Women washing laundry in the river in Stann Creek, 1905
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Saturday May 25, 2013

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Stann Creek women way back in the old days on their laundry day in the Stann Creek River. Photo by Avery

This picture of Garifuna women of Dangriga doing laundry near the mouth of the Stann Creek River in the early 1900s, also shows the dress style of Garifuna women of P. G. Around the same time. Such was the traditional style of those days. Credit: BARS.

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It is saddening to reflect that no great ancient races inhabited these lovely Isles, that no great man ever lived, and laboured, and worked, and fought, and died, and left a name for posterity to honour and to cherish as a ‘household word’; that no time-honoured tower or world-famed temple, or pilgrim haunted shrine ever stood on yonder cape—in short, that the past is all a blank.
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Women washing laundry in the river in Stann Creek, 1905

1905 picture of Garifuna women doing laundry and fetching water in jugs balanced on top of their heads near the mouth of the North Stann Creek River that runs through the town.

Looks like it is the bar mouth in Dangriga. Which other Garifuna community has a river running in to the sea like Dangriga? Please note that I said GARIFUNA COMMUNITY. Our people used to do laundry at the mouth of the river and along the banks as well. They would even bleach the clothes on the sand before rinsing and putting them on the sand again to dry. Pen Cayetano has a painting os one of those scenes.

My mother used to balance her most things she carried on her head. Such skills and practices have been lost.

Doing laundry in Belize in the 1950s to 1970s

by Michelle Rivana Buckley

Its time to talk about doing laundry in Belize in the 50s to 70s. Many of you may have had similar or greater experience with doing laundry back in the day. A have to tell you all that I got so many licks due to having to do it. Laundry was done on Saturday or sometimes during the weekdays. Depending on how many older picknee or children was in the family. The older ones were often chosen in our household. When it was my turn my lips would be hanging to the floor. My mother would often say to me, “ketch up dah lip before it trip yo” Meaning get yourself together before you get hit. Pouting in our household was a form of disrespect to my parents. So bear with me!

At age 6 to 8 us younger kids did not do laundry but as you became older you had to become familiar with the galvanized bath tub, scrubbing board, line, blue, and soap powder. These were a family tools used to wash our clothing.

I enjoyed watching my older sisters washing clothes until my turn came. First they would get the fire hearth going in the back yard. On top heating in a large metal lard container was water boiling. This method was used to wash the white clothing and the babies fabric diapers. Blue (a type of chemical soap) was then added to the water. At the end of the process of boiling your clothing you would have beautiful snowy white clothing. Ah yes, as white as Mary’s little lamb. The bath tub would be filled with buckets of water. It was also used to bathe the children in on a hot summer day. If beddings were washed it would take two person one on each end to wring them out. Our detergent of choice was Dona Blanca, Ariel, Tide and later on Foca soap powder and let’s not forget Fabion bar of soap. The bar was rubbed on the clothing to get a lather (soapy) and with all your strength you scrub your clothing against the scrubbing Board. Back in the day Tide would promote their product by giving a small orange plastic coaster in each box. The scrubbing board was made from glass and later came the metal ones. Don’t break that board if you love you life because those were expensive. It was the washing machine of our time two long arms on your body and that scrubbing board. Hanging them lily white clothing and linen made us proud. Feeling that sweet Belizean breeze flowing across the land and let’s not forget that sweltering heat beating down. Morning were set aside to do laundry. Before noon your clothing and bed linen would be dry. That’s the good part and here comes the part that got me a few licks. To hang out the clothing you have to hang them on the line in your backyard to dry. The line(s) was strung up from a very thin rope or cord and tied unto trees or the fences at each end. If you were lucky you had a pulley attached to your home veranda. A line stick was used to push the rope up at the center. Now you all know that wet clothing and bedding are heavy. Base on the amount of laundry and type of clothing like blue jeans or quilt that line would have to hold its weight. I had bad luck because the damn line would break as soon as I reach the end or if I would push the line stick up too high everything would come crashing down. It wasn’t so bad if the yard had sand but it was mud. My mother would hear me scream come to the window and yell for me to pick up every piece and wash them again. I would be so upset I would carelessly wash them again and that in itself would get me licks because once dried dirt would be on some.

My auntie who lived next door to us had a washing machine like the one in the photo it was kept on her back veranda. Everyone knew when she would be doing laundry because it would shake halfway across the floor by the end of each wash. I like to say that it was dancing to the song Waltzing Mathilda.

I became wise and traded chores with my sister. i sweep she wash; she wash I fold and put away.

Our mother’s, sisters, aunts, and nieces would endure the task of maintaining a clean household and laundry so white sweet Jesus would have come down and thanked them. In today day I don’t believe I could have been a washer woman. Like so many women some did people laundry for a living my grandmother was one of them and I am in awe of their accomplishment to use hard labor to put food on their table.

Mirtha Noralez: There was a time when town folk would go long distances to bring water for laundry and bathing and in dry season, even further. I learned to balance a bucket, firewood and even a quarter bag of freshly harvested rice on my head. As I got older, it got tedious. It also gave me a headache.

Jeremy A. Enriquez: I remember those days before the running water system was established in PG, when the women walked long distances to the Felaya and the Malalahati wells to fill their buckets of water and would return home with these filled buckets balanced on their heads.

Nayomi Lara: Many of our women in the rural communities still do it. Especially those ladies that go to the river. I do it.

Joan Avila: Yes I see that indeed, when we are on our way to Dangriga with patients, Golden Stream, Medina Bank etc.

Photograph courtesy Belize Abroad

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