an abundant of marine life.
8. Belize is home to traditional Mennonites.
9. Belize has acres of pristine coastline featuring white sandy beaches and beautiful offshore islands. Laughing Bird Caye and South Water Caye are two such destinations.
10. Belize’s tropical setting is an ideal habitat for birds, and the country boasts over 300 species of native birds.
11. One of the famous dishes in Belize is made from Gibnut meat. This was the dish presented to Queen Elizabeth during her first visit to this country.
12. Belize’s jungle is home to wild cats, including jaguars and ocelots.
13. Apart from its historic archeological sites, Belize is known for its scuba diving sites. The Blue Hole, one of the world’s most popular sinkhole, is one famous dive site here.
14. Belize received its Independence from Great Britain on 21st September, 1981.
15. Unlike any urban city with high-rises, Belize is blessed with lush nature, acres of rainforest, and the tallest building in the country is Canna Temple, a Maya pyramid at Caracol.
16. Belize is home to many luxury resorts and jungle lodges. However, there are not many all-inclusive branded resorts here.
17. Belize’s size is close to that of New Hampshire in area wise. With a population just over 350,000, the country is one of the sparsely populated nations in the world.
18. Belizeans do use a number of funny Creole phrases such as the ‘Sleeping Policeman’ term for speed breakers.
19. Belizeans love ketchup with their fried chicken instead of hot sauce.
20. Belizeans eat the Marie Sharp hot sauce with almost everything.
21. No time to exchange money? You can use US dollars anywhere in Belize.
22. The locals here love the Punta Rock music.
23. Belize is one of the world’s top destinations for a wedding or honeymoon vacation.
24. Belizeans make some finest handmade chocolates from locally grown cocoa.
25. You will be surprised to find a jaguar crossing sign on the highway.
26. Fry jacks is a favorite breakfast of Belizeans.
27. Belize is home to the world’s loudest creature: the Black Howler Monkey.

Visit our website for more information on Belize, and don’t hesitate to send us an email, or call US/CAN Toll Free: 1-866-417-2377, Local: (011-501) 523-3606, if you have questions or need help in planning a Belize vacation.

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There are 109 census records available for the last name Belize. Like a window into their day-to-day life, Belize census records can tell you where and how your ancestors worked, their level of education, veteran status, and more.

There are 19 immigration records available for the last name Belize. Passenger lists are your ticket to knowing when your ancestors arrived in the USA, and how they made the journey - from the ship name to ports of arrival and departure.

There are 2 military records available for the last name Belize. For the veterans among your Belize ancestors, military collections provide insights into where and when they served, and even physical descriptions.

There are 109 census records available for the last name Belize. Like a window into their day-to-day life, Belize census records can tell you where and how your ancestors worked, their level of education, veteran status, and more.

There are 19 immigration records available for the last name Belize. Passenger lists are your ticket to knowing when your ancestors arrived in the USA, and how they made the journey - from the ship name to ports of arrival and departure.

There are 2 military records available for the last name Belize. For the veterans among your Belize ancestors, military collections provide insights into where and when they served, and even physical descriptions.

Watch the video: The History of Belize in 5 Minutes