by Bilal Morris for Amandala
The areas now known as Belama in Belize City, Belize was where the mangrove once flourished in abundance in the 1960s and 70s, and as a boy that’s where we Belize City boys used to catch crabs in abundance for the delicious crab soup that my mother used to put food on the table.
We would catch so many crabs and fill our wooden carts with crocus bags full of the crustacean that we would even sell in the neighborhood to make our matinee money. Would never forget the sight inside that mangrove forest cover of thousands of crabs of beautiful blue and yellow colors just running wild across the muddy ground floor after the August rains came plentiful in those days.
Being in Belize in 2019 August, there was not one drop of rain to cool down the sun-baked Belizean earth. Some years before that, visiting Belize in 2014 and 2016, the rain would come in splashes for no more than a few seconds and then stopped. This was a big change from my days as a boy growing up in Belize.
My summer vacations out of primary school and the joy of the coming of the crab season as we used to call it, brought a sense of happiness. It was an adventure to be inside that mangrove forest catching crabs because you could hear the quiet of the jungle, the chirping of the birds, and the sounds of the moving unknown wildlife that would always make me and my childhood friends think there were crocodiles moving around in the underbrush. Who knows?
Some of my summer vacations in the 1970s took us eastward up the Belize River to one of the most beautiful places owned by a deceased cousin of my father. My dad had built the country house for him when he worked with Bradley’s Dockyard in the 1960s. It was easy to go by boat up the river to that place. Another of my father’s cousins, who was a well-known seaman, took us there every summer and we spent a couple weeks there under the Belizean moonlight with kerosene lamps, fire-hearth baked johnny cakes, fried “Krana” river fish that my three cousins and I caught from a skiff that was placed near the riverside, as we threw our “Johnny Filder” crab hooks and fishing lines into the deep running and unpolluted river. It wasn’t a minute before the line tightened and we pulled in a nice sized river fish.
It was such a joy to remove the hook from the mouth of the flapping fish, running your hands downwards along the spines so that they did not prick you. The fun would continue when we were showed how to place the catch inside what was called a “Kraw” made from chicken wire and tied to a mangrove pole stuck deep into the muddy riverbed.
Around tea and dinner time, my seaman cousin would pull up the fish-packed square trap out of the water that was so filled with fishes you could hear the splatter of their tails freshly emerging from the deep river. And oh boy, my seaman cousin’s common-law wife prepared some of the most delicious meals for us boys from fried river fish with freshly baked flour tortilla and stew fish with white rice and fried plantain. She was from Lemonal Village and could cook up a storm with that “village gial” Belize River Valley cooking.
It was during the storytelling hours at night under the cool Belizean moonlit and starry sky that my seaman cousin, being our elder, would tell stories of seeing the Belizean crocodile existing in its natural habitat in the hidden lagoons. The lagoons that he used to fish were not too far from the house that my dad had built on the bank of the river. We would spend whole weeks at that beautiful piece of Belizean-owned real estate.
On Saturday nights we would go hunting for the famous Belizean bird the people called “Cappinta”. Our seaman cousin would drive us up creek on the river in the dark night in the skiff, cut off the boat motor, use a long pole to push along the boat quietly along the river flashing his big flashlight into the dark mangrove bushes. He was looking for the big sleeping bird that Belizeans would hear pitching on their zinc roofs around December of the year.
Then as one comes to view, he flashes his light unto the bird, paralyzing it with the bright light, and hits it with the same pole he used to paddle the skiff. The bird drops in the water and he scoops it up with his hands and dashes it into the boat. We move on to the next hunt, seek, find, and kill until about five of the birds lay bloody on the boat floor. Tomorrow the wild foul will be the substitute for the regular stew chicken Belizean Sunday dinner with fire-hearth rice and beans and fried plantain.
Today that place has become a resort owned by American expatriates after my father’s cousin sold it before he passed away. It breaks one’s heart to see these prime pieces of Belizean property ending up in the hands of foreigners. But Belizeans of that time didn’t understand what they were doing when they sold them.
It’s a pleasure to see many Belizeans, though, still owning prime pieces of property passed on to them through generations. One of the most prosperous ones today is KOKO KING that is one of the most beautiful resorts on the island of Caye Caulker.
We here at Belizean Legends want to celebrate these Belizean pastimes that were once the way we were.