Tuesday, September 8, 2009

St. George's caye dubbed National Historical Landmark

View of sea from palapa....
Bar and grill at St. georges Caye
This year marks the 211th anniversary of the Battle of St. George’s Caye!

Belize has hundreds of cayes offshore, but the one that stands out for its historical significance is St. George’s Caye – said to be the country’s first capital and the fort from which the Baymen, in the late 18th century, forced the Spaniards to desist from attempts to remove the land now known as Belize from the grips of British pirates and buccaneers. Belize eventually became a British colony and later an independent country.

Recitals of these historical highlights flood the annual September celebrations, and this year, organizers took things one step further, by formally declaring that St. George’s Caye, also once known as Kitchen Caye (or Cosina Cayo) is a “national historical landmark.” The declaration was made by chairman of the September Celebrations Committee, Manuel Heredia, Jr., Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation, at the opening ceremonies for the annual September celebrations, held for the first time on the island, which the minister said had been used by logwood cutters. Guests to the event arrived via a 150-passenger catamaran, Betty M, and the Reef Rocket; and the event was held on what was once the island’s cemetery – a 19th century memorial tombstone was visible near the tents that accommodated the visitors.

Among the guests were Governor-General, Sir Colville Young; Commissioner of Police, Crispin Jeffries, Sr.; Minister of State in the Ministry of Works, Edmond “Clear the Land” Castro, as well as Queen of the Bay, Karima Card, and the 10 delegates who will compete for her crown in the pageant to be held at the Belize City Center this coming Saturday. In presenting the welcome address, John Searle, Jr., resident of the island and chairman of the Community Council of St. George’s Caye, commended organizers for the recognition of the location said to be the country’s first capital (spanning the era of 1650 to the 1780’s).

Minister Heredia presented Searle with an oversized plaque, courtesy of the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) and the Institute of Archaeology, declaring St. George’s Caye a “national historical landmark.” The minister said that this year’s celebration is especially meaningful and rewarding, because of the bestowment to St. George’s Caye of the status of historical landmark – a long overdue recognition, he said. Dr. James Garber, professor in anthropology at the Texas State University (San Marcos), and Dr. Jaime Awe, director of the Institute of Archaeology in Belize, made presentations on the historical significance of St. George’s Caye.
According to Dr. Awe, 128 men met in Old Belize Town to decide the fate of Belize, and by a 14-vote majority, they chose to stay and defend the territory. A year, three months and ten days later came the Battle of St. George’s Caye, Awe added. He called the battle a “defining moment in the history of Belize,” which “should never be erased by historical revisionism.” The one incontrovertible aftermath is that the Spanish never attempted to reclaim the territory again, said Awe, adding that that decision bequeathed the land as ours. Garber agreed that while the Battle of St. George’s Caye of 1798 has been portrayed in many different ways, the 2 ½-hour long battle over 200 years ago was the Spaniards’ last attempt to challenge British possession of the settlement.

He noted that a 1764 map of the crescent-shaped landmark island is printed on Belize’s $5 bill (the reverse side). Burnaby’s Code – which had 12 points and a preamble – was signed on the island in 1765 and could be considered Belize’s first constitution, said Garber, adding that the code began to be supplanted by English law around 1840. (According to Heredia, the code prevailed until Belize became a colony of Britain in 1862.) Speaking of the location of the ceremonies, Garber said the majority of Belizeans are related either by blood or by marriage to those buried beneath the surface of the old cemetery. He pointed to names such as Eve Broaster - a woman who was brought from Africa and who seemingly retained her traditional spiritual rites and never converted to Christianity.

After the formalities were over, there were cultural presentations by Richard Pitts, Jr., on saxophone, Bea Armstrong – the winner of this year’s patriotic song competition, and Francis Reneau and his ensemble of instrumentalists. At the opening ceremonies, Zelda Wade Hill of Roaring Creek received $1,000 for winning the theme competition, and submitting the top pick of 75 entries. Hill is credited as the author of this year’s theme: “Diverse origins, common aspirations – together we celebrate as Belizeans.” Co-chair of the September Celebrations Committee, Diane Haylock, president of NICH, unveiled the new logo, which she said would form the template for each year’s celebrations, as well as the full-color playbill for the celebrations, listing events to take place over the next 21 days in all 9 municipalities, and a wall calendar of the September celebrations.
According to Haylock, the idea is to continue to use St. George’s Caye as the site for the launch of the annual September celebrations. Heredia noted that the intention is to spread the official ceremonies across all three historic capitals: starting on September 1 with the inaugural ceremony on the former island capital of St. George’s Caye; moving next with the official 10th of September ceremonies to coastal metropolis of Belize City, said to be the second capital; and then to the current inland capital – Belmopan, where the national Independence Day ceremonies are due to be held, commemorating the 28th anniversary of Belize’s independence from Britain. This year marks the 211th anniversary of the Battle of St. George’s Caye! (Article re-published from Amandala)

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