RECENT WORK ON
BRITISH HONDL RAS
DAVID J. FOX
THE GEOGRAPHICAL REVIEW
Volume LII, No. i, 1962
AMERICAN GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY
BROADWAY AT I56TH STREET
RECENT WORK ON BRITISH HONDURAS
I)AVID J. FOX
RITISH HONIURAS is a small country, about the size of Walcs or Ncw Hamp-
shirc; its population is much the same as that of Cambridge, England, but substan-
tially less than that of Cambridgc, Massachusetts. It has bccn called in the past, pcr-
haps with somc justice, the Cinderclla of the British Empire. But the rapid liquidation of
that empire clscwhcrc has helped to focus sympathy and attention o theic arcas still left in
colonial status. Colonial administrators in London can now devote more time to the affairs
of British Honduras; historians and political scientists may be equally anxious to study the
problems of a territory whose present political status endows it with a certain almost anti-
Until recently little published work has been available to the geograplier interested in
British Honduras, but happily the situation has changed in the past few years.' Now geog-
raphers are fortunate iii the quality and quantity of the information that has become available,
and many may well cnvy their colleagues (at least ten in the last three years) from Britisi
and American universities who have seen for themselves the prospects and problems of the
It is oniy since 1955 that British Honduras has possessed a virtually complete, medium-
scalc map coverage;2 only the keys cayss) and a few scattered highland tracts in the wcst
remain unmapped on the scalc of 1: 50,ooo. Betwccn 1946 and 1952 twcnty-five black-and-
white provisional shccts wcrc published showing the coast and the northern lowland. Brown
coloring was introduced on the scven first-cdition sketch maps compiled aftcr acrial photog-
raphy of the Maya Platean liad made complete map covcragc a possibility. Five more first-
cdition shccts have appeared since 1955, all for the northwest of the colony, and on thesc
sheets bluc ihas bcen addcd to the color rangc; no further rcplaccment slcets are expected
to be published in the inuncdiatc future. On all the maps, vegetation types and land divi-
sions are indicated, and topograpliy is shown by form lincs or annotations or both. The sheets
llave tleir limitations. Thcrc is no indication of altitude; form lines are lutidentificd, and
no spot heights are given, even for triangulation points. The vegetation cover is described
in local terms tlat may be unfamiliar or misleading (for example, "ridge," as in brokenn
pinc ridgc," rcfcrs to a patch or strip of vegetation and docs not necessarily bcar a rclation-
ship to topography; "high ridge" is synonymous with "high forest"). Ncvertheless, the
maps make a unique contribution and nmst form tche basis of any geographical description
and analysis of the country. The intricate relief of the almost uninhabited and inaccessible
Cockscomib and Maya Mouintains was known only in a general way until tiese niaps ap-
"A Ilibliography of Publislhc Material on Britisli Honduras As Found in the National Collec-
tion, The Central Library, Bliss Institute, Belizc (British Honduran Library Service, Belizc, 'g16o).
50,000; I).C.. (Mise.) 8, Directoratc of Colonial Survcys, 440' (Ser. E 757),
)irectorate of Ovcrscas Survcys, 1958-.
> MR. Fox is assistant lecturer in geography at the University of Manchester, England.
RECENT WORK ON BRITISH HONDURAS
Special maps havc also bccomc available. The inost revealing are thosc which were
compiled from information collected in 1952-1954 to illustrate tic rcporc of the British
Honduras Land Use Survey.3 hi tccluical quality these maps conform to thc high standards
wc have learned to expect from the Dircctoratc of Ovcrseas Surveys. Particular mention
should be made of tree pairs of maps o01 the scale of 1 :250,000 showing soils, natural vcge-
tation, and potential land use respectively. The intelligent use of a wide range of colors and
the detail of the field records have permitted the differentiation of 233 soil catcgorics, 77
typcs of natural vcgctation, and 34 potential land-use regions, shown in such a imanncr tlat
visual gcncralization can be inade to ahnost any level. For example, the broad contrasts
between tle liice-rich soils of the northern interior, thc skelctal soils of the high Maya
Plateau, and thc Icached soils of the coastal fringe are immediately apparent. Thc added
detail, fir from obscuring the generalization, heightcns its valuc, for it pre. -s an awarc-
ness of thc basis and degree of the generalization. The maps carry keys that arc sufficiently
dctailcd for most purposes, and complete keys are included in the report.
Maps accompany Dixon's monograph on thc geology of the southern lialf of British
Honduras,4 and Flores' account of the northern half includes a sketch map.s The Phillips
Petroleum Company abandoned drilling for oil in tie Punta Gorda area in 1960 and may
make thcir bore records available to supplement Dixon's work. A map of soil-forming
parent materials lhas bccn drawn as part of an introduction to a description of the soils of
the country;' this lithological map has yct to be applied to a full study of the geonor-
phology, though its relevance is obvious.
GEOMORPHOLOGY AND CLIMATOLOGY
Tlihe Plcistoceni history of British Honduras has apparently been one of intennittent,
probably custatic, changes of sea level, which caused alternating periods of alluviation and
marine planation of thic coastal arcas. A tentative sequence of a fall in sea levcl from 1so
fcet co its present level, with stillstands at loo fcct and 50 fect, has been described, and
the associated devclopments in thc river pattern deduced,7 but the geomorphology of the
interior of thi country remains little known. Howcvcr, the remarkable barrier rccf and
offshore coral keys havc recently attracted a number of investigators. Vcrimeert pioneered
thc work in 1957; he has presented arguments relating the situation of the rccfs to block
faulting, and thick varied composition of individual kcys to the pcrsistencc of the onshore
trade winds. Work by Stoddarc rcportcd at a meeting of the Royal Gcograpiical Socicty
earlyy in 19619 largely confirms Vermcer's conclusions and is bcing continued. Thorpe's
"Land in British Honduras: Report of the British Honduras Land Use Survcy Te; (edited
by D. 1-. Romnney), C(. Brit., Colonial Office, Colonial Researci Pubis. No. 24, London, 1959 (witl sepa-
rate maps in case).
C. G. Dixoi: Geology of Southcri British Honduras, Witl Notes on Adjaccnt Arcas (Bclize,
( Giovanni Flores: Gcology of Northcrn British Honduras, BUll. Amer. Assn. 'f Petrolermn Geologists,
Vol. 36, 1952, pp. 404-409.
S"Land in British Honduras" Ise footnote 3 abovc], Fig. Vil (facing p. 25).
Ibid., pp. 24-25.
Donald E. Vcriiieer: The Cays of British Honduras (Departiment of Geography, Univcrsity o
Calitornia, ecrkeley, 1959).
'J. E. Thorpe and others: A Ulivcrsity Expcdition to British Honduras |paper read at niceting
of the loyal Gcographical Society on January 16, 19611. Scc also David Carr and John E. Tlorpe:
From the Cai to the Cays (London, 1961).
THE GEOGRAPHICAL REVIEW
detailed map presented at the same meeting, showing the coral species that contributed to
one of the larger keys, both above and below water, should provide useful material for the
geographer interested in the general problems of coral-red forniation.
Climatic data for thc colony are available now on a more generous scale than previously.
Tlicre are virtually no long-teri climatic records, and the full fruit of the recently increased
number of wcathcr-recording stations (44) will take a long time to ripen. Howcvcr, the
controlled evaluation of recent short-term records has produced more accurate miaps of
the distribution of climatic clcmcnts than existed before 1958.'" British Honduras has also
enjoyed fringe benefits from the study of thec dynamic climatology of Middle Ainerica,
and iii particular froin rcccnt studies of the uppcr atmosphere and hurricanes in the Carib-
Sir John Burdon's abstract of the archives of British Honduras" remains the most ni-
portant source on the colorful history of tli colony and is so acknowlcdgcd by later writers.
Caiger'3 has supplcmentcd this material by discussing British Honduras in its Caribbean
context; Waddcll'' brings the picture up to date, and his book includes a useful annotated
bibliography. The colony is the oily British survivor of the Central American and Mexican
bcaclihcads cstablishcd along the Caribbean and Gulf of Campeche shores by the carly
buccanccrs-cum-forcstcrs. It remains oriented toward the sea and toward the trade routes
leading to the sea, and Bclize remains the capital and chicf port iii spite of the problems
attendant on a mangrove site.'s Beforc the Europeans arrived, the coastlands wcrc sparsely
settled, and the Mayan farncrs, likc the farmcrs of today, found the limestone soils and the
rivcr tcrraces of the interior more attractive. The use of air photographs, thc field work of
the British Honduras Survey IDpartment, the researches of the govcrnmcnt archcologist,
A. H. Anderson,'6 and of various academic workers during tlic last ten years, havc estab-
lished for the first time a comprehensive picture of the Mayan Enipire settlicient in the
colony. It is a country of many monumental sites, and it has rcccntly attracted a number
of young British and Anicrican archeologists.
Howcvcr, tlic most useful publication on British Honduras to appear in recruit times,
the report on "Land in Britisli Honduras" cited above, is conccnicd with the contemporary
scene and with the agricultural potential. It contains the only detailed description of tic
entire country so far available. A valuable introduction, which includes a chapter on thc
history of land use, is followed by a regional account, in which the peculiar characteristics
"Land in British Honduras" [see fooottc 3 abovc], pp. 15-22 and Figs. II-IV.
For examiplc, "Aviation Meteorology of the West Indies." Gr. Brir. MererolI. Office, MeArorol.
Repts. No. 22, London, 1959; see also the bibliography (pp. 47-49).
Sir John Alder Burdon, edit.: Archives of British Honduras (3 vols., London, 1931-193 5).
Stephen L. Caiger: British Honduras: Past and Present (London, 1951).
1). A. G. Waddcll: Britisl Honduras: A Historical and Contemporary Survcy (London, New
York, Toronto, 1961).
'1 Sincc this paper was prepared, the Uritish Honduras government has announced that as a result
of the recent hurricane disaster Belize will be rebuilt on a ncw site 44 miles inland.-EDIr. No)Tz|
'1 A Brief Skctch of British Honduras (7th edit.; Belize, 1958).
RECENT WORK ON BRITISI HIONDURAS
of each of twenty-five subrcgions are prcscnted in detail, under such hcadings as climate,
landscape, people, and land use (1952-1954). Suggestions are made of ways in which the
economy of cache subregion could be improved, both immcdiatcly and in the long run.
The regional discussion is supplemented by a general discussion of factors likely to limit
practical land-use improvements. Everywhere in the pages of the report the results of care-
fui firstliand observation are apparent.
A valuable source of information likely to become available soon is the report of tihe
census of British Honduras takcn on April 7, 1960. The houtschold scliedule required not
only personal information but also details of thc dwelling place and thc nature of land
tenancy. Therc are codes for ten racial types, and thl clarifying instructions given to the
cnuinrators remind one of the extraordinary racial variety that exists ii the colony. Four
languages are coded, though others ; spoken, and inany British Hondurans speak several.
Thie instructions with respect to occupation include the sad coniiicnt "for all those who
during the [past] ycar looked for work, but found none, describe forirer occupation"-un-
iiiploymetii and undcrciployment are clironic problems. The census sclihedule rvels
another quality of life in British Honduras: there is a separate column for a subsidy;
nation mad an adjoining onc for the arca of any plot or farina worked.
Preliminary figures from tlie census are already available.'7 They show that British
Honduras is no exception to the Central American rule of extremely high rates of natural
population increase. The population of the colony rose at the rate of 3 per cent a year
front 1946 (59,220) to 1960 (90,343). The rate of increase has been lowest in the southern
part of the country (Toledo district) where infant mortality among the Kckchi Indians
reinains high; it has becn highest in tlic two western districts (Cayo and OrangeWalk),
whcre rural imniiigration lias been significant. Tlie largest group of imitnigrants is repre-
sented by several setclinents ofMenntonites, who began to arrive in 1957 and who nunibcrcd
2243 at the time of ite census, with more expected. The Mennonites cinigrated from northi-
ern Mexico (Chillialhua) and settled in Britisli Honduras only after receiving assurance.
froin the government of substantial autonoiny in local matters. The goveriiiient liopcs they
will set an example to the local Maya of a balanced subsistence econoiny with an increasing
farni surplus ;id so make the country less dependent on imported foodstuffs. Carey Jones'"
lhas considered this dependence among other aspects of tie colony's economy.
The promotion of inimigration into British Honduras has been the keynote of tihe
findings both of the Evans Commission"' and of the niore recent Downie report."' Downie
argues that, in vicw of the declared constitutional objectives, British Honduras needs a
population of at least 300,000 to provide an economic basis for the social, technical, and
17 OnI application to the Department of Statistics, Kingston, Jamaica.
'W N. S. Carey Jones: The Pattern of a Dependent Ecoiiomy: The National Income of British
Honduras (Cambridge, England, 19.3).
Report of the British Guiana and British Honduras Settlemient ('Coniission |Sir Geoffrey Evans,
clhairinaini, [Brilisi C aii
"Jack )ownic: An Economic 1Policy for Britisl Honduras (Belize, 1959).
TIIE GEOGRAPHICAL REVIEW
financial coniiitmients that are obligatory for ai indepeidcint country. On the other hand,
clsewhcrc in the Caribbean tlihe expanding economy of the West Indics Federation cannot
absorb al the 90,000ooo annual increase in population, and many Wcst Indians emigrate. The
population dcnsicics in 1960 were o0.2 per square milc ui British Honduras and 387.4 per
square mile in The West Indics (with considerable variation, ofcourse, froin island to island).
Despitc the apparcncly complimentary nature of thcsc two arcas, thcrc is only a negligible
movcmenIt front one to the other. The reasons behind this paradox are fairly clear. Possibly
the most important is that although British Honduras wishes to attract peasant farmicrs,
thc migrating West Indian has no wisli to be a pioneer agriculturist; tlic urban employnicnt
and other attractions, mythical or real, tliat the Unitcd Kingdom has to offer iiiii outweigh
in his vicw thc higher cost of a passage across the Atlantic. In tls rcspcct he resembles the
English-speaking Negro of British Honduras, wlio is a town dweller by preference mostt
live in or ncar Belizc) and who lias inherited the woodsm;an's scorn for tli effemiinate agri-
culturist. In other matters, liowevcr, the different historics of the two arcas lave inade ic
impossible to equate tlic two pcoples. Indeed, thc Negroes of Stann Creek havc no countcr-
part in Thc Wcst Indies; for tlicy speak a Carib language and have retained many of the
cultural traits of tic Indian pcoplcs tlcy absorbed. Fortunately, tliis interesting examiplc of
acculturation has bccn tlic subject of a recent iiionograph."2
Despite tlic facts tiat dic Downic report was grcctcd with little cnthlusiasm in British
Honduras and tliat the most obvious source of innigrants has so far proved barren, a
reading of the land-usc report compcls two conclusions. The first is tlat tliere is good agri-
cultural land in tlic country suitable for colonization or for more intcnsivc use; the second
is that such colonization and use should be encouraged. Sir Hilary Blood, who visited British
Honduras in 1959 to consider constitutional changes," supports tiese conclusions.,j Most
coiimncntators stress the need for planned dcvelopiiint, sincc an intensified agriculture pro-
ducing a commercial surplus dcimands-if it is to be successful-adequate marketing facilities,
scientific assistance, and soim capital investinent, as wcll as land and labor. The reports
place tlicir faitli in sinall holdings and tlic peasant farncr. They cniphasize tic contribution
that bccf and dairy cattlc could makc to the local economy in tlic southcm district, in the
northern sugar-canc country about Corozal, and iii td castcni hill country south of Bclizc.
For ihe wcst and northwest long-tcrm forest managcnicit is advocated to provide profitable
and congenial work for tlie Creoles and Negrocs.
SOVEREIGNNTY AND BOUNDARIES
The political status of British Honduras has proved of perennial interest and Professor
Huniphreys' recent study'4 is to be wclcoiicd as a valuable discussion of the diplomatic
background to contemporary controversies. Both Mexico and Guatemala claim to havc
inlierited froni Spain, after the collapse of the Spanish Empirc, sovereign rights over British
Douglas M. Taylor: The Ulack Carib of British Honduras, V'iking Fuind Pibls. in Atliropol. No. 17,
New York, 1951.
See "Report of the British Honduras Confercnce Held in London in February <196o," [British
Conmitd PI>pers] Cnid. 984, London, 1960.
Sir Hilary Blood: British Honduras: Land of Opportunity. joirn. Royal Ciomm,,iiirelth Sor.,
Vol. 3 (N.S.), 1960, pp. 83-86.
RIobert A. Humphreys: The IDiplomatic History of British Honduras. 1638-190o (London, 196i).
RECENT WORK ON BRITISH HONDURAS
Honduras territory. Mexico's claim is a latent one, to be pressed only if Guatemala's claim
should ever appear likely to succeed; it relates to the former captaincy general of Yucatn,
which reached as far south as latitude 17o49' N. Guatemala claims the wliole of British
Honduras (aid a number of Central American miaps show the colony as the province of
Belice in Guatemala), despite thc fact that the captaincy general of Guatemala included only
the southern part of the country. Both clainis ignore the fact that the United Kingdom has
been in possession of the territory since wcll before the disintegration of the Spanish Emnpire.
The present boundary between British Honduras and Guatemala was established in
1859 by a treaty ratified by Britain and Guatemala. One article in the treaty was an agree-
ment conjointlyy to use their bcst efforts, by taking adequate means for establishing the
easiest communication between the Atlantic coast and the capital of
Guatemala ; tiis proved impracticable, and by joint agreement the treaty was modi-
fied iii 1863. Guatemala now asserts5s that nonimplementation of this article invalidate.
the whole treaty. The views of the British government are set out ii a publication of the
Central Office of Information in London.'6 Reccnt unofficial views of thc situation include
a summary of, and commentary on, the controversy by W. J. Bianchlii and several article.
in the periodical literature.2
2SJos Luis Mendoza: Inglaterra y sus pactos sobre Belice (Secretara de Relaciones Exteriores,
"British Honduras" (London, 1958), Appendix 1.
'7 Willian J. Bianchi: Belize: The Controversy between Guatemala and Great Britain over the
Territory ol Britisl Honduras in Central America (New York, 1959).
28 See, for example, Wayne M. Clegern: New Light on the Belize Dispute, Amer. Jouri. of Interniatl.
Law, Vol. 52, 1958, pp. 280-297; D. A. G. Waddell: More on the Belize Question, Hispanic Amrr.
Hist. Rev., Vol. 40. 1960, pp. 230-233.