San Miguel is a Kek’chi village in the foothills of the Maya mountains on the river Rio Grande. Founded in the 1950’s, some of the first settlers are still alive today. About 70 families have made their home in San Miguel since.
Most people are Kek’chi Maya, although through intermarriage some Mopan Maya live here as well. Also, there is one Dutch Belizean, and that would be me.
A decade and a half ago the village was provided with a water system and electricity. Also, the Southern highway was built, opening up this area to outside influences. Nowadays, the villagers have an interesting lifestyle, combining modern life with their own traditions.
Most villagers wear the traditional clothes, but the younger generation dresses modern style. You can hear traditional harp music and reggae and Punta rock. Many families have a traditional wooden house with a thatched roof, as well as a cement building with a zinc roof. In most houses you will find a fire hearth as well as a stove. The fire hearth is used daily and the stove is used as a supplement. Firewood is cheaper then butane and hearth cooked food just tastes so much better. On the menu is corn tortilla with beans or caldo (spicy chicken soup), and sometimes rice and pork. In the recent years the washing machine has found its way in the village. Most of the time the women prefer to do their laundry in the river though, since it serves a social function as well. While exploring the village there is a good chance that you will see the women scrubbing their clothes on the washing stones in the river, chatting and laughing away.
The DVD player is present everywhere, providing the people with images of an entirely different culture. Even cable tv and wifi came in a few years ago. The young people find this very appealing, and would like to be a part of it. For a while, it looked as if our village would become a ghost town. In the past years, many young people left the village in search of a job in the city or in the USA. However, recently they have returned to the village. They took a look outside, and came back with money in their pocket and a new appreciation for the village life, ready to build a house here and start a family.
All families have at least one 30 acre farm, which provides them with enough corn and beans to feed themselves and the chickens and pigs that they raise. Many farms also yield a cash crop, the most important of which is Annatto, a spice and colorant that grows on a tree and is usually harvested around Easter. Although the availability of luxuries has brought a need for money, the lifestyle in San Miguel is still mostly self sufficient.
The villagers offer village and farm tours, cultural events and traditional meals in their houses. Please respect our neighbours, do not take photographs without asking permission. They can be reserved and shy at first but the Kek’chi are peaceful and friendly people. An invitation to someone's home is a great honour. The going language is Kek’chi but most people speak English quite well and of course Creole. They may be as curious about your life as you are about theirs, so be prepared to answer questions.