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May 5, 2017

Teaching the Caste War at S.J.C.

Saint John’s College launched an educational history program today that focuses on the Caste War.  The mix media project uses technology, creativity and the community to tell stories about a piece of history that has helped to shape a part of Belize.  As a part of the programme, S.J.C. also set up an exhibition of mix media at their gallery on campus and announced a free curriculum for students. News Five’s Andrea Polanco was at today’s launch over at the S.J.C. campus and spoke with Yasser Musa, one of the leaders behind the project.


Yasser Musa, History Lecturer, S.J.C.

“How can a war which lasted fifty four years; two hundred and fifty thousand people dying; hundreds of towns destroyed; how can that be erased from our intellectual, social and psychological memory?”


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

That war is the Caste war – and today S.J.C. made a move to publicly launch an educational project to sensitize students and the wider public about this piece of history that is not often talked about. As a part of the Caste War educational program, S.J.C. has set up a website, exhibit and developed a curriculum. Yasser Musa explains why they are taking this approach of technology, creativity and community.


Yasser Musa

Yasser Musa

“It is about what we should be teaching in the school system. The school system is still very feeble as to how we deal with our history and how we deal with the resistance and rebellion and struggle of survival. Those stories are completely ignored.  We are trying to say that the things we are presenting now, we are not saying that is the truth enuh. We are just pointing out that the approach we have been taking in teaching history and social studies is a failure. Let us accept that. It has failed and we have to fix it and design it – but the bigger challenge now is to design it for the digital generation.  So what we are about is how do we transform the pedagogy – the approach we take to the teaching of history and it is not just history as you would say fundamentally; it is economics, history, the culture, the art, all these things have dynamism, so we have to make history a dynamic thing.”


In 2013, S.J.C. began teaching African and Mayan civilization for first form and – the following year transitioned to Belizean history with a focus on rebellion; and later started teaching Latin American and Central American history and fourth year focuses on Caribbean History – they have now developed a free four-year curriculum based on these history lessons and that is available for download on online.


Yasser Musa

“ – anybody can go there – any teacher, any principal, any student. For example, we just put up our Caste War section and that has over forty books – e-books free and that has all the info-graphics, the images that are easy to understand and the designs, it has videos of the residents in the community we’ve interviewed. So, these are things like modules that students can go and do; so students can go and search and learn their own history.”


That history tells the story of the rebellion of the Caste War of Yucatan that started with the rebellion of the native Maya people of the Yucatan, Mexico in 1847 against the European-descended population. That war that lasted until 1901, as Yasser notes, has helped to direct the course of northern Belize.


Yasser Musa

“The entire north of our country was shaped by that war – not just because of the people – which is very important – the Maya people – but very important, from boundary stand-point; that is when the boundary from Belize and Mexico had to be negotiated because both the imperialist powers; the British on one side and then the New Mexican state were in a panic; why these Mayans are going in and out and no let us hurry seal up the boundary; so that had to be defined. It teaches also about labor; about slavery within the indigenous system – yes African slavery is important; but what about Mayan slavery – all of that is important for our young people to know.”


Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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