The Belizean Creoles, locally known as Kriols, are Creole descendants of English and Scottish (the Baymen) log cutters, as well as Black African slaves brought to Belize. Other small minorities include Creoles and the Miskito from Nicaragua, Jamaicans, and other West Indians who assisted in the logging industry. These varied peoples have all mixed to create this ethnic group. Kriol was historically only spoken by them, but this ethnicity has become synonymous with the Belizean national identity, and as a result the Kriol is now spoken by about 75% of Belizeans. Found predominantly in urban areas such as Belize City, this group is also found in most coastal towns and villages, and in the Belize River Valley.
Until the early 1980s, Belizean Kriols constituted close to 60% of the population of Belize, but today they are about 25% of the population. This was due to an influx of Central American refugees coming in from neighboring countries, as well as emigration of approximately 85,000 Kriols abroad, primarily to the United States. Today, identifying as a Kriol may confuse some; a blonde, blue-eyed Kriol is not an uncommon sight as the term also denotes a culture more than physical appearance. In Belize, Kriol is the standard term for any person of at least partial Black African descent and who is not Garinagu, or any person that speaks Kriol as a first or sole language. This includes immigrants from Africa and the West Indies who have settled in Belize and intermarried with locals. Indeed, the concept of Kriol and that of ‘mixture' have almost become synonymous to the extent that any individual with Afro-European ancestry combined with any other ethnicity—whether Mestizo, Garifuna or Maya—is now likely to be considered "Kriol".
According to local research, the Belizean Creole descended from polyglot Buccaneers and European settlers who took over the logwood trade in 17th century, along with African slaves they imported to help cut and ship the logwood. The National Kriol Council of Belize says that black slaves had been established on the Central American coast from the 16th century and earlier and were working for the Spanish further down the coast. By 1724, the British too were acquiring slaves from Jamaica and elsewhere to cut logwood and later mahogany. By most accounts, they led a better life than most in the West Indies, but were still mistreated, systematically raped, beaten and bullied. Many ran away to neighboring Spanish colonies, or formed small maroon settlements in the forest. These slaves reputedly assisted in the defense of the fledgling settlement for much of the late 18th century, particularly in the 1798 Battle of St. George's Caye, though this is still a very controversial and political issue in Belize.
Photo : Colville Young was a notable kriols
The Creoles settled mainly in Belize Town (now Belize City) and along the banks of the Belize River in the original logwood settlements including Burrell Boom, Bermudian Landing, Crooked Tree, Gracie Rock, Rancho Dolores, lemonal, Flowers Bank and Belmopan City. There were also substantial numbers in and around the plantations south of Belize City, at All Pines and Placencia. Many Kriols were involved in the trade in live sea turtles, and other fisheries. As the 19th century progressed, they spread out to all the districts, particularly Dangriga and Monkey River, as the colony grew. Their sense of pride led to occasional clashes with authority, such as the 1894 currency devaluation riots, that foreshadowed greater conflicts to come.
In the 20th century, the Creoles took the lead in organizing the development of the settlement. Riots in 1919 and 1934, combined with terrible conditions resulting from a disastrous hurricane in 1931, led to Belize's first trade unions and eventually to its first political party, the People's United Party (PUP). Creoles continue to lead the nation in politics. But conditions in Belize City worsened after another major hurricane in 1961 and shortly thereafter large scale migration began (and continues) to the United States and England, where successful individuals sent back money to assist those they left behind. Attempts to unite Creoles for development, such as the United Black Association for Development, met mixed results.
As part of the September celebrations the annual Creole Festival was held today on the grounds of the House of Culture. The festival is notable because it is part of an effort by Belize's Creole population to assert itself as a distinct group, rich with its own traditions that go way deeper than just a plate of rice and beans. Today the Creole Council, the National Library Service, and the favorite pastimes of the Kriols are story telling, particularly of the trickster spider Anansi, construction of handicraft, and also having a good "bruk down" party with family and friends.
Maypole, is a celebration include a maypole, which is a tall wooden pole, decorated with several long colored ribbons suspended from the top. This is similar to Palo de Mayo or Maypole in RAAS region in Nicaragua. There is no definite answer as to how it got to Nicaragua. Many historians point out that there are many differences in the celebration and that it came from the Nicaraguan Creoles that inhabited Nicaragua's Caribbean coast, other historians believe it came indirectly from Jamaica.
The traditional fire sambai of Gales Point Manatee is an unusual Kriol dance which survives from colonial times, when slaves met in different parts of Belize City in "tribes" based on their African region of origin to celebrate Christmas holidays. Traditionally the group would form a big circle in the night around a full moon in the center of a square, and one person at a time would go in the middle of the ring to dance. The male dance is a little bit different than the female because it is a fertility dance. The dance marks the time when girls and boys are considered sexually mature.
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