The making of traditional handicrafts is a skill that these days must compete with the mastering of computers and the internet. But with the rapid rise of cruise tourism and its accompanying demand for authentic souvenirs, handicraft is making a comeback. That development had not yet blossomed in 1994 when we featured Jane Williams as part of a series called "Coming of Age".
"I spend all my time weaving. I don't worry to go nowhere, but sit down in my house and do my weaving; it's a pleasure to me."
Rudy Castillo, Narrator
As clay pots give way to Tupperware, and homespun cloth to synthetic fabric, less and less do the traditional crafts and materials touch our lives. Ironically, because they are so rare, these skills are now revered as precious and a vital part of a community's identity and culture. One of these skills is weaving, a craft kept alive by the nimble fingers of sixty-five year old Jane Williams, who has almost single-handedly battled to keep her art from being elbowed aside by the strong arm of mass production.
"When I was at school, I made the baskets out of the palmetto leaves and sell it every Saturday to buy my books to go to school."
Taught to weave with palmetto, Jane has since changed to coconut palm, readily available in Dangriga. Harvesting the palm with a machete, she fillets out the out the spine, collecting the brown needle like leaves for weaving.
"There was no palmetto present one day, so the good Lord say, try the coconut leaf. Then I got up--I had tree in the yard--pull the coconut leaf and I start to work on it and I complete my hat."
Jane's craft is not part of a culture just because it is a traditional way of making ends meet; perhaps also adorn the heads of celebrants in the most important event in the Garifuna calendar: Settlement Day.
"They buy all the hats from me before the nineteenth of November. That was the hat that we wear to go to church and parade with."
On November nineteenth each year, Garifuna people from all over Belize and abroad head home to Dangriga to remember the day when as free people the descendants of African slaves and Carib Indians landed on Belize's shores.
"Some came in small boats, some of them walking on the beach. And when they reach to this river and they taste it, it was fresh. And they say that this was the place they were going to stay and they called it Dangriga."
Though the Garifuna are conspicuously proud of their heritage, Jane regrets that the old culture and language is dying out.
"We have to blame ourselves because we're supposed to teach our children our language."
It is not just the language that is standing still. Despite her efforts to get the younger generation into weaving, few have taken on the skill. If the art of weaving is not passed on the young generation, then Jane Williams will be one of the few people surviving who can turn a palm in her fingers into a work of art.
"The advice that I want to give the youngsters, is to try and learn a trade for themselves. This trade keeps me alive, keep me to feel younger."