The 294,385 people that live in Belize are a spectacular blend of backgrounds, forming a cultural melting pot that is uniquely Belizean. This ethnically diverse society is known for its warmth and hospitality. The primary language is English, followed by Creole and Spanish; with the languages of the Garifuna, Maya, and Mennonite spoken in smaller communities. In addition to the backgrounds listed below, people from countries such as Lebanon, China and Eastern India have also made an impact on the Belizean culture.
Roughly 48 percent of the Belizean population is Mestizo, or a mixture of the Spanish and Maya cultures. Many people of this heritage migrated from Mexico in the mid 1800’s, to flee La Guerra de Castas, or the Caste Wars. Mestizos are found everywhere in Belize, but most make their homes in either the northern regions of Corozal and Orange walk, or in the western district of Cayo.
Creoles make-up 30 percent of the population in Belize. They are the descendents of early British settlers and African slaves, who came to the region in the early 1800s. Two thirds of the Creole population resides in Belize City.
People of Garifuna decent make up about 6.6 percent of Belize’s population. With their own language and culture, the Garifuna are the decedents of African slaves, Carib tribes and Arawak Indians. This group dominates the southern towns of Punta Gorda and Dangriga, as well as the villages of Seine Bight, Hopkins, Georgetown and Barranco. On November 19th Garifuna Settlement Day is celebrated to honor the first arrival of the Garifuna to Belize, in 1832. Festivals, religious ceremonies and cultural shows celebrate this holiday in towns with large Garifuna populations, such as Dangriga.
The Mennonites began arriving in Belize in 1958 from Canada, Chihuahua and Mexico. They reside in the Orange Walk and Cayo Districts, in six main communities: Blue Creek, Shipyard, Little Belize, Progresso, Spanish Lookout and Barton Creek. Easily identified by their apparel, the women in bonnets and long dresses and the men wearing denim overalls and hats, the Mennonites have made it a point to have their own school, church and financial institution in their community.
People from Eastern India first began to arrive in Belize after 1838, and now make up about 2 percent of the population. Originally coming to the country as indentured servants, many Eastern Indians stayed to work on the sugar plantations. People of this decent are now spread across Belize in many villages, as well as the larger towns in the Corozal and Toledo districts.
In an attempt to escape the Japanese invasion of China just before World War II, many Chinese immigrated to Belize. Currently, there are around 6,000 people of Chinese descent living in the country. More recently, an economic citizenship program was offered by the Belizean government, so many people of Taiwanese descent have also immigrated to Belize to establish businesses.
People of Middle Eastern descent make-up a small group of Belizeans. Arriving in the late 19th century, these groups have a strong presence as merchants in towns and cities throughout Belize.