25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
No Costa Maya, only the Great Mestizadas
The largest festival San Pedro holds today is undoubtedly the International Costa Maya Festival, which started some fifteen years ago as the San Pedro International Sea and Air Festival. In twenty five years’ time perhaps it will no longer exist, but will be replaced by some other festival of similar nature.
Perhaps it will be celebrating the Creole kulcha, or the Garifuna culture, or the American Culture, depending on what ethnic group dominates the affairs of the island. Perhaps it will still be the Mestizo and Maya Indian culture, the very roots of the first inhabitants of San Pedro and Ambergris Caye.
So what festival predominate social life in San Pedro before the Costa Maya Festival? If I take you back into the late 60’s and 70’s, it was the Caribeña Fishing Cooperative Annual General Meeting celebrated some time in June before the opening of the new lobster season on July 15. It was a free-for-all party with booze, food, music, dancing, goodies, treats, giveaways, and an exciting euphoria in the air. In fact, for the first Sea and Air Festival, “euphoria” was the word used by powerful celebrities and news media personnel to describe the festival. But what about before that?
Before that, it was the “Gran Mestizadas”. I am talking about a hundred years ago and into the 1920’s and 1930’s. It was an entire week of celebration celebrated around June 29, the day we celebrate our Patron Saint or Saint Peter. The weeklong celebration was held at El Casino, which was not a gambling place, but a dance hall for the folks back then. It was San Pedro’s social center. There were nightly dances, where the gentlemen asked the ladies way in advance for the “serie” or set because the dance consisted of three sets.
The band would play a set and then rest and there would be three sets in the evening. You could ask a young lady for a set, and she would write that in her little notebook. The first song of the evening was a special waltz and you would reserve that dance for your special one, whether it be your special admirer, or your favorite dance partner. Once you asked and were accepted for a set, the young lady would refuse all others and would respect her word given to you.
The dance did not consist of reggaeton or salsa, but rather of waltzes, corridos, cuadrillas, danzones, polkas, zapateados, dos pasos, cuatro pasos and jaranas. Some of these were international dances, while others were strictly Mexican oriented. The cuadrillas, I am told, were sort of like square dancing, whatever that means, because I have never seen a dance looking square. They more look like snake movements.
The Mestizadas also served another purpose. They were held prior to the men leaving the village to spend time in the logwood camps cutting wood for dye. They also spent time in the chicle camps, bleeding sapodilla trees for the exportation of chewing gum to the famous Wrigley Company in the United States of America. So the Mestizadas actually served as a farewell to the men in their long journey and after that the village would be inhabited only by women and children. It was the season of the “Joe Grind”, or perhaps that was not possible because all men had left the island. If there were some men that stayed, I imagine they too eagerly awaited the coming and going of the Great Mestizadas.
Like the Gach Guerrero and Milo Paz of today, the Mestizadas also had its organizers and sponsors. Dona Viva is a popular name mentioned as organizer. The owners of El Casino and other village people including la Banda De San Pedro were among the popular sponsors. So hats off to the organizers of Costa Maya, Caribeña Annual General Meeting and the Mestizadas for keeping culture alive among the Mayas and Mestizos of our beloved San Pedro.