Mennonites in Belize form different religious bodies and come from different ethnic backgrounds. There are groups of Mennonites living in Belize, who are quite traditional and conservative (e. g. in Shipyard and Upper Barton Creek), while others have modernized to various degrees (e. g. in Spanish Lookout and Blue Creek).
There were 4961 members as of 2014, but the total number including children and young unbaptized adults was around 12,000. Of these some 10,000 were ethnic Mennonites, most of them "Russian" Mennonites, who speak Plautdietsch, a Low German dialect. In addition to this, there were another 2,000 mostly Kriol and Mestizo Belizeans who had converted to Mennonitism.
The Friesian and Flemish ancestors of the vast majority of Belizean Mennonites settled in the Vistula delta (Poland) 1600-1791 then South Russia 1791 - 1873. In the years after 1873 some 11,000 left the Russian Empire and settled in Manitoba, Canada and an equal number went to the US. The more conservative ones left Canada between 1922 and 1925 and settled in Mexico. In the years after 1958 some 1,700 Mennonites from the Mexican settlements moved to what was then British Honduras. Mennonites from El Salvador moved to Belize during civil war. The so-called "Russian Mennonites" speak Plautdietsch in everyday life among themselves. There are also some hundred Pennsylvania German speaking Old Order Mennonites who came from the USA and Canada in the late 1960s and settle now in Upper Barton Creek and daughter settlements.
Mennonites are easily identified by their clothing, except from the ones who have modernized to a large degree or have never been traditional, because they have converted in recent times. The women wear bonnets and long dresses while the men wear denim overalls and hats. The men may wear traditional suspenders and dark trousers. The women wear brightly colored dresses. In many of the Mennonite communities there is a softening of the old tradition. In Upper Barton Creek and daughter settlements, men and women dress similar to the Old Order Amish. Both Old Colony Mennonites and Noah Hoover Mennonites use horse drawn buggies for transportation, but only the Noah Hoovers also till fields with horse drawn implements.
Traditional Mennonites conduct burial services mainly in German, but with some parts in English so that visitors can take part. They use bibles like other Christians. The caskets are made of plain lumber which is lined with white cloth inside and black cloth outside. Expensive caskets are not used. A portion of the shoulder remains open during the service. After the rites the whole congregation files orderly to the front of the church to pay their last respect. In Spanish Lookout, members and friends of the deceased address the congregation after the obituary has been read. Tombs are not used, but a cross marks the name and spot. Before returning the body to the earth, hymns are sung. Members of the community take turns shoveling the earth until the burial is complete. After that the community comes together and feasts on bread, sausages and coffee with the bereaved family.
Weddings usually start with courtship and last for six months to a year. The boy's parents ask the girl's father for permission. After that the parents get together and set wedding dates. The penultimate Saturday evening before the wedding is called "Falafnes" (Standard German: "Verlöbnis"). On this event, the friend of the bride and the groom share the bible reading. Weddings are performed on Sundays. They usually consist of two ministers, one to explain the meaning of matrimony and the other to do the blessings. Gifts given are usually tools and household items.
Mennonites from the Noah Hoover group in Upper Barton Creek and daughter settlements are extremely restrictive concerning the use of motors and electricity, that is, both motors and electricity are forbidden in the settlement by the members of the group. Their clothing is very similar to the Old Order Amish, and men wear beards like the Amish. Therefore, they are often perceived as Amish and called Amish, even though this is not the case. This has caused some confusion.
The Mennonites have made it a point to have their own school, church, and financial institution in their community.
The vast majority, more than 95%, of ethnic Mennonites in Belize speak Plautdietsch in everyday life. A small minority of very conservative Mennonites that came from North America mostly in the second half of the 1960s speak Pennsylvania German instead. Both groups use Standard German for reading the Bible, in school and in Church. English and Belizean Spanish are used mainly by men for communication outside their communities, Belizean Spanish is also spoken by descendants of Mexican Mennonites and Salvadoran Mennonites. Almost all Mennonites from churches who do outreach in Belize, e. g. Beachy Amish Mennonites, speak mainly English. Mennonites from other ethnic backgrounds use their ethno-languages.
The total population of Mennonites, including unbaptized children, stood at 4,959 in 1987. The major colonies with their population in 1987 were Shipyard (1,946), Spanish Lookout (1,125) and Little Belize (1,004). Richmond Hill existed only from 1960 to 1965. Presently in Belize there are different communities of Mennonites, namely Shipyard, Blue Creek, Little Belize, Spanish Lookout, Indian Creek, Upper and Lower Barton Creek, Springfield and Pine Hill. In 1999, the Mennonites (excluding converts from other groups) had a birth rate of 42.53 per 1000, which was well above the national average of 30.71 per 1000.
|Shipyard||Orange Walk||1958||Old Colony||Traditional||3,805||5.4|
|Spanish Lookout||Cayo||1958||Kleine Gemeinde||Moderate modern||2,253||4.7|
|Blue Creek||Orange Walk||1958||EMMC||Very modern||407||3.7|
|Upper Barton Creek||Cayo||1969||(Noah Hoover)||Very conservative||380||7.0|
|Lower Barton Creek||Cayo||1973||Old Colony||Very conservative||193||6.4|
|Little Belize||Corozal||1978||Old Colony||Traditional||2,830||6.2|
|Indian Creek||Orange Walk||~1988||Old Colony||Traditional||904||6.0|
|Springfield||Cayo||1996||Noah Hoover||Very conservative||270||6.8|
|Pine Hill||Toledo||1997||Noah Hoover||Very conservative||205||5.3|
|Neuland||Orange Walk||2010||Old Colony||Traditional||780||5.4|
There are four newer colonies: Bird Walk (founded 2012) and Roseville, which are daughter colonies from Upper Barton Creek and Springfield and Green Hills which is affiliated with the Mennonites of Pine Hill and New Land.
Smaller outreaches of Conservative Mennonites can be found in numerous communities throughout Belize.
As Mennonites accept only adults as members, the total population of the Mennonite congregations in Belize is underestimated by membership counts. The largest denomination was Altkolonier Mennoniten Gemeinde with 2,052 members. Other denominations were Kleine Gemeinde zu Spanish Lookout with 710 members and Kleine Gemeinde zu Blue Creek with 60 members, Iglesia Evangélica Menonita de Belice with 400 members (mostly Mestizos), Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference with 388 members, Beachy Amish Mennonite Fellowship with 140 members, Caribbean Light and Truth with 137 members (mostly Kriol) and Church of God in Christ, Mennonite with 42 members (mostly Kriol) (All figures as of 2006).
|Beachy Amish Church||164||6||176||6|
|Church of God in Christ, Mennonite||51||2||61||2|
|Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference||482||3||535||5|
|Iglesia Evangélica Menonita de Belice||420||10||544||8|
|Kleine Gemeinde zu Blue Creek||60||1|
|Kleinegemeinde zu Spanish Lookout||710||4|
|Independent & Unaffiliated||190||18||199||15|
Mennonites in Belize contribute to the carpentry, engineering and agricultural industries of Belize. They produce milk, cheese, beans, corn, melons, honey, chicken, and eggs. They have turned sections of tropical jungle into highly productive farmland. They are also skilled in manufacturing household furniture as well as constructing houses.
While the Mennonites in Belize have been very prosperous in agriculture, Michael Trapasso wrote, in a 1992 article published in GeoJournal, that there have been complaints that they often do so with no regard for the environment or environmental laws. Trapasso wrote that the environmental impact of their farming methods leads to large scale deforestation.
In a paper of the FAO the following is stated about Mennonites in Belize. (Even though the report speaks of "Amish", meant are Old Order Mennonites of the Noah Hoover group who live in settlements like Upper Barton Creek, Springfield and Pine Hill):
|“||Amish agriculture is characterized by the use of animal power and natural forms of energy, and is almost completely independent from fossil fuels as a form of energy. Success is measured in a number of ways foremost amongst these are the capacity to feed themselves, contribute to national food security, create sustainable livelihoods based on farming for all community members, be independent from government financial support, social, and educational services, though they use health services. Last but not least, their capacity to purchase their own production resources. Amish agriculture is well planned, sustainable, and expanding.||”|