Regenerative Artisan Experiences through Belizean Cultures

by Gisselle Hernandez
Belize is not the hidden gem it once was, tucked away from the world. In the past few years, many have ventured beyond the pristine beaches to the jungles lying inland, which hold unbelievable adventures that are only just being discovered. But there’s one more colorful aspect that adds to the vibrancy that is the Caribbean country: its people. Geographically, Belize is at the center of the previous booming Maya Civilization. Despite Mexico and Guatemala usually being the ones associated with their history, Belize once was home to millions of Mayas, a fact evidenced by the many ancient temples scattered throughout the country. But that’s not the only culture deemed to be the backbone of the Central American nation. Today, Mestizos, Creoles, Chinese, Mennonites, and many others consider Belize home. The mosaic that is the multitude of cultures only gets more intricate as you travel from north to south. The amazing aspect is you get to become familiar with many of them beyond the first-hand eyewitness. In Belize, you are able to completely immerse yourself in these unique societies. For a sample taste of the interconnectedness of these worlds, here are some artistic interactions to get you started.

Jippi Jappa Maya Basket Weaving

By now we know how artistic and detailed the Maya people could be. They lived off their own farming methods, mostly on corn, beans, tomatoes, and other vital foods. As a result, they would need to store all their goods in a secure and reliable container for future use. This is where the Jippi Jappa basket came in. The Mayas used the plant known as Jippi Jappa to weave their intricate baskets; they would cut open the palms, exposing their fibres and weave them for days. The experience is now being offered in Belize as a tour, where you can weave your own basket of any size, either for small jewelry or mementos or for bigger storage. By using our hands, we come to appreciate the complexities of the Maya’s creations, a facet modern tools have not been able to replicate as perfectly. Intertwining these fibres to create something out of nothing is more than enough to learn the value of culture and tradition.

Garifuna Drumming experience

A people whose passion knows no bounds, the Garifuna have been a part of Belize’s history since the 1800s. Their arrival onto the shores of Belize is commemorated every year on November 19th, a public and bank holiday known as Garifuna Settlement Day. When speaking of the Garifuna, many think of their vibrant clothing, expressive dances, and beautiful language. Down in Belize’s southeast coast, you are able to partake in their historical traditions through various encounters. One of the most sought-after is the Garifuna Drumming Class at Warasa Drumming School in Hopkins. You needn’t wait until November 19th to engage in the festivities of dancing and rhythmic drumming. Here, a group of Garinagu will take you through multiple, choreographed-heavy songs and dances. The men will beat their drum enthusiastically, occasionally asking you to join in as they teach you a few tips and tricks on how to master the primero and segundo drums.

Dancing on the beaches of Hopkins to Garifuna drums. Image via Belize Tourism Board

Or you can join the vivacious women and their flowing skirts dancing to the beat, their movements miming daily routine tasks such as washing clothes, baking, and more. Many of these “mundane” moves are a reflection of their culture, deeply rooted in their history. You can also pair this tour with a Hudut cooking class for the full Garifuna experience.

Tortilla Making with the San Antonio Women’s Group

For those chasing the culinary side of Belize’s cultures, the San Antonio Women’s Cooperative in the Cayo District offers a tortilla-making class. The class entails making tortillas completely from scratch, starting from grinding the actual corn to make masa, the dough needed to make the tortillas, on a traditional volcanic basalt stone. After creating the dough, you’ll flatten out the balls of masa and place them on a traditional fire hearth, flipping them by hand. This is the traditional way of how the Maya women made – and still make – their soft, delicious tortillas. You’ll be able to appreciate every step that goes into the making of the fluffy masterpieces that can be eaten with a slew of dishes. To further the cultural ideal, the San Antonio Women’s Group also offers a ceramic-making class. Requiring concentration and precision, you’ll be able to create your own piece of art to take home.

These little windows into different worlds only scratch the surface of the artistic Mecca that is Belize, many of which go unnoticed. Make sure to keep these in mind the next time you find yourself wanting to bridge adventure with culture in Belize.

Written by Gisselle Hernandez for the 2021/2022 Belize Gold Book.
Header image courtesy of The Belize Tourism Board. Article found on page 78 of the 2021/2022 Belize Gold Book. Read more articles from the #BelizeGoldBook below:

Related Articles