Time flies when you’re helping to build a nation…
Was it only sixty years ago that a Mennonite community left Chihuahua, Mexico and moved to Belize?
It was, and Belize is all the better for it. Have you eaten any chicken, or cheese, eggs, honey, beans, melons or corn in Belize, or drank any milk? Chances are good it came from Mennonites. And if it was in the Cayo District or Belize City, chances are it came from Spanish Lookout, where these hardy, industrious folk have proven themselves to be good neighbours and an invaluable asset to other communities.
Need a house, barn or other building built quickly and well? Who you gonna call?
Looking for furniture, custom or otherwise? Go to Spanish Lookout.
A new outboard engine, chainsaw, water pump or tool? Parts for your car, truck, tractor or just about any piece of equipment? And honest mechanics to make it all work?
You guessed it.
And if you just want a lovely day trip from Chaa Creek, after a short drive you cross the river on a hand-cranked ferry and you’re suddenly transported out of the more familiar Belize to a place that looks a lot like rural Pennsylvania or Ohio.
You’ll notice the barns and tidy homesteads, study lads and men in John Deere baseball caps, cowboy hats, denim, work shirts and suspenders, driving around in pickup trucks and motorbikes, with women in full length dresses and bonnets behind counters in shops, but mostly looking after their families and homes. You’ll see fields dotted with contentedly grazing cows, or being ploughed, planted or harvested, and trucks laden with timber going to the mill, or to shops or the market with produce…
And you can dine at the Golden Corral or other eateries for real pierogies, German sausages and ice tea (you won’t find a beer in Spanish Lookout), and hit Western Dairies for ice cream so fresh you can see it being made.
Yes, for over sixty years now, Spanish Lookout has grown with Belize, and, as with all the other ethnic groups contributing to this colourful melting pot, its people have a distinct culture, yet are as Belizean as a plate of rice and beans.
We don’t have the time or space to do Mennonite history justice here, but a brief mention is in order. Hopefully it will pique your interest enough to lead to more in-depth reading.
Mennonites take their name from Menno Simons, a Dutch Catholic priest and committed pacifist who, in the early 1500s, split away from the Church of Rome, and attracted a growing group of followers.
Now, some rulers liked, or at least tolerated these honest, hard-working people, while others found their break from mainstream religion as troubling as their refusal to join military service. So it seemed like every time Menno’s followers became settled somewhere, a new prince or head of state would kick them out, often forcing them to flee with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
After settling, and then being forced to leave Switzerland, the Netherlands, Russia and Germany, many Mennonites moved to more tolerant North America, establishing communities in Pennsylvania (where they became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch or Amish) and the American and Canadian Midwest.
Between 1922 and 1925, a more conservative group of Mennonites moved to Mexico, and in 1958 a group moved from Chihuahua to the Crown Colony of British Honduras, where they liked what they saw, and, fortunately for Belize, stayed.
There are now Mennonite communities throughout Belize, primarily in Shipyard, Blue Creek, Little Belize, Indian Creek, Upper and Lower Barton Creek, Springfield and Pine Hill, with some differences in language and varying degrees of orthodoxy, ranging from “modern” to “moderately modern”, using tractors, automobiles and machinery – as in Spanish Lookout – to the non-mechanised, horse and buggy “conservative” Mennonites of Upper Barton Creek.
Obviously, there’s much more to the story than this, and, like the history of Belize’s other ethnic groups, such as the Garifuna – another group with a distinct culture and language without whom Belize would not be the Belize we know and love –makes for fascinating reading.
So when acknowledging the arrival sixty years ago of the first Mennonites to British Honduras, we’re also acknowledging sixty years of contributing towards the creation of the modern nation of Belize.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY SPANISH LOOKOUT
And to all the other Mennonite communities of Belize
Life just wouldn’t be the same without you…