Belize's last hammock maker?
To most Belizeans that necessary piece of household furniture known as a hammock is something you buy in Chetumal or Melchor or from a gift shop or street vendor here at home. But there was a time not that long ago when hammocks were something actually made by hand. No, I doníŽt' just mean weaving the string or yarn; I mean actually making the string--and everything else--completely from scratch. Tonight we are privileged to meet an eighty year old man from the Toledo district who may be Belize's last genuine hammock maker...and New 5's Brent Toombs found him making what may be his last hammock.
"My name is Emilio Choco. I am originally from the Village of San Pedro Carcha in Guatemala. I was nineteen years old when I came to Belize. I was very young, but I came because I needed a piece of land where I could build a home. So I spoke with the Alcalde of San Miguel Village in Toledo and that's where I have lived ever since."
"I have a wife and ten children; five boys and five girls."
"I was thirty-five when I made my first hammock. I was very happy with it. So since then I have continued to make hammocks. I have made twenty hammocks in my life."
"When I was younger, I used to watch other people making hammocks and I wanted to do it myself."
"I asked them the name of the plant they used to make hammocks and they told me it is the Heniken Cactus."
"I look for leaves that are nice and tall. ThatíŽs how I know when the leaves are ready to be cut."
"I take out all the sharp edges because otherwise it will be impossible to hold when I roast it on the fire. Why I roast the Heniken leaf is because it will be easier to clean. Also if you do not roast the leaf, the fibres will be itchy."
"I clean it with a machete to take out all the water and the green part out of the Heniken leaf. If I do not clean it good with the machete it will not give me a good string."
"I clean it until the fibres are left. Then I wash the fibres in water and hang them on a line to dry."
"When my Heniken fibres are dry, I get some ashes and my wooden bench and I start to braid the fibres so they will turn into string."
"After I make the string, I start to weave the hammock on a wooden frame that is about six feet high."
"The part I don't like is starting the weaving. It's hard to get started, but once I get started it is pretty easy to finish."
"From cutting the Heniken until I finish the hammock takes me about a month. Most of that time is just to make the string. Once my string is ready, it takes me only about four days to weave the hammock."
"I started making hammocks when I was young. Back then it would take me a week to make a hammock, but now that I am old, it takes me a long time; about a month."
"After I make a hammock, I sell it for only twenty-five dollars. I can't get anymore for it because the people in my village are poor and can not afford to pay more than twenty-five dollars for a hammock."
"When I was a younger man, I had lots of friends who would make hammocks, but now nobody makes them anymore except me."
"I wanted my sons to learn, but they are not interested. They tell me that it is better to just buy a hammock than to spend a month making one."
"I want to tell my people that they should learn the traditional ways; learn how the old people used to live. It's very interesting for them to learn, especially something like making a hammock."
"The best thing about making a hammock is that I can sleep in it. It's nice to rock in it and enjoy the cool breeze."
"I am happy to be so old. I am not sure how long I am going to live, but to be eighty years old is a gift from God."