This year marks the 60th anniversary of the first arrival of the Mennonite community in Belize. In 1958, a small band of Mennonites left Chihuahua State in Mexico and crossed into Belize to establish a farming community at the village of Spanish Lookout.
The first Mennonite settlers purchased land that was originally dense rainforest. With hard work and thriftiness, the Mennonites cleared the land in Spanish Lookout. Today, Mennonite farms growing beans, corn, and raising cattle have transformed their settlements into some of the most productive agricultural regions of Belize. Almost all of the eggs, chicken, and dairy products in Belize come from Mennonite farms.
Originally founded in the 16th century as a subsect of Anabaptist denominations in what is now Holland, Mennonites were forced to flee to Ukraine in order to escape persecution where they became known as “Russian” Mennonites (at the time, Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire). But following political instability, many Mennonites were forced to relocate in Mexico.
Today, there are some two million Mennonites worldwide and around 12,000 Mennonites in Belize, including converts from the local Creole and Mestizo populations. Most Mennonites in Belize speak Plautdietsch, a variant of standard German for communication and standard German for church and school.
The Mennonite faith is expressed differently depending on the congregation, with some communities following a strictly conservative lifestyle that eschews all modern conveniences while others, including the Spanish Lookout community, use and operate modern machinery and electricity. In some Mennonite communities in Belize such as Lower Barton Creek, transportation is with horse-drawn buggies and no modern technology is permitted, including photographs. In Spanish Lookout, on the other hand, only the language and conservative dress styles separate Mennonites from other communities in Belize, and the congregation is permitted to drive cars and use electricity.
To outsiders, the Mennonites are often confused with the Amish, another conservative religious tradition that began in Europe. The Amish, however, are considered a subset of the larger Mennonite faith, and Mennonites, generally, are more open to using modern technology and interacting with the public.
“At Chabil Mar, we know that Belize’s cultural diversity is one of this country’s greatest strengths,” said Larry France, marketing manager at Chabil Mar. “On behalf of all of us at the resort, we congratulate the Mennonite community on the occasion of their 60th anniversary.”