25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE   BY ANGEL NUÑEZ

Where Did Your Land Come From?


T he question of, "where did my beloved piece of property come from?" has always been an interesting question. In some other parts of the world and Belize also, some people simply "squat" or sit on a piece of land and in due time it becomes their property We do have such a law in Belize. After so many years of sitting on a piece of property and no one claims it, or no one charges you a base fee or rent for it, or no one attests in a documented letter that it is his, then that property belongs to you.

Funny laws of Belize, but they are there in the books. Back to the first question, in some places people have to shed their blood to own a piece of land. Some people are lucky to inherit their piece of property - yes, just given to them on a silver platter.

Where did the people of San Pedro get their respective pieces of land? Well, San Pedro, San Juan, San Pablo and even San Pedrito - all have their respective and interesting history which I propose to share with you.

First San Pedro. It was 1848 during the Caste War that the Mestizo refugees escaped from Yucatan Mexico and settled on Ambergris Caye in this area now known as San Pedro. The site was probably chosen because it was high land and the narrowest stretch on the island.

Furthermore, it was near the Boca del Rio, a channel that allowed them easy access to both the front and leeward sides of the island. At the time Belize was under British control and had made their settlement in what is known as Belize City today. However, the British assumed ownership of the entire country from Rio Hondo in the north to Sarstoon River in the South.

The archives of Belize show that two British merchants of Belize City had title of ownership of Ambergris Caye. They were Welsh and Gough.

Now, when the Mestizos settled on Ambergris Caye they found what they believed was a deserted island. There was no population or any visible community. Consequently they immediately set forth in building their shelters which were thatch houses made with "taciste" using the stems on the walls, and leaves on the roof. The humble little house had a dirt floor, but for refugees in a new-found haven, this was a mansion. They dug shallow wells which provided abundance of fresh unpolluted water.

Now all that was needed was food. No problem. The founding Mestizos were good farmers so they tilled the "milpas" or small plots of land outside of the village in areas such as Habaneros and "Bercellon (Basil Jones). They grew the staple crops of corn and beans as well as sugar cane from which they made a crude form of sugar known as "panela".

Farmers are also good hunters so our forefathers took advantage of the abundance of deer, pigs, and several large birds such as wild turkeys, and turned them into exotic dishes in their humble abodes.

And let us never forget that our Mestizo forefathers were also good fishermen. Well their new home of Ambergris Caye was the perfect place with abundance of fish, conch and lobster. To supplement the marine products our forefathers also took advantage of sea turtles and manatees which abounded all around the close proximity of the island.

Just when the founders of the village of San Pedro thought they were absolute owners of the land, three brothers appeared on the island. They were agents of Welsh and Gough, and came to cut a deal with the villagers.

For many years the villagers paid an annual rent of two dollars to "Los Hermanos Bibins", probably a Spanish corruption of he name "Bevans Brothers" which the Spanish and Maya Mestizos could not pronounce.

Sounds like life in Paradise, right? A scenic village, the reef, Caribbean Sea, pristine beaches, farmland with bountiful food, the sea with bountiful marine produce-all of the above sounds like a "Wow! But there were the mosquitoes to contend with. There were the "Nortazos" (strong, cold, northerly winds). And there were the occasional hurricanes. Imagine spending a hurricane in those little thatch houses as your hurricane shelter!

For our founding fathers. This was Paradise, a life free of stress and no threat from the aggressive Maya’s or the Spanish “conquistadores”. British Honduras was under British rule and protection.

It is to be recalled that the entire island or Caye was bought by one James Hume Blake at an auction sale in 1869 for the ridiculous sum of $625.00 Belize. As the years went by either through friendships, or intermarriage relationships or through business transactions, several large portions of the island passed on into the hands of others, especially the Parhams and the Alamillas, as documented in the book Ambergris Caye, Paradise with a Past.

The section where San Pedro Town's core is located remained in the hands of the Blake family for many many decades. People recall the property under James Howell Blake and then under Jim Blake. San Pedranos then leased or paid a yearly fee to be able to use a piece of land or lot. Yes, they built their homes on Blake property with the risk of being evicted, or receiving a higher lease fee. Imagine one's disappointment when he had enjoyed his property for 10 years or 15 years and be told that he had to move.

When this came to the attention of Mr. George Price, who was the then Premier of Belize in the 1960's, he immediately made plans for his government to put this land into the hands of the San Pedranos. He decided to acquire the land from Milo's Store to the area near Tropic Air, more or less. The matter went to court. Mr. Blake asked for his sum. The government made its offer. Land evaluations were done and finally the court made its decision. Whatever the government paid is unknown to us but that doesn't matter either. What matters is that the government sold lots at affordable prices to anyone who was occupying the land then. My father, Rafael Nuñez, had just lost his house on the beach side, just at the foot of Tackle Box Bar, due to Hurricane Hattie. Otherwise, our family could have purchased that nice parcel for some $ 800.00 dollars. Instead, we had rebuilt on middle street. My uncle Guillermo Nuñez (deceased), had given us one half of his lot which was 100 x 100 feet. Lots on middle and back streets were sold for $500 and $400 dollars each. Villagers were given the opportunity to apply, pay in yearly installments, and then given titles to their land.

The people of San Pedro will forever be thankful to George Price for empowering us and making us owners of OUR properties in San Pedro. Other San Pedranos had owned small parcels along the coast up north where they had operated their "cocals" or coconut.plantations. However, this acquisition in the 1960's was the first major revolution in San Pedro's land reform program.

Today an eight hundred dollar beach property is probably worth two hundred thousand dollars and a middle street $400.00 lot is sure to cash in $150,000 dollars for a prospective seller. But, hey, don't sell it because land is running scarce for any future land reform program.

Next week, we'll look at the San Juan area and others areas so that you will know where your land came from - your piece of this jewel.

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