I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking;
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea gulls crying.
– excerpted from SEA FEVER, by John Masefield, 1902
To the best of our knowledge, the late Edison “Seferino” Coleman, Radio Belize’s most famous and popular announcer ever, is generally credited with coining the phrase, “this beautiful jewel of ours.” This would have probably been more than two generations ago, in the early 1970s.
At the time, Radio Belize was a government monopoly which did not permit any on-air criticism of the ruling People’s United Party (PUP). Seferino was so big, however, despite his controversial lifestyle, that he was allowed to criticize the government from time to time, albeit in coded fashion. Perhaps more importantly in the larger scheme of things, Seferino was allowed to create, and that is how, because of him, that we Belizeans have arrived at this distilled description of our country as, “The Jewel.”
To the best of our knowledge again, it was two generations before Seferino came up with “this beautiful jewel of ours,” that Samuel Haynes wrote Land of the Gods and referred to Belize’s “wealth untold” in what became our national anthem in 1981. Our understanding is that Haynes wrote his poem in the early 1930s while living in the United States.
Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss, the Baron, never wrote a poem or came up with a catchy phrase to describe his love for Belize (then British Honduras). In 1926 he wrote a will leaving all his immense wealth to the colony. This was how he expressed his wonder at, and love for, nature’s bounties in Belize’s seas. The Baron, you see, never set foot on Belize’s soil. He lived in his yacht in the Belize City harbor. He fell in love with Belize’s sunrises, our azure seas, the bracing, salty air, and the exciting fishes he caught and ate during his three months of life here.
The Ruta Maya canoe race from San Ignacio/Santa Elena to Belize City was a superb idea from several perspectives. Unfortunately, the Ruta Maya was expanding its success during years when it seemed that the Baron Bliss Harbor Regatta was experiencing death throes. The singular lack of interest in the sea and in sailboat racing within the ranks of the Baron Bliss fund’s board of trustees is incredible and lamentable, because the Baron was Belize’s greatest benefactor ever, and because it was primarily the sea and the Barrier Reef which inspired the Baron’s love for Belize. The Harbor Regatta was to be his greatest legacy for us. The Baron Bliss trustees have fallen short of the glory, a primary reason being their refusal to adjust the prizes upwards to account for inflation since 1926. Apparently, very, very few Belizeans care.
Yes, the rise of Oceana and the surging support for their anti-offshore oil drilling policy from Belize’s cayes and coastal communities, indeed the entire Belize, emphasizes the massive importance of Belize’s Barrier Reef, not only for our aesthetic senses, but also for our economic livelihood. The question of which is more beautiful and economically important, the Belize Barrier Reef or the Belize Old River, may be an academic one. But there is no doubt that around March 9, the holiday which was created because of Baron Bliss’s legacy, there should be something taking place on the sea and around the Barrier Reef to match that which is taking place on the river.
As we enter the March month, then April and May, we know that this is the time of the year when wealthy Guatemalans, owners of fabulous yachts, look at Belize with the greatest longing. During the coming months of the prevailing southeasters, this is when Belize is at its most beautiful, its most precious. It is very sad, you know, but there are Belizeans who left Belize after Hurricane Hattie to migrate to the concrete jungles of the United States and had never sailed on the sea outside the Belize Harbor. For such Belizeans, their consciousness of Belize was limited to our canals and our swampy status. Baron Bliss, Samuel Haynes, and Seferino Coleman saw way past that. So do the Guatemalan oligarchs. They lust for The Jewel.
We have something to cherish here, Belizeans. We have something to protect. We know this is serious business. At the same time, we regret the state policies which continue to exclude the masses of Belizeans from the hope for a better future. Belize has absolutely become an elitist society, and the sad part of that is that the political power to condemn and attack our bigoted elitism rests in the hands of Cabinet Ministers who themselves came from the masses of Belizeans. How you figure?
Until the 1960s, sailing remained a highly utilitarian activity in Belize. Sailing boats of various types and sizes were not only the basic equipment used by fishermen, but sailing craft were also used to transport goods and passengers along the coast of Belize. The use of skiffs powered by outboard engines did not begin to become a staple of Belizean fishermen until the 1960s. In fact, today, the Sarteneja fishermen still employ sailing boats as their mother vessels, from which, having anchored them, they operate in paddling dories. In modern days, the sailing boats all have a bracket to accommodate outboard engines. This was not the case sixty years ago. So then, there are Belizean fishing communities from Sarteneja in the north to Barranco in the south which still use sailing boats of various kinds. The boats are environmentally friendly, and wind power is cheaper than gasoline.
The immediate purpose of renewing the Baron’s dream and legacy would be to incorporate Belize’s sailing fishermen in an annual event on Baron Bliss Day. If we wished to be entrepreneurial or daring, however, one could attract gentlemen sailors from all over the region, and indeed the world, for a Baron Bliss Day race of an ambitious nature. We’re just saying.
There are various evils bedeviling Belize at present. The one we are focusing on as we end this editorial, is elitism. Rt. Hon. George Price, Father of the Nation, was a keen enemy of elitism. He insisted that house lots must be given out in Belize City, as his government opened up new areas on the Northside, with rich people’s lots interspersed with poor people’s ones. It was not only a case of Mr. Price’s mischief at play here: he knew that poor people have much to teach rich people, and poor people’s children can help rich people’s children to learn valuable life lessons.
We can tell you that the most famous of American universities ensure that they include students from poor communities and from poor, foreign countries in their incoming classes each year. The most intelligent Americans understand the benefits to be gained from a rounded approach to education. This is not communism, or even socialism.
We Belizeans say we are Christians, but we mostly forget that Christ was the son of a carpenter and a humble virgin. One of the greatest mistakes the ruling classes of Guatemala made was to create a rigidly elitist society. Now they have to live in walled fortresses and travel everywhere with heavily armed bodyguards. How Christian is that?
And around this time every year, rich Guatemalans want to vacation in The Jewel. They feel safe in our waters. It is not only the beauty in our cayes and atolls and seas which they will enjoy: it is the peace which comes from a country which still cherishes its common humanity. This is what the call for renewed social justice is all about. It’s all about The Jewel, and our common humanity.
Power to the people.