Saturday, 15 December 2007


12th December

Mennonites 3

Belize is one country that is home to one of those old-fashioned German protestant communities who (mostly) left the present behind sometime in the 1700s. The Mennonites are akin to the more famous Amish. Formed out of German reformation thinking, they eschew most worldly goods, vanities and excesses for a simple life that is closer to their god. They live in distinct, even segregated, communities. We passed through one on the way from Indian Church to Orange Walk. Rows of prim, grey wooden houses, pinched white curtains at the windows, look out in orderly fashion across tidy fields with the occasional evergreen hedge for decoration. Horse-drawn buggies canter along the road, except when parked up under the veranda, and form the dominant traffic challenged only by the occasional Hispanic pick-up. Men and boys where work shirts, jeans and braces or dungarees and straw hats. Women wear loose dark dresses that come below the knee, and scarves or wide-brimmed straw hats.

Not all Mennonites are the same. While some refuse all modern inventions, so travelling by foot, buggy or bicycle, others drive cars and have mobile phones. In the north they wear more cowboy-like upturned hats, in the west the brims turn down. Some are clean-shaven while others have beards as shaving is a sign of bodily vanity.

The Mennonites are in Belize by invitation, arriving in 1962 from Canada after the Canadian government decided all residents had to be citizens. The pacifist, non-aligned Mennonites give no allegiance to secular nation states resulting in some problems up north. Belize needed skilled input to kick start its agricultural production and asked the Mennonites to come along. They now control something like 80% of all Belizean beef, dairy, poultry and egg production, as well as being major house builders.

Mennonites 2

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