The Mennonites of Belize

by McNab Editorial Team

While the melting pot of Belize is home to a variety of different and distinct cultures, its Mennonites are certainly one of the more striking members present. The story of how this religious community of Christians came to live in a country like Belize is a lengthy and curious tale.

The majority of modern Mennonites can be traced back to a denomination of Christianity established in West Prussia, meaning its roots go as far back as the 18th Century. At this point in time, the region was considered part of the Russian Empire; as a consequence of this, Belize’s Mennonites are called “Russian Mennonites,” despite their native tongue being known as Plautdietsch, a tongue connected to the German and Dutch languages and commonly referred to as “low German.”

Come 1873, one branch of these Mennonites crossed the Atlantic Ocean and settled in Manitoba, Canada. After a schism arose over theological differences, one branch of these Manitoban Mennonites emigrated southward, to Mexico, in 1922. Come 1958, a splinter group of the Mexican Mennonites relocated to “British Honduras,” a country that we have known as Belize since 1981. Later, other generations of North American Mennonites would emigrate into Belize to join up with these Russian Mennonites. Presently, 12,000 Belizean people are considered Mennonites.

Those familiar with Amish customs may see many similarities in the Mennonites; both of these religious groups forego the use of gasoline- or electricity-powered devices in order to pursue a life of hard labor and simple comforts. Belize’s Mennonite populace is easily recognized due to their predominantly Anglo features and rustic style of dress; men wear straw hats and overalls, while women wear bonnets and long dresses.

Mennonite children of Belize. Photo Courtesy: Leonardo Melendez

Things in Belize they are known for

Belize’s Mennonites are notable for their ability to produce goods of exceptional quality, especially beef, dairy, poultry, produce and honey. They are also well-known for their quality handmade furniture. Most Mennonites stick to their own communities, though some members are known to trade goods within town fairs or the local markets in the western and northern reaches of the country.

Mennonite communities can be found in the following spots:

  • Cayo District: Lower Barton Creek, Spanish Lookout, Springfield, and Upper Barton Creek. 
  • Corozal District: Little Belize. 
  • Orange Walk District: Blue Creek, Indian Creek, and Shipyard. 
  • Toledo District: Pine Hill. 

As a sect of Christianity, the Mennonites started as a branch of the Anaptistist Church of Friesland, what we now recognize as a province within the Netherlands that consists of 18 municipalities, devoutly following the religious texts of one Menno Simons in the 16th Century; hence the term “Mennonite.” While they endured constant persecution by Catholics and other Protestants faiths alike, the Mennonites have fostered a dedication to pacifism in all matters. As can be seen in just the journey of Belize’s own Mennonites from West Prussia into Belize, this focus on nonviolence has forced them to frequently relocate in order to continue practicing their particular way of life and worship. 

Written by Larry Waight

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