Entries in #carnival (2)


September  Celebrations

September is one of the best times to come to Belize! It’s the tourism off-season, which means cheaper prices and a quieter island and it’s also the occasion to partake in the September celebrations.

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St Georges Caye Day Carnival

September the 10th marked a national holiday here in Belize. Dubbed St George’s Caye Day (not to be confused with Britain’s own St George’s day), it commemorates the naval battle that took place here back in 1798. Today it is celebrated by parades of school children that walk through the streets in a mass of colour, noise and merriment (as with all annual Belizean celebrations).

I had the fortune/misfortune of being in the relative metropolis of Belize City the day of the parade. Seeing an already laid back city, grind to a halt was admittedly frustrating but it was a fascinating demonstration of national pride, patriotism and Caribbean flair. The colours are typically blue, red and white; the colours of the national flag. The music ranged from school songs sang by the large groups of children, to reggae music and Soca (carnival music from Trinidad and Tobago) blared out by gigantic speakers on the back of pick up trucks.

So I decided to do some research about the naval battle itself; when, where, who etc? Well as stated it was back in 1798, and yup you guessed it, located right at St George’s Caye. Back then Belize was referred to as British Honduras and this little sandy coral island located eight miles East of the mainland was one of the first established sites for the original colonisers back in 1650. British loggers had set up camp there and in the late eighteenth century an invading Spaniard force from Mexico came to oust the woodcutters from their tactical position. The battle lasted seven days, finishing on September the 10th, 1798, with the Spanish retreating leaving the Baymen, as they have become known, in charge of St George’s Caye, and the rest of the Belizean coastline. According to Wikipedia, always a good first port of call for a bit of quick researching, there were no casualties on either side, so all in all, a significant day in the emergence of Belizean as a nation, and one without all the bloodshed that so often comes with days of equivalent importance across history.

I was also fortunate enough to visit the island of St George’s Caye (or a beach nearby), several days before the national holiday. Aside from partaking in a bit of volleyball as the waves came in, I ended up talking to one of the local boat drivers from Caye Caulker. He explained how even to this day artefacts and hidden treasures are being uncovered in the shifting sands in the shallows around St George’s Caye. My mind immediately conjured up some pictures of me with an underwater metal detector, salvaging buried riches from the Caribbean Sea. After a while I realised it was all a bit Hollywood and went back to my volleyball. Even so, there seemed to be a pleasant aura surrounding the day. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it. A local taxi driver, peculiarly with the same name as myself, explained the whole thought process of the day to me while we were stuck in parade related traffic in Belize City. He maintained that the real message to take from the holiday was that in the battle it was the African slaves and the woodcutting Baymen who banded together to fight for what was at the time a budding settlement belonging to the imperialist British Empire. This message of pride and unity is what is really celebrated on the 10th of September; values which are held very dear to the culture of Belize.

As a side note, I think it is only fair to give a little bit of credit to the Spanish, who had been ravaged by Yellow Fever in the lead up to the battle. While no one ended up dying on the shores of St George’s Caye, a pat on the back should definitely go to all those men and their great sportsmanship. Good effort lads, better luck next time! Although the wood cutting scene isn’t really as chic and trendy as in the 1700s, so to any Spanish looking to take over again – I hope you have brought your carnival costume.

By Rob MacFarlane - Principal Investigator

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