The small, Caribbean nation of Belize celebrates on every September 10 its victory over Spain in the sea battle of Saint George’s Caye.
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The battle occurred in 1798 and lasted from the 3rd until the 10th of September, though the main and final action was on the 10th. Saint George’s Caye Day begins an extended period of patriotic festivities in Belize, which culminate in Belize’s Independence Day on September 21st.
Belize was long the home of various groups of Mayan Indians before the beginning of the Colonial Era, and it came to be regarded as Spanish territory following the early New World conquests of Spain after 1492. However, Spain did not see the area of Belize as particularly valuable and never got around to settling it. The British took advantage of this omission in the 1630’s and began harvesting lumber, including mahogany, from a small settlement on the Belize coast. A longstanding dispute between Spain and Britain ensued, and the Spaniards attempted to dislodge the settlers six times.
In 1798, their final attempt to extend control over the area was made when a fleet and army left from Mexico and sailed to Belize coast. The local woodcutters, known as “Baymen,” along with freed African slaves and pirates fought on board British ships that had recently arrived from Jamaica to save the colony. There was a coming together of Belize’s ethnically diverse population to defend the homeland, and this theme of unity continues to be a major part of Saint George’s Caye Day celebrations to the present time. The battle ultimately came down to an attempt by the Spanish ships to force their way into Saint George’s Caye to land and seize the colony. They failed, despite the fact that highly trained Spanish professionals were fighting a rather ragtag assortment on the British side. The British were also badly outnumbered and outgunned, but the utter tenacity of the settlers prevented their losing their homeland to the Spanish invaders.
Should you be in Belize for Saint George’s Caye Day, you will find there are many opportunities to attend educational and entertainment-focused events relating to Belize’s history and culture. You may also want to get out and see the natural beauty of the country. Some activities to consider taking part in include:
- Visit San Pedro, the town near Saint George’s Caye where a “Battle of Saint George’s Caye Regatta” is held every year. There will be a boat contest involving children from all over the country, beach parties, musical performaces, a fishing tournament, a kids’ bicycle race, a tug of war, a marching band and parade, the coronation of “Miss San Pedro,” and plenty of food and drinks to keep you interested all day long.
- See the Belize Barrier Reef, which runs along the entire coast and contains a plethora of sea life, which you can view up close via snorkeling or scuba diving. A trip to this magnificent coral reef is a virtually “requirement” when visiting Belize.
- Tour the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. The Cockscomb Mountains are so named because they resemble the ragged comb of a rooster, and you can see them on the edge of the park. You will also see remnants of ancient Mayan culture at Pearce Ruin, Hun Tul Mo, and Xaa Yul Ha. The most significant thing about the reserve, however, is that it is a haven for jaguars.
Saint George’s Caye Day is a prelude to Independence Day in Belize, but it also has many celebrations of its own, and the off-work day is used by many in the country to get out and see the natural beauty that surrounds them.