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History of the Mennonites in Belize

Posted by Betsy Rosenlund on Jan 2, 2019 11:11:53 AM
Betsy Rosenlund

Belize is truly a melting pot of cultures including Mayan, Spanish, Garifuna, English, East Indian, Chinese, and Mennonite.

Many people are surprised to hear that Belize is home to a thriving Mennonite population of over 10,000 of Russian descent. Approximately 2,000 Mennonites are converts from local communities.

The first Mennonites came to Belize in 1957 as part of a diplomatic mission. These Mennonites, who emigrated from various Canadian locations, came to Belize (British Honduras) from Chihuahua, Mexico, where they had been living for many years.

They met with then Premiere of the country and father of Belize, George C. Price, to discuss making this tiny country their new home. In return for allowing them to stay in Belize, the Mennonites brought with them large-scale agriculture which there was a great need for in the country at the time. George Price granted them the freedom to live and farm, freedom to practice their religion, and a promise that their children would not be required to serve in the armed forces. As such, in 1958, the first colony of Mennonites was established in Spanish Lookout, located approximately 34 kilometers from what is now the capital city of Belmopan.

BETSY SPANISH LOOKOUT 2ECI's Betsy Rosenlund in Spanish Lookout


Today, there are ten Mennonite communities throughout Belize: Spanish Lookout, Upper and Lower Barton Creek, and Springfield, all located in the Cayo District; Little Belize in the Corozal District; Shipyard, Blue Creek, Indian Creek, and Neuland, all situated in the Orange Walk District; and Pine Hill in the Toledo District. These communities vary in their orientation, from very conservative (no electricity, transportation by horse and buggy) to modern (use of cars and other modern conveniences). The Mennonites in Barton Creek, Springfield, and Pine Hill are on the very conservative and traditional end, while the Spanish Lookout and Blue Creek Mennonites tend to be on the more modern side.

Amid the modern clothing of Belizeans and visitors, Mennonites are easily spotted and identified by their “old-fashioned” clothing. Women traditionally wear long dresses with an apron and a hat or bonnet, while men wear black pants or overalls, checkered shirts, and hats.

The majority of the ethnic Mennonites in Belize speak both Plautdietsch, a Low German dialect for everyday life, and English, primarily used for business purposes. There are a small number of conservative Mennonites who speak Pennsylvania German instead of Plautdietsch. Standard German is used for teaching and reading the Bible, in schools, and church.

Mennonites have a strong farming tradition, and because of this, Belizeans throughout the country benefit from the sale of Mennonite produce, meat and dairy products. Most Mennonite farming is organic. Their main crops include potatoes, corn, beans, tomatoes, watermelons, carrots, papaya, cabbage, and sweet peppers. Belize’s main egg hatchery, Friesen Hatcheries and Quality Poultry Products in Spanish Lookout, supplies the country with fresh chicken and eggs, while Western Dairy Farms is one of Belize’s largest producers of milk, cheese, and other dairy products. There are also many cottage industries in Mennonite communities, where you can purchase local honey, cheeses, and crafts.

The-Mennonites-in-BelizeParade - Photo by Chabil Mar


In addition to their farming skills, Mennonites are known to be wonderfully skilled carpenters, particularly those from the Shipyard and Blue Creek communities. It is very common to see wooden houses skillfully and quickly assembled throughout the country, and beautiful Mennonite made wood furniture. While driving through Mennonite communities on the mainland, you are bound to see numerous Mennonite owned furniture and construction companies. It is worth stopping in if you are in the market for well made, handcrafted wooden furniture.


MENNONITE HOME
If you are interested in learning more about the Mennonite Communities, be sure to take a trip out to one of the larger communities to experience the Mennonite culture. While visiting, you may feel like you have stepped out of Belize and into Pennsylvania with their rolling green hills, neatly manicured farms, and freshly paved roads.

 

We hope you found this article interesting. If you’d like to receive more great stories, sign up for our Newsletter, and you’ll be emailed once per month with informative articles we have written to keep you informed about all things Belize.



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Topics: Things to Do in Belize, Central America, Grand Baymen in Belize, Vacationing in Belize, Tourism in Belize, Investing in Belize

Betsy Rosenlund

Written by Betsy Rosenlund

Betsy Rosenlund graduated from the University of Denver in 2009 with degrees in Spanish and International Relations. Graduating at height of the recession, Betsy took her first sales job with Nordstrom. During her 6 years with Nordstrom, Betsy gained unparalleled sales and customer service training and experience; she was awarded with the Quarterly Pacesetter award several times over and recognized as a Future Nordstrom Leader, an invite-only management training program. A career change led Betsy briefly to Austin, TX, and shortly thereafter, Betsy traded in both her ski boots and cowboy boots for flip-flops and the sunny beaches of Belize to put her hard-earned degrees to work. Betsy joined the ECI Development team in January 2016 as the Business Development Manager and has since taken on the role of Director of Pre-/Post-Sales Customer Service. Outside of work, Betsy is a charter member and secretary of the Rotaract Club of Ambergris Caye Belize. Betsy also enjoys volunteering with the SHINE program for young women and girls, and regularly serves at Colleen’s Kitchen, a program of the San Pedro Food bank. She is the proud dog-mom to Monti, a Belizean rescue dog.