25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
Can Twenty Five Years Ago go 157 years ago this time? That is how far back we would need to go if we would like to have a chronological look at the development of San Pedro since it was founded in 1848.
That was the time of the Caste War in the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, a time when the Mestizos migrated from Yucatan in search of a more peaceful place to live in. Many Mestizos settled in Corozal District, but a few families discovered and settled on the uninhabited island of Ambergris Caye. We can imagine our Mestizo forefathers doing two things- planting crops for their own consumption and fishing for the same reason. With that they lived like kings and sole masters of their land.
The life of the Mestizos living on Ambergris Caye would go through big changes when the island was sold to Mr. Blake in the year 1869. Now there was a landowner and the inhabitants had to make small payments for the lease of the land they were living in. Usually a few chickens and some eggs was enough to pay for the yearly fees.
In the 1890’s or thereabouts, the local Sanpedranos now found employment under logwood dealers. They would be taken to the mainland to cut logwood, which was exported for its dye. About the same time another group of Sanpedranos were engaged in the Chicle industry. Again they would be taken to the mainland for up to three-month periods to extract the sap of the sapodilla tree, which was processed into chicle or chewing gum. The product was exported into large 50-pound blocks called “marquetas”. So you can imagine periods when the village of San Pedro was inhabited by women and children only, the men being away in the logwood and chicle industries. A good name for the island at that time could have been Isla Mujeres.
In the 1920’s there was another change in the lifestyle of the Sanpedranos with the coming of the coconut industry. Now they were employed by the Blake’s and Alamilla’s, who were landowners on the island and now they did not have to leave the island.
There was a big decline in the coconut industry due to hurricanes that flattened the land, so Sanpedranos turned to fishing once more in the 1940 and 1950’s. For the most part it was subsistence fishing but some product was taken to Belize City and Corozal Town for the local markets. It was in the early 1960’s that the fishing cooperative was formed in San Pedro. This was a major change in the lifestyle and economic status of the island residents as now they were self-employed for the first time. Giant leaps came about in the exportation of whole fish, fillet, shrimp, conch, and of course lobster. Two hundred thousand pounds of rock frozen lobster tails was a typical yearly average.
Fishing brought about wooden homes, electricity, telephones, television, but still the population of the island remained, for the most part, descendants of the original Mestizo inhabitants of the 1850’s. It was until the decline of the fishing industry in the 1980’s that the change was made towards the tourism industry. This brought about more financial development and progress, larger boats and yachts, modern residential homes, plenty of jobs and offices, hotels, gift shops, restaurants, and of course technology. This period also brought about township in 1984, and a massive growth of our population, which attracted families from all districts of Belize and foreigners from the United States and Central America. This period has seen the change of ownership of the land from local hands to foreign hands and the jumping of our population from two thousand to some ten thousands in just a few years. The rest of it you know it very well for you all are now part of it. This is Ambergris Caye, 1848 to 2005 just about to celebrate one more year on Saint Peter’s Day on June 29. Long live San Pedro!