The Mennonites Of Belize – A Brief History
Many people are surprised to learn that there are Mennonite communities in Belize. These small but thriving communities played an important role in Belize’s move to independence. Today, you can see well-tended Mennonite farms in Spanish Lookout, Blue Creek, Shipyard and Upper and Lower Barton Creek.
Step Back In Time
Visiting these villages is an interesting experience. The beautifully maintained Mennonite farms spring out of nowhere in the middle of the jungle. These villages look similar to small, rural villages in the US. They feature grain silos, farmhouses, orchards and hundreds of cattle grazing peacefully on the edges of the forest.
There are two groups of Mennonites here. The Mennonites who live in Spanish Lookout and Blue Creek are progressive. They drive cars and use other modern conveniences. The Mennonite communities in Barton Creek and Shipyard are more conservative. They wear traditional clothing and drive horse-drawn carriages. Both groups speak German as their native language.
First Stirrings of Independence
Belize began planning its independence from the UK in 1954. In order to facilitate the process, Belize had to prove it could create its own sustainable food supplies. At the time, the country had a population of about 100,000.
At the same time, Mennonite communities in Mexico were looking for a new home. The government of Mexico had informed the Mennonites that they would no longer be exempt from Mexico’s draft. The Mennonites are pacifists.
A Fair Deal
In 1957, a group of Mennonite leaders met with the Belizean premier George Cadle Price. During that meeting, they came up with the perfect solution. The Mennonites, who were experienced, skilled farmers, would supply Belize with large-scale agriculture.
In return, the Belize government would give the Mennonites land on which to live and farm, the freedom to practice their religion and the promise that their children would never have to serve in an army.
The Mennonites transformed the jungle into rich, thriving farmland. With years of hard work, they built homes, schools and farms.
Today, the Mennonites are part of Belize’s rich cultural tapestry. Mennonite farms supply most of Belize’s poultry, eggs, corn, beans, dairy products, peanuts, honey and fresh produce. They have established an excellent reputation for their carpentry skills and hardware stores.
Visitors to Spanish Lookout can buy farm-fresh butter, eggs and honey. They can also stop at Western Dairies for some of the best ice cream in Belize.
There are roughly 12,000 Mennonites living in Belize. That number includes 2000 Belizeans who have converted to the religion.