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Sep 19, 2018

Bembe Vision: Meet 14 Belizean Bembes

The next time you hear the word ‘Bembe gial,’ it would not mean that a woman is abrasive or aggressive. In fact, clarity was provided to the meaning of the word today during a book launch at the Image Factory. The eBook features fourteen ‘Bembe’ women who have made their mark in Belize. We found them to be enjoying the spotlight and not all offended of being bembes. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.


Duane Moody, Reporting

Colloquially, it is used negatively to describe an aggressive woman, a bully who likes confrontations and fights; but the word ‘Bembe’ is a West African practice. Today, two history buffs who have been pushing the African and Maya History programme in the education system, Yasser Musa and Carlos Quiroz, partnered with artist Katie Usher to produce an online book, entitled Bembe Vision: Leadership Notes for the Belizean Classroom.


Katie Usher

Katie Usher, Collaborator, Bembe Vision Project

“We need to know these stories, we need to know these narratives and so these women are phenomenal because of what they have done and what they continue to do because of what they inspire in the generations to come. We are saying that these women are key to Belizean history. They are why we have our carnival, we have we Dance X. They are why we have this Maya land rights resistance. We have the caneros; Miss Audrey has been very instrumental in that. Miss Lampella telling the fisherman let’s be real, we can’t fish out everything and we can’t trawl; we can’t do them things.”


The eBook, which can be downloaded for free at, features fourteen women described as being influential in Belize in varied areas including sports, journalism, politics, music as well as human rights advocacy. Among some of those are Rosita Balthazar, Marisol Amaya, Desiree Diego, Cristina Coc, Lisa Shoman, Lupita Quan and Audrey Matura. Matura says a ‘Bembe’ is not created.


Audrey Matura

Audrey Matura, Featured in Bembe Vision

“The first time I heard that name ‘Bembe’ I was taken aback; I didn’t know what it mean having been born and growing up in Corozal then and it is more like a Creole word that you use in Belize City. So I inquired what it meant and when I heard what it meant, I felt good. It meant someone who is assertive, someone who will stand up and someone who will take no [bullshit] and I think that is important. Honestly, what I have concluded is that you either naturally have it in your DNA to stand up or you don’t. This is good recognition or it is good to put in the annals of our history but any woman who wants to stand up will not stand up because her name will be on a billboard or anything or because of what she’ll get. She will naturally have it within her to stand up. You can’t make fighters, they are born; you can’t make leaders, they are born; you can’t make people who are progressive, they are born…it’s in your DNA. You cannot make people who stand on principle, they are born with it.”


Usher says that the goal of the project is to have its viewers ask questions about who these persons are and their influence on the country. One in particular is Elfreda Reyes, who Usher says, was instrumental in Belize’s independence movement.


Katie Usher

“Our independence movement, very pivotal—Elfreda Reyes from Mesopotamia. I just learned about her last year which is very unfortunate because she was a big part of our independence movement. First time I hear about her last year. Affordable child care; Elfreda Reyes again. Why haven’t you heard about these persons if you hadn’t and who else are we not hearing about and why. That’s the main thing; it’s a provocation. What’s happening, what’s not happening? We try to get a very diverse group of women—different ages, different interests, economic standing, different practices—that was very key for us.”


So the next time a woman is being called Bembe, think civic pride. Duane Moody for News Five.

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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