25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
The Hobby of Keeping Pigeons
One proud collection of animals people had twenty five years ago was the dove or pigeon. (las palomas) There were the white domesticated pigeons and the local wild gray pigeons. Practically every backyard had a large or several pigeon houses where some 50 to 100 pigeons lived. They, along with the crowing of the roosters, served to wake up the villagers early in the morning.
These pigeons always took off in flight in flocks and flew across the village to spend a few hours in another hospitable area. "Alla van las palomas de doņa Paula", someone would say. Or, "Esos son de doņa Leonor" One flock of pigeons (some 200 of them) came all the way from La Ensenada (now San Telmo where Spanish lives). Don Severito had this huge flock of pigeons, which flew once or twice around the village and then returned home- sort of like the Harrier jets flying over Belize. It was a beautiful sight to enjoy.
One more thing- can't talk about these pigeons without mentioning the slight nuisance they caused with their droppings on the rooftops. And on a side note, the "parranderos" (the late night loafers singing to their girlfriends) did not steal pigeons either because they were somehow associated with religion or because the pigeon flesh was tough. A great remedy for a "cruda" (hangover) was "un caldo de paloma" (pigeon soup). The dear mother or wife was always willing to prepare this caldo.
A typical pigeon house was a large box 3 feet high by 6 feet long and 3 feet deep. It was divided with partitions that were about 1 cubic foot. Pigeons hatched or were put in one particular compartment and somehow used the same space for a lifetime. The adult pigeons collected soft spongy materials like grass, seaweed, cloth, etc., to build their nests where they laid 2 to 10 eggs. In a few weeks the little nestlings would be chirping and adding numbers to one's valuable pigeon collection.
If you did not want your pigeons to fly around the village, you clipped their feathers at the wing tip. Believe me, these birds could all safely fly back home, except sometimes when rude boys with slingshots prevented them from doing so. Pigeons were fed mostly with corn but did eat cooked rice etc., and also flew to the woods in search of seeds.
In San Pedro almost every family had a pair or two of these doves. The ardent collectors had a whole flock- a proud and valuable collection. Each one was like an individual, a member of the family, and there was sorrow when one died or disappeared. Yes, pigeons were in abundance, but no, they were not a source of food. They were like sacred animals. They were a part of a person's hobby or collection. After a hurricane, the flock of pigeons would disappear for some weeks, but one day a part of it returned home. That was a day to celebrate.