25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
About nine years ago the author of this column first wrote about the Kis Kis in the San Pedro Sun and Governor Genera,l Sir Colville Young, sent a letter of appreciation to Mr. Nuñez for this story. A few years later he decorated Mr. Nuñez with the medal of the British Empire for community service and his contributions to education. The Governor is himself a writer of song and poems and short stories. Here is a reprint.
“Get me the kis kis,” father would say, and the child would begin to cry. Why was this so? It was because the kis kis was associated with a sound beating. It was not its main use, but it certainly made an excellent gadget for mom or dad to get rid of their frustrations and for the child to learn a good lesson.
The kis kis was made of a material similar to the “taciste”, or the pimento stick used for building cabañas. It was split in half along the length, and while it was green, it was bent into shape- the shape of a pair of tongs. When dried, the kis kis retained the shape but it was flexible. It could open and close some 6 inches or so.
There was a pair of kis kis hanging from a nail at every kitchen in San Pedro in the 1950’s. It was used to grab and handle the lit firewood and the charcoal in the “fogon” (fire hearth). The kis kis had scorched ends and was, of course, black with smoke. Other original and intended uses of the kis kis were to remove the “comal” (hot plate) from the fire, or to place and remove the hot lid off the improvised open-air oven. This was a part of a steel drum (8 inches deep) used for baking. Fire was lit underneath and charcoal was placed on a lid on top of the drum so that it got heat from both top and bottom. The kis kis, as you can appreciate, played a vital role in this baking process with lots of hot things to move about or the Johnny Cakes would burn. Creoles also used the kis kis to catch crabs and avoid being bitten by these treacherous animals. Creoles eat land crabs; Sanpedranos do not, you see? But Sanpedrano boys also used the kis kis to grab soldier crabs, which were used as fishing bait.
Now here is the best part we kids remember of the kis kis. This piece of stick was very handy to give any misbehaving child a good spanking and lesson. It was very handy because mom was always around the kitchen and there were 2 or 3 pairs of kis kis always available. The kis kis made a resounding noise, a loud crack when it landed on the back or the head or the butt. Sometimes the only thing that mom had to do was to crack the kis kis on the table and that would paralyze any kind of rude behavior or childish fidgeting. It made one stop immediately and wait for mother’s next move. If you looked at her apologetically, the kis kis would go back to its nail in the kitchen. But if you dared suck your teeth and gave mom that “I don’t care” look, you would be in for a good spanking with the kis kis.
Because the kis kis was always dark black and scorched, we sometimes handed it with the hot end towards our brother or sister. Needless to say, this also warranted a lashing with the kis kis, especially if one’s sister went crying to mother and she suspected that it was an intentional act.
Back then no one questioned why the name KIS KIS. Was it a Mayan word for a pair of thongs? Was it because the two ends touched against each other as lips do when kissing? Or was it because it was used to kis many backs and butts of rude children? Whatever the reason was, the kis kis was a handy tool we can’t have in our modern kitchens today. And even if we had them, we couldn’t beat our children with them for we would probably be arrested for child abuse. But those barbecue lovers could certainly use them in their cook outs. It is a great tool to handle the hot charcoal- the kis kis.