Country Listing

Belize Table of Contents


Cultural Pluralism and Ethnic Diversity

Belize might appear to be the archetypical postcolonial "plural society," a mosaic of discrete cultural groups with their own value systems and institutional forms, joined together only by the forces of the marketplace and coercive authority. Indeed, a number of scholars have described Belize as split between two cultural complexes--one English-speaking, and Creole, and the other Spanishspeaking , and Mestizo. Belizean social and cultural diversity was, however, much more complex than this bipolar model suggests. Language and religion cut across ethnic and racial categories. Moreover, race was a complex and elusive concept. For example, both Creoles and Garifuna shared an African heritage, but they were culturally different and had a long-standing enmity toward each other.

Ethnic boundaries in Belize were also notoriously fuzzy. Intermarriage between members of different groups has historically been widespread. Identification of people of mixed ancestry varied considerably; one recent survey of secondary-school students found eight different permutations of Creole identity alone. This variability was not limited to Creoles. Some urban, Europeanlooking Spanish-speakers identified themselves as Maya; many Mestizos no longer spoke Spanish in the home or had become evangelical Protestants.

Not all individuals of multiple ancestries felt comfortable identifying with a particular ethnic group; in the words of one Belizean youth, many Belizeans were "all mix up." A small, but significant number of people eschewed potentially divisive ethnic categories and referred to themselves simply as "Belizeans." Ethnicity competed with other identities, such as those based on status, occupation, and political affiliation, for primacy in social interaction. Belizean society was as divided by class differences as it was by race, language, religion and ethnicity.

Data as of January 1992