You Better Belize It: Toponymic and Colonialist Origin Mythology in Southern Yucatan

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 8:30 AM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton)
Matthew Restall, Penn State University
The origins of the settlement in southwest Yucatan that subsequently became the British colony and then nation of Belize, are poorly understood and clouded by colonialist mythology—both Spanish and British. The etymology of the toponym “Belize” is likewise so shrouded in such mythology as to persist as a scholarly mystery. Using cartographic, archival (Spanish, British, Mexican, and Belizean), and other textual sources (including some in Yucatec Mayan), this paper offers a revisionist argument regarding initial British settlement in the region. I show that it did not occur until the 18th century (some eighty years after traditional claims), its timing tied to Spanish-British interaction elsewhere in Yucatan. A close examination of the larger context (Spanish, Maya, Yucatecan) permits a new solution, persuasive and evidence-based, to the mystery of the name “Belize.”
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