25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
What! Boys & Girls Naked on Streets?
Would you consider allowing your boys and girls walking naked on the streets of San Pedro playing some game in front of the house? You know, some people actually enjoy their boys in the home walking only in underwear, perhaps with a sleeveless vest on. But that is as far as we would go, not naked, and not on the streets.
You know, twenty five years ago, seeing a naked boy walking the streets of San Pedro was a common occurrence. Boys walked the streets naked up until about s even or eight years of age. There was one particular family from Belize City, the father was a shipwright, and those children walked naked until they were maybe ten or twelve years old.
Now don’t get me wrong. It was not like you see in some poverty-stricken areas of Africa as shown on film documentaries. Not everyone was going around naked. But there were several of them, so much that it was common, and seeing them caused no emotions. And the children themselves felt comfortable and did not bother that people were looking at them.
Boys walked naked in their yards, swam naked, and occasionally they were seen on the streets going some places as if they were sons of Adam and Eve. (But there were no Adams and Eves) Why was this so? Were they poor and could not afford clothing? No. Were they underprivileged? No. Was it too hot? No. Then what was the reason? It was custom as much as walking barefooted was a custom or men walking about with their pants rolled up half way up the knee, or their unbuttoned shirts. Yes, all of these were customs. You would find a man well dressed up going for a walk and his shirt would be unbuttoned. Some showed an undershirt. Others showed the big belly.
My parents say I never did. They did not enjoy that custom. However, I do remember being about six or seven, and after coming out of the sea, my mom, and sister would make us strip naked in the yard and put us (my brother and I) into the “batella” (the washing tub), and give us a good shampoo and scrubbing from head to toe. That was in the outdoor garage, and anybody passing by could see us naked, so we put up some crocus bags as curtains to keep off the public eye from this weekly ritual. This was a weekly ritual because mom thought we did not bathe properly, so the shampooing and scrubbing was done with plenty of water and plenty of soap. And no matter how much we cried because of the soap in our eyes, the scrubbing of the head continued until she was certain any possible threat of head lice was destroyed. At other times, when we came from swimming in the sea, we would go to the well in the middle of the yard and again strip naked and pour pails of fresh water over our bodies. This bath required no soap, for after two hours in the sea and five minutes of showering, what possible dirt could be on our bodies? But the point was that this shower was blank naked but only in our yards.
Did some boys swim naked while girls were around? Oh yes. That did not bother them. And did they walk out on the pier to take a high dive. Oh yes they did. Now, I can tell you that girls never walked naked about the place. Boys were allowed because they “were boys”. And it was not until the boy was getting too old that family and friends would tease the child so that he would put on some clothing. Some boys really enjoyed this privilege for too long.
This sense of freedom is not seen today in San Pedro, fortunately. The children are properly clothed from birth. The naked period is only during the bath until the child can do it by himself or herself. Fathers do not walk about the house in underwear as was common in the past. Boys and girls use swimwear from age one. However, we do observe a little trace of that custom remaining in San Pedro. Many people still do not wear shoes and quite a few men love to open up their shirts even at public gatherings, or sometimes we remove the shirts altogether. Some habits and customs are hard to break, don’t you agree?