Moon Belize (Moon Handbooks) - Lebawit Lily Girma (2015)
Start with Belizean writers, particularly the novels of Zee Edgell, and then continue with the catalog of Cubola Productions (www.cubola.com), a publishing company whose Belizean writers series includes six anthologies of short stories, poetry, drama, folk tales, and works by women writers. Cubola also publishes sociology, anthropology, and education texts; seek them out at any bookstore or gift shop in Belize, or order a few titles before your trip. Angelus Press is the other main publisher of Belizean writers. There is a large Angelus Press store in Belize City, as well as in other districts. You’ll also want to read a book—or six—by Emory King; King arrived in Belize in 1953 when his yacht crashed on the reef at English Caye and has been talking and writing about his adopted country ever since.
ARCHAEOLOGY AND MAYA CULTURE
Carrasco, David. Religions of Mesoamerica: Cosmovision and Ceremonial Centers. San Francisco: Waveland Press, 1998. Carrasco details the dynamics of two important cultures—the Aztec and the Maya—and discusses the impact of the Spanish conquest and the continuity of native traditions.
Coe, Michael D. The Maya, 8th ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2011. This updated classic, which has been in print for nearly 50 years, attempts to understand the “most intellectually sophisticated and aesthetically refined pre-Columbian culture.” The new edition has information on new discoveries, including the polychrome murals of Calakmul and evidence of pre-Classic sophistication. Coe, an archaeologist, anthropologist, epigrapher, and author, is a forefather of Mayan studies. This book is mandatory reading for both amateur Mayanists and pros.
De Landa, Friar Diego. Yucatán: Before and After the Conquest. New York: Dover Publications, 1978 (translation of original manuscript written in 1566). The same man who provided some of the best, most lasting descriptions of the ancient Maya also singlehandedly destroyed the most Maya artifacts and writings of anyone in history.
González, Gaspar Pedro. 13 B’aktun: Mayan Visions of 2012 and Beyond. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2010. González is a Q’anjobal Mayan novelist, philosopher, and scholar from Guatemala. This book, translated to English by Dr. Robert Sitler, is unlike any other you’ll read on the subject. It is written as a deep, lyrical dialogue—not just about 2012, but about all of creation, blending “past and present thought into a persuasive plan for moving into the new era.”
Jenkins, John Major. The 2012 Story: The Myths, Fallacies, and Truth behind the Most Intriguing Date in History. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 2009. Jenkins is one of the most prolific, passionate 2012-ologists out there. 2012 Story is his most all-encompassing book yet, covering the entire story—from the ancients’ forward-reaching stone inscriptions to the modern-day 2012 meme and a summary of his and others’ work on the subject.
Sitler, Robert. The Living Maya: Ancient Wisdom in the Era of 2012. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2010. This book begins with the Yucatec Maya greeting “Bix a bel?,” which means, “How is your road?” And that’s right where the author puts us—on the road in the Guatemalan highlands and southern Mexico. Robert Sitler is a professor at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida. In The Living Maya, he draws lessons from his four decades studying Mayan culture and traveling in the Mundo Maya. The most important messages we can take from the Maya, he writes, are: “Cherish our babies, connect with our communities, revere the natural world that sustains us, seek the wisdom of humanity’s elders, and immerse ourselves in direct experience of this divine world.”
Stephens, John L. Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán. New York: Dover Publications, 1969 (originally New York: Harper & Bros., 1841). In this classic 19th-century travelogue, Stephens’s writing is wonderfully pompous, amusing, and incredibly astute—with historical and archaeological observations that still stand today. If you can, find a copy with the original set of illustrations by Stephens’s expedition partner.
Edgell, Zee. Beka Lamb. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1982. The first internationally recognized Belizean novel, this story of a girl named Beka who is growing up with her country is required reading for all Belizean high schoolers and offers an excellent view of Belizean family life, history, and politics.
Lukowiak, Ken. Marijuana Time. London: Orion, 2000. Follow the author’s experiences on a six-month “hardship posting” to Belize in 1983 with the British military: “The long days are palliated by a constant and increasingly compulsive supply of drugs and japes, until he starts using his position in the army post-room to send improbably large bundles of the stuff home—to his army flat in Aldershot.”
Miller, Carlos Ledson. Belize: A Novel. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 1999. This history-laden piece of fiction offers an impressively thorough snapshot of Belize over the last 40 years.
Westlake, Donald. High Adventure. New York: Mysterious Press, 1986. Another marijuana-smuggling action thriller: “You are in the jungles of Belize. You pick your way carefully along the overgrown trail until you come to the clearing. There, above you, rest the ruins of a Mayan pyramid. Is that a stone whistle at your feet? An idol of the bat-god? Riches surround you and Kirby Galway will be more than happy to smuggle your finds to the United States in a bale of marijuana. Aren’t you glad you met Kirby?”
Arvigo, Rosita. Sastun: One Woman’s Apprenticeship with a Maya Healer and Their Efforts to Save the Vani. San Francisco: Harper, 1995. One of the better-known books about Belize, which tells the story of the American-born author’s training with 87-year-old Elijio Panti, the best-known Mayan medicine man in Central America. It takes place in the remote, roadless expanse of the Cayo District in western Belize.
Bezruchka, Stephen. The Pocket Doctor: A Passport to Healthy Travel. Seattle: Mountaineers Books, 1999.
Schroeder, Dirk. Staying Healthy in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Emeryville, CA: Avalon Travel, 2000. An excellent resource that fits in your pocket for easy reference.
Werner, David. Where There Is No Doctor. Berkeley, CA: Hesperian Foundation, 1992. A standard in the field.
Shoman, Assad. 13 Chapters of a History of Belize. Belize City: Angelus Press, 1994. A no-nonsense history of Belize from a Belizean perspective.
Sutherland, Anne. The Making of Belize: Globalization in the Margins. London: Bergin & Garvey, 1998. This book deserves to be read by any visitor to Belize, whether arriving as a tourist or as a volunteer with one of the many international conservation organizations now operating there.
Wilk, Richard. Home Cooking in the Global Village: Caribbean Food from Buccaneers to Ecotourists. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Using food to describe Belize’s longtime struggle within “the great paradox of globalization,” Wilk raises questions like “How can you stay local and relish your own home cooking, while tasting the delights of the global marketplace?” Includes menus, recipes, and “bad colonial poetry.”
NATURE AND FIELD GUIDES
As Belize is one of the most exhaustively studied tropical countries in the world, there are innumerable references that span every conceivable niche of flora, fauna, and geology. They come in massive coffee-table sizes with color plates as well as in pocket-size field guides: Tarantulas of Belize, Hummingbirds of Belize, Orchids of Belize, and so on. Following are a few titles that make up the tip of the iceberg for this category.
Arvigo, Rosita, and Michael Balick (foreword by Mickey Hart). Rainforest Remedies: 100 Healing Herbs of Belize. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 1998.
Beletsky, Les. Belize and Northern Guatemala: The Ecotravellers’ Wildlife Guide. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1999. One of the best reasonably sized general nature guides to the area, with abundant color plates for all types of fauna.
Chalif, Edward L., and Roger Tory Peterson. Peterson Field Guide to Mexican Birds. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999. This is one of the best birder bibles for this region.
Dunn, Jon L., and Jonathan Alderfer. National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2006. A gorgeous field guide worth lugging into the rainforest.
Jones, H. Lee, and Dana Gardner, illustrator. Birds of Belize. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003. This is the long-awaited, much-acclaimed bible of Belize birding (say that three times fast); it’s a big book (445 pages, 56 color plates, 28 figures, 234 maps), prompting some birders I met to cut out all the plates and travel with those only.
Sayers, Brendan, and Brett Adams. Guide to the Orchids of Belize. Benque Viejo del Carmen, Belize: Cubola Productions, 2009. This is an excellent field guide to the many orchids found throughout Belize.
Stevens, Katie. Jungle Walk: Birds and Beasts of Belize, Central America. Belize City: Angelus Press, 1991. Order through International Expeditions, U.S. tel. 800/633-4734.
Jovaisa, Marius. Heavenly Belize. Lithuania: Unseen Pictures, 2009 (www.heavenlybelize.com). This is a magnificent coffee-table tome of aerial photography. The Lithuanian author is an ultralight aircraft pilot who wanted to share the extraordinary vistas he had discovered. If you don’t pick it up in Belize, download the iPad version from iTunes, with more multimedia features than just the book.
TRAVEL AND MEMOIR
Barcott, Bruce. The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman’s Fight to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Bird. New York: Random House, 2008. Fantastic nonfiction narrative about the Chalillo Dam in western Belize, a highly contentious construction project on the upper Macal River in Cayo. The author skillfully lays out the story and characters around the dam business, while providing a sweeping panoramic snapshot of a unique country as it makes its debut in the new global economy.
Bolland, O. Nigel. Belize: A New Nation in Central America. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1986. This book is one of many sociopolitical analyses by this prolific author.
Duffy, Rosaleen. A Trip Too Far: Ecotourism, Politics and Exploitation. Sterling, VA: Earthscan, 2002. A critical look at the impacts of ecotourism, using Belize as a case study.
Fry, Joan. How to Cook a Tapir: A Memoir of Belize. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2009. The story of a young teacher’s year abroad, living among the Maya in southern Belize in 1962. The author offers an intimate glimpse at Mayan village life in this heartfelt, oftentimes funny story of how she “painstakingly baked and boiled her way up the food chain” to gain acceptance among her neighbors and students.
Pattullo, Polly. Last Resorts: The Cost of Tourism in the Caribbean, 2nd edition. London: Latin America Bureau, 2005. Pattullo provides an interesting breakdown of how the Caribbean tourism industry is structured, as well as a hard-hitting commentary on who benefits and how, providing numerous examples from Belize.
Rabinowitz, Alan. Jaguar: One Man’s Struggle to Establish the World’s First Jaguar Preserve. Washington, DC: Island Press/Shearwater Books, 2000 (originally 1986). If you’ve only got time to read one book on Belize, I recommend this excellent eco-memoir. In addition to telling the true story of his jaguar work in Belize, Rabinowitz gives an alluring glance at Belize’s wild postindependence, pre-tourism phase.