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Friday, December 3, 2021
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From The Publisher

At Spanish Caye during the school summer holidays in the early 1960s, it would be the basic Charles Hyde and Telford Vernon families on the northern side of the caye, while on the southern side, which was owned by the Belisle family, two of my grandaunts, Maggie and Edwina Belisle, would usually be in effect.

In those days civil servants here worked until 12:30 on Saturday afternoons, so that my dad, Mr. Telford, and other working-age adults would come out to the caye on Saturday afternoons. They would bring ice blocks packed in sawdust in crocus sacks, chicken and meat for Sunday dinner, fruits and vegetables from the market, and various grocery commodities. They would return to Belize City on Sunday evenings to report to work Monday mornings.

During the week until they returned the following Saturday, I would be in charge of keeping the caye supplied with fish and conch. I was the oldest of the Hyde children. Mr. Telford’s stepson, Bunce Longsworth, was a bit older than myself, but he was not as trained in the sea life. Besides, my maternal uncle, Roy Belisle, had made me captain of his sailing sloop, Kitty, the only sailing boat on the caye during the week. So, Bunce deferred to me.

Bunce and I had a good relationship. I don’t recall our ever having an outright quarrel. There was rivalry, of course, and the most notable occasion of that took place when I took the boat to the city to bring back provisions one time, and during my absence, Bunce led a paddling dory fishing expedition which scored some major barracuda successes. Respect was due.

Bunce had a first cousin on his mother’s side, Nico Coye, who also spent a lot of time at the caye, and Nico became a phenomenal diver.

Perhaps my age or a little big younger was Mr. Telford’s nephew, Sonny Vernon, who was a very good fisherman and a regular crew member on the Kitty. When I returned from college in 1968, I used to hang out with a group which included Sonny, Wallace Young, Robert Pandy, and the late Donovan Hyde.

After a while, Sonny went to the United States, served time in the U.S. military and made a life for himself over there. His friends will be sorry to hear that Sonny recently suffered a stroke, and his older sister, Althea, has had to take charge of his situation.

The Easter vacations, the summers, and regular weekends I spent on Spanish Caye (Sergeant’s Caye and St. George’s Caye on a couple Easter occasions) left indelible impressions on me. This was an idyllic way of life, though things changed when the summer holidays were arbitrarily shifted from April and May to July and August in 1964. The caye was idyllic during the dry weather: it was not as idyllic during the rainy season, when there were mosquitoes, or during the cold months, when the caye was exposed to northern gales which felt frigid to us.

The point of the essay is that as I became a teenager and thereafter, before I left for America, I saw myself as a fisherman, of sorts. When I left Belize at age 18 in 1965, the outboard motors and fast skiffs were just beginning to take over. Before that time, it was all about sailing craft and diesel-powered boats, which were much slower than the skiffs. If things went smoothly in the old days, it would take an hour and a half to two hours to travel the nine plus miles between Belize City and Spanish Caye. But if you got caught in a calm, which always occurred after the sun came up on mornings when a “land wind” had been blowing early, you could spend four, five hours and more making that relatively short journey. Fishing trips could also last for hours.

Now when you’re a little boy growing up at the caye, you’re always trying to catch fishing trips, or any trip for that matter. So you are always trying to make yourself useful to the grownups who are taking out a trip. You’re not really old enough to become a functional crew member, so your tasks are menial, such as bailing water out of the bilge. The first lesson you learn there is to hold tight to the container you’re using to bail. When the breeze is blowing hard and the seas are breaking rough, these bailers can slip out of your hand and into the sea. That is a disgrace for you.

One of the most important things about the culture of the sea was learning to keep your mouth shut. You can’t learn anything running your mouth, and that’s what you’re trying to do when you’re a young boy – learn. On long trips, again, you can hear the wind whistling through the riggings and into the sails, you feel the rhythmic surge and “settle” of the sailboat entering and climbing the waves, you hear the squawking of the gulls and other birds of the sea, you see the sparkling sunlit beauty of the glorious sea: the conversations of mere human beings become less important than the majesty of the works of the Most High. Silence, dear readers, becomes golden …

So then, we Belizeans had a way of life at Spanish Caye and, indeed, at cayes and seaside villages all across The Jewel. The coming of tourism changed this, in that many youth who would have become fishermen began to become tourist guides. The money was bigger, and the work was easier. Who amongst us would not choose in favor of easier work for more money? Not you, not I. The way life is, unfortunately and of course, we paid a price. You always pay a price. The price we paid was that we became more and more dependent on an industry which we Belizeans do not control as much as we were in control of our fishing industry.

There is a new question these days, and that question is whether we Belizeans should get married to the oil business. I am an old-fashioned Belizean. I believe in the God of the earth and the sea and the sky. I don’t believe in oil. I can’t eat oil, and I can’t drink oil. I will support the Toledo Maya because I am as they are: I am from the old school.

Power to the people.

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