Jaguar Creek

The Fascinating History of Belize: From the Ancient Maya Civilization to Modern Day

With Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the west and south, Belize is a tiny nation on the eastern coast of Central America. Its history stretches back to ancient times and is extensive and exciting.

“Belize is home to the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, the Belize Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site.[1]“

3rd–16th Century: Earliest Known Inhabitants of Belize

Maya people, an indigenous ethnicity, have been traced back to Belize’s earliest days. Between the third and ninth centuriesA.D., the people reconstructed beautiful cities and temples when the Maya civilization was at its height. They created a sophisticated system of writing and mathematics. The Maya sites of Caracol and Xunantunich, among others, have become major draws for visitors to Belize.[2]

Figure 1. Maya Civilization (Red) Compared to other Cultures (Black)* Source: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-americas/early-cultures/maya/a/the-maya-an-introduction

NOTE: Map showing the extent of the Maya civilization (red), compared to all other Mesoamerica cultures (black). Today, these sites are located in the countries of Mexico, Belize, Honduras and Guatemala (Source: Link Above).

At that time, the area that is now Belize was the center of a thriving Maya civilization. There may be undiscovered ruins in the Jaguar Creek region since this
location was formerly home to a small Maya community.[3]. The Maya developed an extensive network of trading routes throughout Central America, demonstrating their expertise as farmers and merchants. It is possible that the Maya used Jaguar Creek as a major trading route between interior Belize and the Caribbean Sea.[4]

Figure 2. Map Showing Mayan Trade and Economy. Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/235594624241841779/

The Maya developed an extensive network of trading routes throughout Central America, demonstrating their expertise as farmers and merchants. They also created a sophisticated administration with strong kings and a caste system separating the nobility from the commoners. The fall of the Maya civilization started in the ninth century A.D. and was complete by the time the Spanish arrived in the area in the sixteenth century.[5]

 

16th–19th Century:

The Fall of BelizeThe Spanish colonized Belize in the 16th century and founded many colonies there. The Mayans’resistance and the area’s tough topography made it challenging for the Spanish to establish and retain regional dominance. The area also lacked the wealth of natural resources necessary for it to be a top priority for the Spanish monarch. Because of this, the Spanish needed to be motivated to expand the infrastructure and population in Belize; therefore, it remained a backward and sparsely inhabited part of their empire.[6]

The dense jungles of Belize provided cover for British pirates and loggers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Spanish signed a contract with the British in the late 18th century acknowledging British rule over the territory after the British had built many outposts there. However, the Spanish crown did not acknowledge the pact, and the area continued to be a contested territory. [7] In 1862, the British claimed Belize for their empire and renamed it British Honduras. The British government spent money to improve the area by constructing roads, schools, and other facilities. In addition, they pushed for an influx of Britons to settle there, which led to the colony’s growth in population.[8]

 

20th Century: The Independence Again!

Belize first made attempts to get independence from Britain in the 20th century. In 1981, Belize achieved its goal of becoming an independent country.[9].Modern-day Belize is an eclectic melting pot of Mayan, Spanish, British, and African cultures. The diverse ecosystems, plentiful woods, and lively culture make it a popular tourist destination. The Belize Barrier Reef, the world’s second-largest coral reef system, is located inside the nation, drawing ecotourists from all over the globe.[10]

Figure 3. Belize People Celebrating Independence Day. Source: https://caribbeanlifestyle.com/belize-september-21-independence-day/

 

Factors for Belize’s Modern-Day Growth and Decline

Since becoming an independent country in 1981, Belize has been working to modernize its infrastructure and economy, and this process has not been without its share of difficulties and possibilities. It is safe to say that the following have all played crucial roles in modern-day Belize’s progress and development:

Economic Development:

Belize’s economy is a tiny country based on agriculture, tourism, and forestry. The high poverty rate is a consequence of the country’s failure to diversify its economy and generate employment. The administration has been trying to encourage economic development and draw in foreign investment, but it has seen only little success so far[11].

Infrastructure:

The infrastructure of Belize needs to be improved, particularly the need for better roads and the uneven distribution of power and potable water. That has slowed the country’s progress and made it harder for companies to function. Efforts to upgrade infrastructure have been undertaken. However, budget constraints have slowed the improvement.[12]

Political Instability:

Several government transitions and leadership contests in Belize have highlighted the country’s long history of political instability. This has made it harder for the administration to enact long-term initiatives, which has slowed the country’s growth and stability.[13]

Relations with Neighboring Countries:

With its neighboring country Guatemala in particular, Belize has been embroiled in several territorial conflicts. It has been more challenging for Belize to attain peace and prosperity due to these issues, which have hampered the establishment of strong commercial and political relations with other nations in the area.[14]

Figure 4. Disputed Border Between Belize and Guatemala. Source: https://www.breakingbelizenews.com/2018/04/16/belize-the-death-of-the-guatemalan-claim/

 

Summary of the History of Belize

Belize’s origins may be traced back to antiquity, making for a rich and intriguing past. The history of Belize, which spans from its time as a Maya civilization to the present as a sovereign country, is rich and varied. This past continues to create Belize’s identity. Economic growth, infrastructural development, political instability, climate change, and ties with neighboring nations are only some contemporary influences on Belize’s progress and development.

 

ON THIS DAY

September 21, 1981:

Today marks the day when Belize became completely independent fromGreat Britain[15]. There was growing pressure for independence after Belize had been a British colony for nearly a century. The government of Belize initiated independence talks with the British government in the 1970s, and on September 21, 1981, Belize officially became an independent nation[16].

 

[1]O. Nigel Bolland,Belize: A New Nation in Central America(Routledge, 2019),https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429035081.
[2]Thomas L Pearcy, The History of Central America(Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
[3]Thomas L Pearcy,The History of Central America(Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)
[4]P. A. B. Thomson,Belize: A Concise History,Amazon.com(Macmillan Pub Ltd, 2005)
[5]Renate J Mayr,Belize: Tracking thePath of Its History: From the Heart of the Maya Empire to aRetreat for Buccaneers, a Safe-Haven for Ex-Pirates and Pioneers, a Crown Colony and a ModernNation(Zürich: Lit, 2014).
[6]Assad Shoman, 13 Chapters of a History of Belize(Belize City, Belize: Angelus Press, ( Printing,1994).
[7]O. Nigel Bolland,Belize: A New Nation in Central America(Routledge, 2019),https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429035081.
[8]Renate J Mayr,Belize: Tracking the Path of Its History: From the Heart of the Maya Empire to aRetreat for Buccaneers, a Safe-Haven for Ex-Pirates and Pioneers, a Crown Colony and a ModernNation(Zürich: Lit, 2014).
[9]O. Nigel Bolland,Colonialism and Resistance in Belize(University of West Indies Press, 2003).
[10]O. Nigel Bolland,Belize: A New Nation in Central America(Routledge, 2019),https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429035081.
[11]Samuel Bridgewater andProquest (Firm,A Natural History of Belize: Inside the Maya Forest(Austin: University Of Texas Press, 2012).
[12]Assad Shoman,[13] Chapters of a History of Belize(Belize City, Belize: Angelus Press, ( Printing,1994).
[13]O. Nigel Bolland,Colonialism andResistance in Belize(University of West Indies Press, 2003).
[14]P. A. B. Thomson,Belize: A Concise History,Amazon.com(Macmillan Pub Ltd, 2005)
[15]O. Nigel Bolland,Belize: A New Nation in Central America(Routledge, 2019),https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429035081.
[16]O. Nigel Bolland,Colonialism and Resistance in Belize(University of West Indies Press, 2003)

 

To learn more about beautiful Belize, explore our blog.

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