8 men stand in front of this Mahogany Tree. It would have taken a little over 20 men to form a full circle around this magnificent Mahogany Tree. Amazing!
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Friday June 6, 2014

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8 men stand in front of this Mahogany Tree. It would have taken a little over 20 men to form a full circle around this magnificent Mahogany Tree. Amazing!

Our gracious Mahogany - Photo of an amazing Mahogany Tree taken in Cayo. (year unknown)

"How many slaves did it take to remove Mahogany trees from the rainforest of Belize?"

According to Nigel Bolland the process of extracting Mahogany was so intense it took 10 to 50 slaves working in small groups to complete the task.

Photograph courtesy Leopold Grinage

Mahogany was the main Export of Belize for over 150 Years. Today all the BIG trees like the one in the photo are gone. No one ever bothered to plant any back for reforestation, so production has slowly dwindled. Now it’s the Rosewood that is being illegally cut and deforested.

These large trees were common in Belize before 1930s, and now they are extremely rare. We note of a of Cotton Tree behind Rancho Dolores that is over 20 feet in Diameter that exists today.

It is interesting to note that many mahogany kneading and washing bowls were made from the purrs of these huge trees up until the late 70's.

Today mahogany wood is found in almost every home in Belize and is a choice wood for local artisans in Corozal. There currently exists in our remote areas and forests of Belize, many very large trees yet to be publicized. There are also many other such trees throughout the country of Belize.

Types of work an enslaved person did in Belize:

With the slavery system based on the woodcutting industry enslaved persons were given into various jobs. A number of occupations were required in the process of mahogany extraction:

1) Huntsmen – his job was to search and survey the forest to locate the mahogany trees. The slave owner depended on the huntsman’s skill to not only find the mahogany, but also to report the find. This was the occupation with the most freedom as the huntsman would work independently with minimal supervision.

2) Axe men – were deployed after the huntsman found the tree. This was the most dangerous and arduous job as it required the operation of a heavy axe on a platform that was 12 feet off the ground known as the “barbecue”.

3) Cattlemen – were responsible to feed and work the cattle used to hauling the huge trunks.

4) Men who received the logs at the river mouth and were responsible for squaring the wood for final shipment.

5) Cultivators – were responsible for cultivating the grounds for the production of ground foods, vegetables and other subsistence crops.

6) Women were responsible for the domestic operations of the household and they also cooked, sewed, washed and ironed.

"After 1770 about 80 percent of all male slaves aged ten years or more cut timber. "

"The colonial masters used domestic slaves, mostly women and children, to clean their houses, sew, wash and iron their clothes, prepare and serve their food, and raise their children. Some slaves cultivated provisions that would either be sold or used to save their owners some of the cost of importing food. Other slaves worked as sailors, blacksmiths, nurses, and bakers." -- Belize: A Country Study (1992)

1720s: First record of African slaves in Belize
1830s: Slavery abolished in Belize
2016: Human trafficking, forced labor and other forms of slavery exist in Belize.

Treatment of Slaves in Belize:

Incidence of slave children born to white Masters are evidence of the sexual favours enslaved women were required to perform as mistresses. Children born in slavery became adopted to the life of servitude from a young age. Young boys and girls wait on tables. Girls also served as chambermaids while boys serve d as footmen. As children grew older they were moved on go more demanding occupations.

In ‘Correspondence Relative to Slaves at Honduras 1820- 1823’ Superintendent George Arthur wrote a series of letters to England detailing the harsh cruelty suffered by the slaves at the hands of their masters. With no formal law in place for the protection of slaves, it wasn’t until 1821 that the King of England gave a royal proclamation that the “Consolidated Slave Law of Jamaica” should be observed in the settlement when it came to the treatment of slaves.


Resistance to slavery in the Belize Settlement:

Resistance to slavery has been recorded throughout its existence in the settlement of Belize. Slaves used both active and passive approaches to resist their enslavement. For women it was observed through actions such as abortions where women who were made pregnant by their slave master had abortions as they refused to raise a child under the conditions of slavery. Obeah was also believed to be practiced by some of the slaves against their masters and was made punishable by death in 1791. Men resisted in a more active approach which resulted in running away or revolt.

Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807:

The first major step on the road to emancipation was an ‘Act for the Abolishment of the Slave Trade’ in 1807. The members of the Society for the Abolishment of the Slave Trade decided to concentrate on a campaign to persuade British Parliament to prohibit trading in slaves. They felt they were more likely to succeed than if they demanded the abolition of slavery itself throughout the empire. They also believe that if the slave trade was ceased, slavery would eventually be brought to an end. On 25th March, 1807, the Act for the Abolition of the slave trade made it illegal to carry enslaved people on British Ships.

1833 Abolition of Slavery:

In July 1833, a bill to abolish slavery throughout the British Empire was passed in British Parliament. This was the result of several factors which included:

1) The education campaign laid by the abolitionists.
2) Major slave revolts in Jamaica, Demerara and Barbados.
3) Reduced demand for slave-based goods.
4) The Reform Act of British Parliament in 1832.

As of August 1st, 1834, slavery was officially brought to an end pending a transition period known as Apprenticeship.

Life for former Slaves after Apprenticeship and Emancipation in British Honduras:

In British Honduras, the end of the apprenticeship period on its eve of July 31st, 1838, was marked with prayer and mild celebration. In places like Jamaica, the end of slavery was symbolized by burying a coffin containing a whip and chain inside. The Superintendent of Belize reported that after most of the ex-slaves were carrying on with their own activities.

After Emancipation, the former masters still found various ways to control the labour force and developed a system of dependency. Here are some ways:

1) Only white men could own land and former slaves could not.

2) Land was to be sold at one pound per acre, which was too expensive for the ex-slaves.

3) The British Woodcutters developed the ‘advance system’ where advances were given under a strict contract system. This ensured the ex-slaves were bound to the employer for six to twelve months.

4) The ‘Truck System’ where the ex-slave had to take a portion of their wages as provisions from their employers store.

Apprenticeship Period to Full Emancipation of Slavery 1838:

The First step towards emancipation was the registering of all slaves in the settlement before August 1834. Order-in-Council reached Belize in March 1834 and established a registration period of two months. In order to compensate slaves’ owners for their loss they would incur once the slaves were free, Britain paid 20 million pounds today. This was equal to roughly 40% of the national budget at the time and about 1.34 billion pounds today; on the other hand the slaves received nothing. Instead the final emancipation would be reached over a period of six years which was later shortened to four years. In Belize slave owners were paid an average of 54 pounds per enslaved person.

The period of Apprenticeship and Master/Slave relations in British Honduras 1834 -1838:

In British Honduras, the period of apprenticeship was generally free of disturbances and revolts. While little seem to have changed in terms of labour control there were new power relations between the master and the slaves. Matters regarding punishment and other disciplinary actions were not dealt with until after emancipation.

A special magistrate was appointed to each colony to oversee relations and enforce that the slaves were working a required 45 hours per week. The end of the apprenticeship period came early since it was found that abuse and ill-treatment of enslaved people had gotten worse.

Source: A History of Slavery & Emancipation in Belize

Slave Revolts in the Belize Settlement:

Just as other British territories within the Caribbean, Belize had its own major slave revolts/rebellions within its slavery era.

The largest recorded revolt in Belize occurred in May 1773, when slaves overtook (5) logging camps and killed six British men. This revolt was only suppressed with the assistance of the British Naval force from Jamaica five (5) months after commencing. Eventually, this revolt did not cease until November of the same year.

The slaves' experience, though different from that on plantations in other colonies in the region, was nevertheless oppressive. They were frequently the objects of "extreme inhumanity," as a report published in 1820 stated. The settlement's chaplain reported "instances, many instances, of horrible barbarity" against the slaves. The slaves' own actions, including suicide, abortion, murder, escape, and revolt, suggest how they viewed their situation. Slaves who lived in small, scattered, and remote groups could escape with relative ease if they were willing to leave their families. In the eighteenth century, many escaped to Yucatán, and in the early nineteenth century a steady flow of runaways went to Guatemala and down the coast to Honduras. Some runaways established communities, such as one near Sibun River, that offered refuge to others. When freedom could be attained by slipping into the bush, revolt was not such a pressing option. Nevertheless, numerous slave revolts took place. The last revolt in 1820, led by two black slaves, Will and Sharper, involved a considerable number of well-armed individuals who "had been treated with very unnecessary harshness by their Owner, and had certainly good grounds for complaint."

Emancipation and Apprenticeship in the Old Settlement:

The essence of society, a rigidly hierarchical system in which people were ranked according to race and class was well established by the time of full emancipation in 1838. The act to abolish slavery throughout the British colonies, passed in 1833, was intended to avoid drastic social changes by effecting emancipation over a five-year transition period. The act included two generous measures for slave owners: a system of "apprenticeship" calculated to extend their control over the former slaves who were to continue to work for their masters without pay, and compensation for the former slave owners for their loss of property. These measures helped ensure that the majority of the population, even when it was legally freed after apprenticeship ended in 1838, depended on their former owners for work. These owners still monopolized the land. Before 1838, a handful of the inhabitants controlled the settlement and owned most of the people. After 1838, the masters of the settlement, a tiny elite, continued to control the country for over a century by denying access to land, and by promoting economic dependency of the freed slaves through a combination of wage advances and company stores.

"Coloured Subjects of Free Condition"

One way the settler minority maintained its control was by dividing the slaves from the growing population of free Creole people who were given limited privileges. Though some Creoles were legally free, they could neither hold commissions in the military nor act as jurors or magistrates, and their economic activities were restricted. They could vote in elections only if they had owned more property and lived in the area longer than whites. Privileges, however, led many free blacks to stress their loyalty and acculturation to British ways. When officials in other colonies of the British West Indies began giving free blacks expanded legal rights, the British Colonial Office threatened to dissolve the Baymen's Public Meeting unless it followed suit. The "Coloured Subjects of Free Condition" were granted civil rights on July 5, 1831, a few years before the abolition of slavery was completed.

"Coloured Subjects of Free Condition"

One way the settler minority maintained its control was by dividing the slaves from the growing population of free Creole people who were given limited privileges. Though some Creoles were legally free, they could neither hold commissions in the military nor act as jurors or magistrates, and their economic activities were restricted. They could vote in elections only if they had owned more property and lived in the area longer than whites. Privileges, however, led many free blacks to stress their loyalty and acculturation to British ways. When officials in other colonies of the British West Indies began giving free blacks expanded legal rights, the British Colonial Office threatened to dissolve the Baymen's Public Meeting unless it followed suit. The "Coloured Subjects of Free Condition" were granted civil rights on July 5, 1831, a few years before the abolition of slavery was completed.

Source: The US Library of Congress

Slave Population of Belize 1745 - 1832
Occupation of the Slave Population of Belize by Age, Sex , 1834


The British system of slavery was historically the most oppressive when compared to the French and the Spanish. The French Code Noir offered freedom in various forms and education. All this were unheard of in British colonies. The Code Noir granted that: a free, unmarried man should have relations with a slave owned by him, he should then be married to the slave concubine, thus freeing her and any resulting child from slavery." Slave masters 20 years of age years without parental permission may free their slaves.

Slaves who were declared to be sole legatees by their masters, or named as executors of their wills, or tutors of their children, should be held and considered as freed slaves.

Freed slaves were French subjects, even if born elsewhere. Freed slaves had the same rights as French colonial subjects." So the 'good times' friendship perpetuates a lie on the Belize flag, the only flag on the planet with people on it.


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