A History of Ambergris Caye, Part 4

Paradise Lived

The San Pedranos with their newly acquired plantations proceeded to live in paradise. So now came an era of prosperity and peace for these, our ancestors, who had endured so much pain and hardship at the hands of the Icaiche Maya Indians during the exodus from Mexico into British Honduras, during the settlement in British Honduras and during the influenza epidemics which decimated their ranks. San Pedranos prospered way and above their wildest dreams. These then 83 freehold property owners of Ambergris Caye developed their properties.

Land was cultivated and coconut trees were planted – each family to their own plantation. The San Pedro Village section was owned by the Blake and Alamilla families. Mr. George Parham, who again had lost a wife to the influenza epidemic, migrated to Ambergris Caye and married Nicanora Alamilla. His daughter, Ann Elizabeth Parham, who had come with him, married Anastacio Alamilla. His son, James Howell Blake, who had also come with him, married Elena Alamilla – all children of above mentioned Antonia Alamilla. A Church was built where the fountain now stands.

A park was built where the main park is today. A school was built at a site in front of the main park. A Police station was built where the station stands today and so it went. God was good to Ambergris Caye and in five years or so the coconut trees were bearing fruit and the coconut market was good. The village was populated with people who worked for others or for themselves. Some went off to the chicle works or mahogany works and returned with their earned gold. Some, fished, built boats, worked in coconut plantations, taught school, chopped bush and so on. Wages of the day were always higher than in other parts of the Colony.

They planted coconuts (the main crop) and in their “conucos” (vegetable plots) bananas, plantains, tobacco, cane, celots, avocados, papayas and many other vegetables and fruits. Some even grew cotton and, believe it or not, there was even. a cotton gin on Ambergris Caye, and the landowners worked and they prospered for in those days coconuts reached a price of $50.00 per thousand, more than the value of coconuts in Belize today. Coconuts were used for cosmetics, oil, soap and the shell was even used for making gun powder. That was good.

And there were horses in Ambergris Caye to help with the work. Sr. Mercedes Munoz (Tio Mech) owned 3 beasts of burden – Relampago, Blanco and Mula. And every week cattle and pigs were killed on Ambergris Caye and the people hunted and killed deer, javeliina, chachalaca, gibnut, turkey, pigeons, etc. on Ambergris Caye. And the times were of plenty and of peace and neighbour loved neighbour and my grandmother, (“chichi nicanora”) delivered all the babies on Ambergris Caye and was a general nurse (“curandera”) who knew how to apply “Hulub” and “romero” and to cure the ravishes of “chechem” and my grandfather administered quinine for malaria and Mr. Blake introduced the first electricity in San Pedro (the old diesel plant can still be seen in the yard of the Sands Hotel) and with a little bit of rum and effort Mr. Lyn ran the plant from dark until 9:00 P.M. every night.

And the Blakes, Parhams and Alamillas donated to the village of San Pedro 2 parks, the church property, the football field in the back and the school property where the school stood in front of the park and where we went to school, and other properties and they built the main pier.

But, of course, not all Sanpedranos owned “cocales” so those who did not own land worked for those who did and needed their labour, such as “Tio Mech”, Lucillo Ayuso, the Guerrero brothers, the Foremans, the Hoys, the Heusners and the Parhams, Blakes and Alamillas and the workers were paid on Ambergris Caye way above the wages of the day. A worker who worked coconuts was paid 50 cents and some even 60 cents for a “Tarea” (a task which entailed picking, peeling, and shipping 500 coconuts). And a “machetero” (a machete man) was paid 50 cents and even 60 cents for cutting a “mequate” (22 square yards of bush). Good workers could, if they chose not to hit their hammocks at 10 A.M. or so, go fishing, make 3 “tareas” or 3 “mequates” a day and earn as much as $1.50 per day. These were the wages paid on Ambergris Caye, whether by “Tio Mech” or the Parhams.

Then compare these wages with the wages paid on the mainland of British Honduras. The Turtons, Melhados, United Fruit Co. in the mahogany, chicle, and log wood businesses paid their workers $8.00 per month and rations of 4 lbs. of salt pork and 7 lbs. of flour per week. In Belize Town (Belize Town was made a city in 1943) merchants and stores such as Biddles, Brodies, Hofius, and Harleys paid their employees $12.00 per month and many, many British Hondurans were unemployed.

Sanpedranos always had work through the auspices of the plantation owners of Ambergris Caye. Of course, this era was before and during the Great Depression when there was real unemployment in the United States and soup lines and real suffering.

This was when the British Honduras dollar was at par with the United States Dollar (in 1894 the British Honduras Colony went over to the U.S. gold standard) . But listen to what money could buy in those days: A loaf of bread cost 5 cents; a “capricho” (sweet bun) cost 1 cent; a can of condensed milk 5 cents; a pound of rlce 2 cents; a pound of beans 3 cents; a pound of flour 3 cents; a “sarta” (string of fish) of seven 1 and a 1/2 pound snappers cost 8 to 10 cents; 12 salted (corned) mullets 15 cents. From Mr. Virginia Nunez you could buy “chiwas” (stone bass) for 12 cents a dozen and Mr. Mix, related to Mr. Nunez, would cut your hair for 3 cents and give you a big coconut candy to boot for not crying during the ordeal, and a raspado (shaved ice with syrup) cost 1 cent, one cent for a big snapper, one cent for a large butter avocado. And so it goes and finally, a “machetero” could buy a week’s provisions for $1.50.

When these prices and wages prevailed, there were soup lines throughout the world. The great depression was going on, but Ambergris Caye prospered and the people loved one another. No drugs existed on the Island. Living was easy.  Then came the Second World War and a few men went off to war.

No one in San Pedro went off to war except George, Wallace, James and Richard Parham but, thanks to the good Lord, not one of them lost their lives to war, even though two of them shed blood for British Honduras. Be that as it may. After the war the Parhams, kept in touch with our British Honduras, even though we were abroad going to school and working to support families and acquiring what little money we could save with a view to returning home to Ambergris Caye or, better said, to our native British Honduras.

Previous parts:
Part 3, Acquisition of Ambergris Caye
Part 2, Dynasty…
Part 1, In the Beginning…

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