Articles on Belize and San Pedro

Sapadilli Tam - (A Sailor's Tale)

by: By James S. Martinez, for
Belize Audobon Society Newsletter Vol. 32 No. 4 - (January 2001)

PREFACE- Recently, tourists to Belize have been flocking to a southern caye for a unique ocean event. The unforgettable, mind blowing experience of swarming with the whale shark (Rhiniodon typus), largest of the shark family and largest fish in the world at over 40 ft in length, has stirred a lot of excitement in Belize. The magnificent fish, characterized by its huge size, wide mouth and distinctive pattern of spots, can be seen feeding amidst spawning snappers during certain months of the year.

But nearly eighty years ago, the legendary size and very existence of this monstrous fish was immortalized in a humorous poem by James S. Martinez entitled "Sapadilli Tam". The poem forms a part of a 1920 collection of his works entitled, Caribbean Jingles - Dialect and Other poems of British Handuras. James, the humble and self-educated son of a mahogany woodcutter, was a prolific poet whose simplistic style often captured and reflected the local atmosphere of that period of our Belizean History. Early British Honduran fishermen nicknamed the Whale Shark "Sapadilli Tam" because the huge fish was frequently sighted around Sapodilla Cayes off the Southern Coast of Belize.

"Sapadilli Tam"

You want to hear of of w'at I know,
About de fish day tark of so,
De one dat people use to see,
Outside o' Sapadilli Caye?

Now list'n don't y'u be supprise;-
I seen dat shark wid my own eyes;
Not only once but time a score,
W'en I was tradin' to Omoa.

De fust time dat I seen dat shark,
De evenin jus was getting dark;
De sea was smude, de win' was low:
De schooner "Jane" was driftin' slow.

Jus' den dere came in sight a sail,
(we t'ought t'was one) an' so we hail;
but it was goin' fas', it seem
as if it was p'opell wid steam.

But w'en it get to us quite near.
We all was full wid awful fear,
For now we could plainly see,
It was a monster of de sea.

He check his speed den round us swim;
But we did not quite care fo' him.
We t'ink how we could mek him go,
So overboa'd some pork we t'row.

He start at once de food to eat,
An' den we try to mek retreat.
For now de win' commence to blow,
We put de boat to' near de sho'.

An' so it was we get away,
As bes' respec' to him we pay;
An' pray ne'ermo' to have a calm,
W'en nearin' Sapadilli Tam.

Dere's some strange story dat I hear,
De trut' of dem I cannot swear.
But I am stric'ly now compel,
To give to you as how dey tell-

A dorey once was coming o'er,
Wid Waika from Masquiter Shore-.
Dey saw a caye (Dey t'ought 'twas one)
An' so dey went to it to lan'.

So we'n dey went asho' an' look,
Dey mek a fire an' start to cook;
But w'en de pot was bubblin' free,
De shark sink undeneat' de sea.

'Tis also tol' dat coc'nut tree,
upon his back some people see,
but dere is some mistake I fear,
for I had never seen it dere.

But many a time about dat sea,
W'en nearin' Sapadilli Caye,
De sailor heart would beat fo' fear,
Dat Sapadilli Tam is near.

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