Of the three, the Mopan are the only group who can claim
indigenous heritage in Belize. Originally they were a lowland group living in the
west-central region of Belize and the Peten region of Guatemala. When the British took
control of the area from the Spanish and founded British Honduras they moved quickly into
the interior. Their logging operations brought them to the west and consequently most of
the Mopan were kicked out or died of disease.
The modern Mopan arrived in southern Belize in 1886. Fleeing enslavement and unfair
taxation in Peten a large group made it to what is now the Toledo district in the south
and established the town of San Antonio. Although there are small villages in the west and
others around the Toledo district, the town of San Antonio continues to be the largest
settlement of Mopan in Belize today.
Mopan society today is little changed in over a hundred years. Missionaries have
successfully instituted Christianity into most communities and the church plays an
important role. However the foundation of the society is still based mostly on subsistence
agriculture, family units, communal assistance, and self-government. They subsist on
staple crops of beans, corn, rice, tubers, cacao and sugar cane. Increasingly they are
becoming involved in cash crops of citrus and rice and are experimenting with mechanized
farming. Lack of economic means however, keep them from fully modernizing.