Professional Blindness And Missing The Mark ~ The Historical Analysis Of Four Major Crises During The First Two Decades Of The Republic Of Indonesia

OmslagHoltzappel

Within a few days we will begin publishing Professional Blindness And Missing The Mark ~ The Historical Analysis Of Four Major Crises During The First Two Decades Of The Republic Of Indonesia. The paperback edition will be available within a few weeks.

This book contains six captivating articles about decisive moments in the first two decennia of the Republic of Indonesia’s existence (1945-1965); one per chapter with an introduction. They were presented at the memorial in honor of professor Wim Wertheim’s centennial birthday in 2008 – the doyen of post-war Dutch Indonesia research.

Each chapter explores a significant event from that era and was written by experienced researchers – Mary van Delden, Saskia Wieringa, Ben White, Pieter Drooglever and Coen Holtzappel – making use of source material that for the most part has been neglected by previous research. The analyses of the material reveal the new Republic’s struggle to bring together, and keep together, the colonial heritage of the Dutch East Indies in one independent and productive Republic of Indonesia. The foundation of a domestically, across the archipelago, and internationally accepted national government, as well as obedient regional governments and obliging armed forces, were deciding factors in this struggle.

Violent confrontations between armed forces and the communist party PKI took place in 1948 during the Indonesian National Revolution, as well as in 1965 after the Republic had already been independent for 14 years. The dividing issue was the power balance between politics and army top in state, government and land. A rigorous break with the past was made in 1965, which saw the installation of a junta regime under the leadership of General Soeharto that stayed in place for the following 32 years. Democracy had to wait until the army top made sure every part of politics and armed forces was finely adapted to work with the other. Not until then would the clock of government, production and control be fully set.

The articles reveal a blind spot in Western research of Indonesian developments in the discussed period; research that from 1965 onward was further, and permanently, influenced by the Indonesian army’s view. The Cold War raged domestically as well as abroad.

Contents

Coen Holtzappel – Preface
Mary van Delden – Internees from the Republic
Coen Holtzappel – The year 1948 and the Madiun affairs, a year of cheat and rumours
Pieter Drooglever – Papua Nationalism. Another blind spot
Coen Holtzappel – The Thirtieth September Movement of 1965, as viewed by the perpetrators
Saskia Eleonora Wieringa – Sexual Slander And The 1965/66 Mass Killings In Indonesia: Political And Methodological Considerations
Ben White – The anthropologist’s blind spot: Clifford Geertz on class, killings and communists in Indonesia
Coen Holtzappel & Pieter Drooglever – Postscript
About the authors

 

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Professional Blindness And Missing The Mark ~ Sexual Slander And The 1965/66 Mass Killings In Indonesia: Political And Methodological Considerations

OmslagHoltzappelABSTRACT. Indonesia has been haunted by the ‘‘spectre of communism’’ since the putsch by military officers on 1 October 1965. That event saw the country’s top brass murdered and the military attributing this putsch to the Communist Party. The genocide that followed was triggered by a campaign of sexual slander. This led to the real coup and the replacement of President Sukarno by General Suharto. Today, accusations about communism continue to play a major role in public life and state control remains shored up by control over women’s bodies.

This article introduces the putsch and the socialist women’s organisation Gerwani, members of which were, at the time, accused of sexual debauchery. The focus is on the question of how Gerwani was portrayed in the aftermath of the putsch and how this affects the contemporary women’s movement.

It is found that women’s political agency has been restricted, being associated with sexual debauchery and social turmoil. State women’s organisations were set up and women’s organisations forced to help build a ‘‘stable’’ society, based on women’s subordination. The more independent women’s groups were afraid to be labelled ‘‘new Gerwani’’ as that would unleash strong state repression. This article assesses the implications of these events for the post-1998 period of Reformasi and reviews some recent analyses of 1965, state terrorism and violence and reveals blind spots in dealing with gender and sexual politics. It is argued that the slander against Gerwani is downplayed in these analyses. In fact, this slander was the spark without which the bloodbath would not have happened and would not have acquired its gruesome significance.

KEY WORDS: Sexual politics, communism, nationalism, Indonesia, women’s movement, gender

In March 2009 campaigning for the parliamentary elections was in full swing.
Nursyahbani Katjasungkana, a popular member of parliament and candidate for the Muslim party Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB or National Awakening Party), in addition to being a well-known human rights lawyer and feminist activist, was campaigning in the district of Banyuwangi, in East Java, unfamiliar territory for her.[1] Her adversaries mounted a gossip campaign, spreading the rumour that she defended the illegal Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI). The association this allegation was supposed to evoke was that she was an atheist, opposing the clerical elite of the region, fighting for women’s interests and, in general, looking for trouble.

These are serious issues, considering that the PKB is an offshoot of the Nahdlatul Ulema (NU), one of the two largest Muslim organisations in the country. Banyuwangi is considered one of NU’s strongholds, with many Muslim boarding schools (pesantren ) scattered across its vast area. The kyai , leaders of these pesantren , are the backbone of the NU. This was not the first time Nursyahbani Katjasungkana had been associated with the PKI or with one of its mass organisations. In December 1998, six months after the fall of General Suharto, the first national feminist conference since 1965 was held, in Yogyakarta. NKS, as she is popularly known, chaired the conference at which the Indonesian Women’s Congress (Kongres Perempuan Indonesia or KPI) was established. This was the first feminist mass organisation since the destruction of Gerwani . At the time, NKS was accused of being ‘‘Gerwani baru ’’ or a new Gerwani member. That term was reiterated by the then Minister of Women’s Affairs, Tuti Alifiah in a Cabinet meeting in 1999, where she discussed her worries about the establishment of the KPI (NKS, personal communication, April 2009).

Only a few months earlier, when General Suharto was still in power, such an accusation could land one in serious trouble. But even in December 1999, with reformasi proclaimed, mention of Gerwani caused considerable unrest. At the congress, Ibu Sulami, a former secretary of the national leadership of Gerwani, spoke about Gerwani , its history and destruction. This was the first time Ibu Sulami had addressed a public meeting, having been imprisoned for 17 years.[2] Many participants were shocked by what she said, having believed the absurd lies the Suharto regime had spread about Gerwani ’s alleged involvement in the murder of the generals who were killed in the early morning of 1 October 1965.[3] Because of the presence of Ibu Sulami, the delegates of Aisyah , the women’s organisation of the Muhammadiyah, the other large Indonesian Muslim mass organisation, withdrew in protest.
Few events have impacted Indonesian modern history more deeply than the mass murders of 1965/66 which eventually led to the establishment of the New Order under President Suharto. Yet what triggered these mass murders has mostly been hidden under deep layers of fear, guilt, horror and shame. Clearly the trauma of the ‘‘events of 1965,’’ as they are commonly referred to, is still playing an important role in the national imagination. Other than in countries like South Africa, Chile, Cambodia, Argentina and Rwanda, where processes of truth finding have led to some reconciliation, in Indonesia there still has not been a national process aimed at finding truth.[4]

Many issues remain unclear, such as the role Suharto himself played and the extent of the genocide unleashed by the military assisted by religious and, in some cases, conservative nationalist forces. At the local level, some careful efforts at reconciliation are being made by the members of Syarikat Islam (Muslim Association), set up in Yogyakarta in 2003. This process means that young people are being confronted with the mysterious pasts of their parents which have created insurmountable rifts between the families of the killers and of their victims. At the very emotional meeting when Syarikat Islam was launched, members of Ansor , the youth movement of the NU, confessed to having butchered PKI members in 1965. In tears they declared they thought they had been doing the right thing at the time, ‘‘cleansing’’ society from the perceived communist evil. In any case, they said, they had had little choice as they had acted under threat of the military. [5]

The hatred and fear of Gerwani are still so strong that the shooting of Lastri, a film based on a series of interviews with ex-Gerwani members, but with a more romantic fictional story line, was prohibited (Nadia, 2007). Early in 2009, after protests by members of the Surakarta branch of the Front Pembela Islam (FPI or Muslim Defender’s Front) a right-wing Muslim militia group, the mayor of that city forbade Eros Djarot, the director, to shoot the film on location. The arguments used by the FPI were that the film would violate the rights of the Muslim community. The film was seen to be part of a propaganda strategy to create sympathy for communism. A press statement published by the FPI declared further that this was a similar propaganda strategy as the Jews used to enhance sympathy for Israel by stressing the suffering of the many Holocaust victims. The FPI noted that films have a great potential to sway the minds of people, particularly when they contain a love story.
FPI strongly opposed the views of the director that the present beliefs of what happened at Lubang Buaya, the field where the army officers were killed, were just a fairy tale.[6] As will be explained, Gerwani members present when the generals were murdered were falsely accused of sexually torturing them. The film tried to debunk these fabrications. The inhabitants of Karanganyar, where the shooting of the film was to take place, joined the protests and demanded that permission for the filming be withdrawn.[7] Later, students of the Himpunan Mahasiswa Islam Bogor (HMI Bogor or Muslim Students Union) expressed their solidarity with the protesters. Read more

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The Ndebele Nation

wilrotours.co.za

Ndebele home

With an Introduction by Milton Keynes
The Ndebele of Zimbabwe, who today constitute about twenty percent of the population of the country, have a very rich and heroic history. It is partly this rich history that constitutes a resource that reinforces their memories and sense of a particularistic identity and distinctive nation within a predominantly Shona speaking country. It is also partly later developments ranging from the colonial violence of 1893-4 and 1896-7 (Imfazo 1 and Imfazo 2); Ndebele evictions from their land under the direction of the Rhodesian colonial settler state; recurring droughts in Matabeleland; ethnic forms taken by Zimbabwean nationalism; urban events happening around the city of Bulawayo; the state-orchestrated and ethnicised violence of the 1980s targeting the Ndebele community, which became known as Gukurahundi; and other factors like perceptions and realities of frustrated economic development in Matabeleland together with ever-present threats of repetition of Gukurahundi-style violence—that have contributed to the shaping and re-shaping of Ndebele identity within Zimbabwe.

The Ndebele history is traced from the Ndwandwe of Zwide and the Zulu of Shaka. The story of how the Ndebele ended up in Zimbabwe is explained in terms of the impact of the Mfecane—a nineteenth century revolution marked by the collapse of the earlier political formations of Mthethwa, Ndwandwe, and Ngwane kingdoms replaced by new ones of the Zulu under Shaka, the Sotho under Moshweshwe, and others built out of Mfecane refugees and asylum seekers. The revolution was also characterized by violence and migration that saw some Nguni and Sotho communities burst asunder and fragmenting into fleeing groups such as the Ndebele under Mzilikazi Khumalo, the Kololo under Sebetwane, the Shangaans under Soshangane, the Ngoni under Zwangendaba, and the Swazi under Queen Nyamazana. Out of these migrations emerged new political formations like the Ndebele state, that eventually inscribed itself by a combination of coercion and persuasion in the southwestern part of the Zimbabwean plateau in 1839-1840. The migration and eventual settlement of the Ndebele in Zimbabwe is also part of the historical drama that became intertwined with another dramatic event of the migration of the Boers from Cape Colony into the interior in what is generally referred to as the Great Trek, that began in 1835. It was military clashes with the Boers that forced Mzilikazi and his followers to migrate across the Limpopo River into Zimbabwe.

As a result of the Ndebele community’s dramatic history of nation construction, their association with such groups as the Zulu of South Africa renowned for their military prowess, their heroic migration across the Limpopo, their foundation of a nation out of Nguni, Sotho, Tswana, Kalanga, Rozvi and ‘Shona’ groups, and their practice of raiding that they attracted enormous interest from early white travellers, missionaries and early anthropologists. This interest in the life and history of the Ndebele produced different representations, ranging from the Ndebele as an indomitable ‘martial tribe’ ranking alongside the Zulu, Maasai and Kikuyu, who also attracted the attention of early white literary observers, as ‘warriors’ and militaristic groups. This resulted in a combination of exoticisation and demonization that culminated in the Ndebele earning many labels such as ‘bloodthirsty destroyers’ and ‘noble savages’ within Western colonial images of Africa.

Ndebele History
With the passage of time, the Ndebele themselves played up to some of the earlier characterizations as they sought to build a particular identity within an environment in which they were surrounded by numerically superior ‘Shona’ communities. The warrior identity suited Ndebele hegemonic ideologies. Their Shona neighbours also contributed to the image of the Ndebele as the militaristic and aggressive ‘other’. Within this discourse, the Shona portrayed themselves as victims of Ndebele raiders who constantly went away with their livestock and women—disrupting their otherwise orderly and peaceful lives. A mythology thus permeates the whole spectrum of Ndebele history, fed by distortions and exaggerations of Ndebele military prowess, the nature of Ndebele governance institutions, and the general way of life.

My interest is primarily in unpacking and exploding the mythology within Ndebele historiography while at the same time making new sense of Ndebele hegemonic ideologies. My intention is to inform the broader debate on pre-colonial African systems of governance, the conduct of politics, social control, and conceptions of human security. Therefore, the book  The Ndebele Nation (see: below) delves deeper into questions of how Ndebele power was constructed, how it was institutionalized and broadcast across people of different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. These issues are examined across the pre-colonial times up to the mid-twentieth century, a time when power resided with the early Rhodesian colonial state. I touch lightly on the question of whether the violent transition from an Ndebele hegemony to a Rhodesia settler colonial hegemony was in reality a transition from one flawed and coercive regime to another. Broadly speaking this book is an intellectual enterprise in understanding political and social dynamics that made pre-colonial Ndebele states tick; in particular, how power and authority were broadcast and exercised, including the nature of state-society relations.

What emerges from the book is that while the pre-colonial Ndebele state began as an imposition on society of Khumalo and Zansi hegemony, the state simultaneously pursued peaceful and ideological ways of winning the consent of the governed. This became the impetus for the constant and ongoing drive for ‘democratization,’ so as contain and displace the destructive centripetal forces of rebellion and subversion. Within the Ndebele state, power was constructed around a small Khumalo clan ruling in alliance with some dominant Nguni (Zansi) houses over a heterogeneous nation on the Zimbabwean plateau. The key question is how this small Khumalo group in alliance with the Zansi managed to extend their power across a majority of people of non-Nguni stock. Earlier historians over-emphasized military coercion as though violence was ever enough as a pillar of nation-building. In this book I delve deeper into a historical interrogation of key dynamics of state formation and nation-building, hegemony construction and inscription, the style of governance, the creation of human rights spaces and openings, and human security provision, in search of those attributes that made the Ndebele state tick and made it survive until it was destroyed by the violent forces of Rhodesian settler colonialism.

The book takes a broad revisionist approach involving systematic revisiting of earlier scholarly works on the Ndebele experiences in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and critiquing them. A critical eye is cast on interpretation and making sense of key Ndebele political and social concepts and ideas that do not clearly emerge in existing literature. Throughout the book, the Ndebele historical experiences are consistently discussed in relation to a broad range of historiography and critical social theories of hegemony and human rights, and post-colonial discourses are used as tools of analysis.

Empirically and thematically, the book focuses on the complex historical processes involving the destruction of the autonomy of the decentralized Khumalo clans, their dispersal from their coastal homes in Nguniland, and the construction of Khumalo hegemony that happened in tandem with the formation of the Ndebele state in the midst of the Mfecane revolution. It further delves deeper into the examination of the expansion and maturing of the Ndebele State into a heterogeneous settled nation north of the Limpopo River. The colonial encounter with the Ndebele state dating back to the 1860s culminating in the imperialist violence of the 1890s and the subsequent colonization of the Ndebele in 1897 is also subjected to consistent analysis in this book.

What is evident is that the broad spectrum of Ndebele history was shot through with complex ambiguities and contradictions that have so far not been subjected to serious scholarly analysis. These ambiguities include tendencies and practices of domination versus resistance as the Ndebele rebelled against both pre-colonial African despots like Zwide and Shaka as well as against Rhodesian settler colonial conquest. The Ndebele fought to achieve domination, material security, political autonomy, cultural and political independence, social justice, human dignity, and tolerant governance even within their state in the face of a hegemonic Ndebele ruling elite that sought to maintain its political dominance and material privileges through a delicate combination of patronage, accountability, exploitation, and limited coercion.

The overarching analytical perspective is centred on the problem of the relation between coercion and consent during different phases of Ndebele history up to their encounter with colonialism. Major shifts from clan to state, migration to settlement, and single ethnic group to multi-ethnic society are systematically analyzed with the intention of revealing the concealed contradictions, conflict, tension, and social cleavages that permitted conquest, desertions, raiding, assimilation, domination, and exploitation, as well as social security, communalism, and tolerance. These ideologies, practices and values combined and co-existed uneasily, periodically and tendentiously within the Ndebele society. They were articulated in varied and changing idioms, languages and cultural traditions, and underpinned by complex institutions.

Wikipedy.com

Cecil John Rhodes

The book also demonstrates how the Ndebele cherished their cultural and political independence to the extent of responding violently to equally violent imperialist forces which were intolerant of their sovereignty and cultural autonomy. The fossilisation of tensions between the Ndebele and agents of Western modernity revolved around notions of rights, modes of worshiping God (religion and spirituality), concepts of social status, contestations over gender relations, and general Ndebele modes of political rule. Within the Ndebele state religious, political, judiciary and economic powers were embodied within the kingship, and the Christian missionaries wanted to separate the spiritual/religious power from the political power. This threatened Ndebele hegemony and was inevitably resisted by the Ndebele kingship. In the end, the British imperialists together with their local agents like Cecil John Rhodes, Charles Rudd, John Smith Moffat, Charles Helm and many others, reached a consensus to use open violence on the Ndebele state so as to destroy it and replace it with a colonial state amenable to Western interests and Christian religion. The invasion, conquest and colonisation of the Ndebele became a tale of unprovoked violence and looting of Ndebele material wealth, particularly cattle, in the period 1893 to1897.

The book ends by grappling with some of the complex ambiguities and contradictions of the colonial encounter and the equally ambiguous Ndebele reactions to early colonial rule during the first quarter of the twentieth century. Thus, from a longer-term perspective, the issues raised in this book have important resonance with current concerns around nation building, power construction, democratization, sovereignty, legitimacy, and violence in Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular.

Milton Keynes, United Kingdom, February 2008 Read more

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Jan Briffaerts – When Congo Wants To Go To School. Educational Realities In A Colonial Context

Playground Girls School Sainte Thérèse in Coquilhatville, 1950s.

Playground Girls School Sainte Thérèse in Coquilhatville, 1950s.

Rozenberg Quarterly will publish on paper and online:
Jan BriffaertsWhen Congo wants to go to school. Educational realities in a colonial context.  An investigation into educational practices in primary education in the Belgian Congo (1925-1960) – Pb – 420 pag. – € 39,50 – ISBN 978 90 3610 144 8 – 2014

The education system in the Congo was widely considered to be one of the best in colonial Africa, in particular because of its broad reach among the Congolese youth. At independence however, the wake-up call was brutal as soon it became clear that the colonial educational system had neglected to form an educated class of people able to cope with administrating one of Africa’s biggest and economically most important countries. To be able to understand the mechanisms and effects of missionary education it is most enlightening to go back to the classroom and investigate the everyday reality of school. What did missionary education do exactly, how did it work, what did it teach, and how did it relate to its subjects, the children of the Congo?

This study gives clear insights into the everyday realities of colonial education. It is the result of historical research into educational practices and realities in catholic missionary schools in the Tshuapa region, located in the south of the Congolese province of Equateur. It is based on a rich array of historical source material, ranging from missionary archives and mission periodicals through to contemporary literature and interviews with missionnaries and former pupils who experienced colonial education themselves. The title, “When Congo wants to go to school… ” refers to one of many articles published in Belgian mission periodicals on the subject of the education and civilisation work carried out by missionaries in the Belgian colony.

The complete book now online:
Introduction & A Few Preliminary Remarks
Educational Organisation In The Belgian Congo (1908-1958)
The Missionaries And The Belgian Congo: Preparation, Ideas And Conceptions Of The Missionaries
Catholic Missions In The Tshuapa Region

Part II – Realities
The Educational Climate
Educational Comfort
The Subject Matter
Educational Practices

Part III – Acti Cesa
The Short Term: Reactions
The Long Term: Memories
As Justification And Conclusion
Appendices & Bibliography

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When Congo Wants To Go To School – Introduction & A Few Preliminary Remarks

BriffaertsThe research project that formed the foundation for this study grew from a few existing lines of research. On the one hand it relates to research on the so-called Belgian civilisation project in the Congo, on the other to research into the micro-history of education in Belgium. Both my promoter and I have some experience in research into colonial education. Marc Depaepe’s work on the colonial phenomenon grew out of a representative, personal connection to it. As with many Flemish people, the colonial past was a part of his family history. The letters from his great aunt, Sister Maria Adonia Depaepe, a missionary in the Congo between 1909 and 1961, which he later published, are a testimony to this.[1] Her personal documents were published as part of a project on the history of education, more specifically the missionary action of the Belgians in the former colony. The result was a general study at a macro level based on the theory of historical education, focussing in on the educational policy and institutional development of colonial education.[2] At about the time this book was published I was writing an extended paper in the framework of the “Historische kritiek” (tr. Historical criticism) lectures in the history department at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels. The subject of my paper was the “school struggle” in the nineteen fifties in the Belgian Congo. This paper really related to a part of political history and the political players behind colonial education, particularly in Belgium and to a limited extent the Belgian Congo.[3] Some years later the content of the paper was presented at a colloquium on 50 years of the school pact (2nd and 3rd December 1998, V.U.B.) and published in the resulting conference notes.[4] Read more

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The Belizean Garifuna ~ Organization Of Identity In An Ethnic Community In Central America

If the world had any ends, British Honduras would certainly be one of them. It is not on the way from anywhere to anywhere else’ (Aldous Huxley 1984:21).
When I had to do fieldwork in the Caribbean region for my final research several years ago, someone from the department of cultural Anthropology in Utrecht in the Netherlands asked me why I didn’t go to Belize. My answer to his question was at that time quite significant: ‘Belize??’  I had no idea where it was and could not picture it at all.
Libraries that I visited in the Netherlands hardly provided any solace. Most of the books on Central America hardly mentioned Belize. Booth and Walker describe the position of the country as follows in ‘Understanding Central-America’: ‘Though Belize is technically Central America, that English-speaking microstate has a history that is fairly distinct from that of the other states in the region. At present this tiny republic, which only became formally independent from Great-Britain in 1981, does not figure significantly in the ‘Central American’ problem’ (1993:3).

Multi-Ethnic Belize
The fact that Belize receives little attention in literature on Central America underlines the peripheral position of the country in this region. Some authors qualify it as part of the Caribbean world; others primarily see Belize as a member of the British Commonwealth. Besides that it is also seen as part of the Central American context. The Formation of a colonial Society (1977) by the English sociologist Nigel O. Bolland was the first scientific work on Belize that I was able to acquire. The Belize Guide (1989) by Paul Glassman provided me with a tourist orientated view of this ‘wonderland of strange people and things’ (Glassman 1989:1). Collecting sustaining literature was and remains a tiresome adventure. Slowly but surely my list of literature expanded.
My knowledge of the region was limited. Reactions from others also confirmed that Belize is a country with a slight reputation. For example, I still remember being corrected by someone from a travel agency. After asking the gentleman if a direct flight to Belize existed, he answered somewhat pityingly: ‘Sir, you must mean Benin´. In my circle of friends, Belize also turned out to be unheard of. The neighboring countries Guatemala and Mexico are better known. An important reason for this is that the media informs people of the most important happenings in these countries. This information is often clarified using maps of the area on which Guatemala and Mexico, but also Belize, are marked. Nonetheless, time and time again Belize turns out to be a country that does not appeal to the imagination.
The comments I heard from tourists coming in from Mexico or Guatemala are notable. ´This is a culture shock´, ´where are the Indians´, ´this doesn´t look at all like Central America´, ´it´s surprising how well you can get by with English here, that was not like that at all in Mexico´. Many of the tourists that come from Mexico quickly go through Belize city on their way to one of the islands off the coast of Belize where they relax for a few days before going to Guatemala. Most of the tourists coming into Belize from Tikal (Guatemala) spend a night in San Ignacio, comment on the fact that everything is so expensive, and quickly travel on to Chetumal (Mexico) the next day.
Belize is a country that lies hidden between two countries with a certain reputation. I do not really think that it is an exaggeration to state that Belize is something of a fictitious end of the world, as formulated by Huxley. In order to obtain an impression of the country, in which this research took place, the next section gives a general idea of the topographic and climatic characteristics. Besides that, the compilation of the population, the constitutional and political situation, the economic position, the religious context and the multi-lingual structure of the country are discussed successively. Furthermore, it is essential to provide an outline of the historic context in which the various ethnic groups in Belize have taken in their place. In other words: How has this country come to be so multi-ethnic?

Belize, A Central American Country on the Periphery
On 21 September 1981, the former British Honduras becomes independent. This date is the formal end of a process of independence that took seventeen years. In 1964, British Honduras of the time received the right to an internal self-government and in 1973 the name of the country was changed to Belize. With an area of 22,965 km2, Belize is the second smallest country in Central America. El Salvador is smaller (21,393 km2), but has considerably more inhabitants with it’s population of 5.889,000. According to the census of 1991, Belize has just 189,392 (Central Statistical Office 1992). This comes down to eight inhabitants per square kilometer, whereas El Salvador has 275 inhabitants per square kilometer. With that, the two countries are each other’s opposites in Central America, Belize is the most sparsely populated and El Salvador the most densely.

Google Images

Belize

Geography
Belize borders on Mexico in the north, on Guatemala in the west and the south, and on the east the country borders on the Caribbean Sea. The area along the coast consists mostly of marshland with dense mangrove forests, mouths of rivers, lagoons and, every now and again, a sandy beach. Countless small and large rivers, that have played a crucial part in the infrastructure throughout the centuries, run through the country. Much of the wood chopped in the inland found and finds its way towards its destination at the coast via these waterways. It can rain abundantly in Belize in the months May to November, especially in the south, and then the waterways swell up to become rapid rivers.

Climate
The climatic conditions in Belize vary from tropical in the south to subtropical in the north. The climate is warm and the temperature varies between twenty-seven and forty degrees Celsius. It was especially the humidity, with an average of 85% in the southern part of the country that drew heavily on the physical condition of this researcher. The country officially has two seasons. The dry season, that lasts from November to June, and the wet season from June to November. During the wet season, tropical depressions regularly develop in the Caribbean region that reveal themselves as hurricanes. For this reason, this season is also called the hurricane season. This destructive force of nature has hit Belize several times in this century. The hurricanes of 1931, 1955 and 1961 have not failed to leave behind a trail of disaster.

The season in which it is relatively dryer than the rest of the year takes up a few months in the north (February to May), while in the south it only lasts several weeks (Dobson 1973:4). In fact, there is no telling what the weather will do in Belize. A Belizean friend of mine says the following on this matter: ‘We have two seasons here, a dry and a wet season; they generally take place on one and the same day’. Read more

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