September is the month of national holidays in Belize. The very first weekend was Carnival. When all of you in the States were celebrating Labor Day, I was standing in sweltering heat enjoying the dancing, costumes and LOUD music of the annual Carnival parade in Belize City. This is the big kick-off to an entire month of patriotic holidays. I’ll let my photos do the talking for me.
September 10 was the Battle of St. George’s Caye Day. This battle was a short military engagement that lasted from September 3 to 10, 1798, off the coast of what is now Belize. However, the name is typically reserved for the final battle that occurred on September 10. The battle took place between an invading force from Mexico, attempting to claim Belize for Spain, and a small force of resident woodcutters called Baymen, who fought for their livelihood assisted by black slaves. After the final two and a half hour battle, ravaged by sickness, the Spaniards withdrew and the British declared themselves winners. On this day politicians deliver speeches, mainly in Belize City.
However, I was not there to hear the speeches, as I was in the district of Cayo in a nature preserve where I was fortunate to see two of Belize’s national symbols in the wild. In every classroom in Belize, teachers display the five national symbols: the tapir, the black orchid, the keel-billed toucan, the mahogany tree and the flag. Here are photos of the black orchid and the toucan. I have also included the national butterfly, the blue morpho, although it is not one of the symbols.
The most important national holiday in the month of September is Independence Day, on September 21. This year’s celebration was especially significant as it was the thirtieth anniversary of Belize’s independence from Great Britain. This year’s celebration was bittersweet for Belizeans, though, because the “Father of the Nation”, the Right Honorable George Price, the country’s first Prime Minister and architect of Belize’s independence, passed away just two days before Independence Day.
Several older Belizean friends have recounted their memories of the grand celebrations that took place back in 1981. My friend and colleague, Therese Ariola, recalls the first Independence Day “bashmen” (Kriol for “party” or "celebration"). She described for me her excitement as a young student in the Teacher’s College of Belize City at the prospect of her country’s transformation from the colony of British Honduras to the independent nation of Belize. She also recalls her fear during the riots, when opponents of Independence fought against their fellow countrymen.
My host “mom”, Miss Cas, recalls memories of George Price’s stirring speeches heard on family radios that rallied the new nation to separate from their colonial masters. She was the mother of young children at that time, and remembers the fireworks and celebrations in the streets.
On September 21st 2011, I had the privilege of participating in the Independence Day parade through the streets of Dangriga. The Ministry of Education office where I am based decorated a “float”, actually a cattle car pulled by a semi-truck. We put up dozens of Belizean flags, balloons and colored fabric, along with banners identifying our float. We snaked around the streets of Dangriga at an excruciatingly slow pace, while blasting the Belizean punta rock song “I am Belize” from the gigantic speakers on the “float”. In spite of the oppressive 90 degree heat and the three hour duration of the parade, we had a lot of fun tossing lollipops to the children along the parade route. And I felt honored to be asked to participate in this momentous occasion.
Yours Truly on the float with some young Belizean friends
The Belizean flag
My friend Therese Ariola
I wish you all a lovely Autumn! Please keep in contact. I love to hear from folks back home.