The Chiclero - once a thriving occupation practiced by men in Crooked Tree Village and the surrounding areas has slowly become extinct since the early seventies.
This line of work was done by the older generation of village men, who were accustomed to doing dangerous and arduous tasks to provide for their families.
The sapodilla tree grows wild in the rainforests of Belize, especially around the vicinity of Crooked Tree Village. The men would be isolated at their camp sites for weeks at a time. This would give them enough time to harness the milky sap from the Sapodilla tree in sufficient quantity before returning home to cook the milk into chicle form.
Chicle trees are easily recognized because of the deep zig-zagged demarcations that scar the huge tree trunks. The cooking process is usually done outdoors, with the large pot resting on iron pegs firmly planted in the ground and allowing eight to ten inches for a fire to be built under the pot. The milk is poured inside the pot and has to be stirred constantly with a wooden paddle to avoid burning. As the cooking process progresses, the white milk becomes thicker, stickier and richer, and changes to a creamish-brown in color.
At this point, the rythmic stirring pattern changes to a regular slapping-like motion of the chicle against the side of the pot to ensure an even and uniform blend and to avoid scorching. After the cooking is completed, the packing process begins.
Chicle has been trapped from the sapodilla trees since the time of the ancient Mayas. Exports declined, however, when cheaper synthetics took over the market.
(pictures courtesy Mrs. Dorothy Throne/Village Viewpost)
Checking the consistency of the sap
Mr. Tillett: Making the mold:
Special molds are made from wood and leaves to facilitate the packaging process. These molds are usually rectangular in shape, approximately fourteen inches in length, twelve inches in width and ten inches in height, without a top, but with an unattached bottom. When stuffed with the hot or warm chicle product, a block would weigh between forty-five to fifty-five pounds. The inside of the mold has to be very smooth and wet, so that after the chicle has cooled down and solidified, with one fluid motion, it slides out easily into one block of chicle.
Mr. George Tillett, Chiclero of Crooked Tree Village: Cooking the sap
Canvass bag at the root of the tree for catching the sap