8 men stand in front of this Ceiba Tree. It would have taken a little over 20 men to form a full circle around this magnificent Ceiba Tree. Amazing!
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Friday June 6, 2014

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8 men stand in front of this Ceiba Tree. It would have taken a little over 20 men to form a full circle around this magnificent Ceiba or kapok tree, 1926. Amazing!

This is a Ceiba pentandra or "Cotton Tree". This one was taken at Pusilha in Toledo and in the middle, the tall gentleman is the infamous Maya enthusiast, or amateur Archaeologist, Dr. Thomas Gann. Date is 1926.remember right.

Extrapolating measurements of the mens extended arms, the buttress roots are almost 40ft across at the base. Using the buttress proportions and the height of the men, I estimate the diameter of the tree(measured higher) to be between 16-18ft, making the girth about 55 ft! Girth to tree height ratios vary but for sure this giant was probably more than 180 feet tall, closer to 200. From the picture you are looking at about 10% of the tree! The tree was probably 200 to 300 years old.

Dr. Gann Career Information

In 1894 he was appointed district medical officer for British Honduras, where he would spend most of the next quarter century. He soon developed a keen interest in the colony's Mayan ruins, which up to then had been little documented. He also traveled in the Yucatán Peninsula, exploring ruins there.

Gann discovered a number of sites, including Lubaantun, Ichpaatun and Tzibanche. He published the first detailed descriptions of such ruins as Xunantunich and Lamanai. He made important early exploration at Santa Rita, Louisville, and Coba. At Tulum he documented buildings overlooked by previous explorers, including a rare find of a temple with the Pre-Columbian idol still intact inside.

Midway through his career, in 1908 Gann became the honorary lecturer in Central American Antiquities at the new Institute of Archaeology of the University of Liverpool (not long after he had taken the Diploma there in Tropical Medicine). Liverpool subscribers funded several of his fieldwork seasons up to 1912.

Photograph courtesy Leopold Grinage

Slavery in Belize

PDF: A History of Slavery and Emancipation in Belize

"How many slaves did it take to remove Mahogany trees from the rainforest of Belize?"

According to Nigel Bolland the process of extracting Mahogany was so intense it took 10 to 50 slaves working in small groups to complete the task. The "huntsman" was the name of the slave responsible for surveying the forest to locate the mahogany tree.

Pre-emancipation censuses: Three Early Censuses of Belize, 1816, 1820, and 1823. In this brief monograph I shall focus on the census of 1823, since it contains the most detailed information. In Appendix A the names of all family heads listed in this census, along with their slaveholdings, are given. In Appendix B are given the names of family heads appearing in the 1816 census which do not re-appear in the 1823 census. Appendix C lists the surnames of persons appearing in the 1823 census as being attached to families. These surnames do not appear elsewhere as heads of any family. Finally, Appendix D gives a sampling of the names of the slaves, who were not allowed the dignity of a surname un-til they gained their freedom. I hope many Belizeans of today will take satisfaction in knowing that their families sank roots in this country at least 150 years ago.

Types of work an enslaved person did in Belize:

With the slavery system based on the woodcutting industry enslaved persons were given into various jobs. A number of occupations were required in the process of mahogany extraction:

1) Huntsmen – his job was to search and survey the forest to locate the mahogany trees. The slave owner depended on the huntsman’s skill to not only find the mahogany, but also to report the find. This was the occupation with the most freedom as the huntsman would work independently with minimal supervision.

2) Axe men – were deployed after the huntsman found the tree. This was the most dangerous and arduous job as it required the operation of a heavy axe on a platform that was 12 feet off the ground known as the “barbecue”.

3) Cattlemen – were responsible to feed and work the cattle used to hauling the huge trunks.

4) Men who received the logs at the river mouth and were responsible for squaring the wood for final shipment.

5) Cultivators – were responsible for cultivating the grounds for the production of ground foods, vegetables and other subsistence crops.

6) Women were responsible for the domestic operations of the household and they also cooked, sewed, washed and ironed.

"After 1770 about 80 percent of all male slaves aged ten years or more cut timber. "

"The colonial masters used domestic slaves, mostly women and children, to clean their houses, sew, wash and iron their clothes, prepare and serve their food, and raise their children. Some slaves cultivated provisions that would either be sold or used to save their owners some of the cost of importing food. Other slaves worked as sailors, blacksmiths, nurses, and bakers." -- Belize: A Country Study (1992)

1720s: First record of African slaves in Belize
1830s: Slavery abolished in Belize
2016: Human trafficking, forced labor and other forms of slavery exist in Belize.

Treatment of Slaves in Belize:

Incidence of slave children born to white Masters are evidence of the sexual favours enslaved women were required to perform as mistresses. Children born in slavery became adopted to the life of servitude from a young age. Young boys and girls wait on tables. Girls also served as chambermaids while boys serve d as footmen. As children grew older they were moved on go more demanding occupations.

In ‘Correspondence Relative to Slaves at Honduras 1820- 1823’ Superintendent George Arthur wrote a series of letters to England detailing the harsh cruelty suffered by the slaves at the hands of their masters. With no formal law in place for the protection of slaves, it wasn’t until 1821 that the King of England gave a royal proclamation that the “Consolidated Slave Law of Jamaica” should be observed in the settlement when it came to the treatment of slaves.

Resistance to slavery in the Belize Settlement:

Resistance to slavery has been recorded throughout its existence in the settlement of Belize. Slaves used both active and passive approaches to resist their enslavement. For women it was observed through actions such as abortions where women who were made pregnant by their slave master had abortions as they refused to raise a child under the conditions of slavery. Obeah was also believed to be practiced by some of the slaves against their masters and was made punishable by death in 1791. Men resisted in a more active approach which resulted in running away or revolt.

Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807:

The first major step on the road to emancipation was an ‘Act for the Abolishment of the Slave Trade’ in 1807. The members of the Society for the Abolishment of the Slave Trade decided to concentrate on a campaign to persuade British Parliament to prohibit trading in slaves. They felt they were more likely to succeed than if they demanded the abolition of slavery itself throughout the empire. They also believe that if the slave trade was ceased, slavery would eventually be brought to an end. On 25th March, 1807, the Act for the Abolition of the slave trade made it illegal to carry enslaved people on British Ships.

1833 Abolition of Slavery:

In July 1833, a bill to abolish slavery throughout the British Empire was passed in British Parliament. This was the result of several factors which included:

1) The education campaign laid by the abolitionists.
2) Major slave revolts in Jamaica, Demerara and Barbados.
3) Reduced demand for slave-based goods.
4) The Reform Act of British Parliament in 1832.

As of August 1st, 1834, slavery was officially brought to an end pending a transition period known as Apprenticeship.

Life for former Slaves after Apprenticeship and Emancipation in British Honduras:

In British Honduras, the end of the apprenticeship period on its eve of July 31st, 1838, was marked with prayer and mild celebration. In places like Jamaica, the end of slavery was symbolized by burying a coffin containing a whip and chain inside. The Superintendent of Belize reported that after most of the ex-slaves were carrying on with their own activities.

After Emancipation, the former masters still found various ways to control the labour force and developed a system of dependency. Here are some ways:

1) Only white men could own land and former slaves could not.

2) Land was to be sold at one pound per acre, which was too expensive for the ex-slaves.

3) The British Woodcutters developed the ‘advance system’ where advances were given under a strict contract system. This ensured the ex-slaves were bound to the employer for six to twelve months.

4) The ‘Truck System’ where the ex-slave had to take a portion of their wages as provisions from their employers store.

Apprenticeship Period to Full Emancipation of Slavery 1838:

The First step towards emancipation was the registering of all slaves in the settlement before August 1834. Order-in-Council reached Belize in March 1834 and established a registration period of two months. In order to compensate slaves’ owners for their loss they would incur once the slaves were free, Britain paid 20 million pounds today. This was equal to roughly 40% of the national budget at the time and about 1.34 billion pounds today; on the other hand the slaves received nothing. Instead the final emancipation would be reached over a period of six years which was later shortened to four years. In Belize slave owners were paid an average of 54 pounds per enslaved person.

The period of Apprenticeship and Master/Slave relations in British Honduras 1834 -1838:

In British Honduras, the period of apprenticeship was generally free of disturbances and revolts. While little seem to have changed in terms of labour control there were new power relations between the master and the slaves. Matters regarding punishment and other disciplinary actions were not dealt with until after emancipation.

A special magistrate was appointed to each colony to oversee relations and enforce that the slaves were working a required 45 hours per week. The end of the apprenticeship period came early since it was found that abuse and ill-treatment of enslaved people had gotten worse.

Source: A History of Slavery & Emancipation in Belize

Slave Revolts in the Belize Settlement:

Just as other British territories within the Caribbean, Belize had its own major slave revolts/rebellions within its slavery era.

The largest recorded revolt in Belize occurred in May 1773, when slaves overtook (5) logging camps and killed six British men. This revolt was only suppressed with the assistance of the British Naval force from Jamaica five (5) months after commencing. Eventually, this revolt did not cease until November of the same year.

Cutting logwood was a simple, small-scale operation, but the settlers imported slaves to help with the work. Slavery in the settlement was associated with the extraction of timber, first logwood and then mahogany, as treaties forbade the production of plantation crops. This difference in economic function gave rise to variations in the organization, conditions, and treatment of slaves. The earliest reference to African slaves in the British settlement appeared in a 1724 Spanish missionary's account, which stated that the British recently had been importing them from Jamaica and Bermuda. A century later, the total slave population numbered about 2,300. Most slaves, even if they were brought through West Indian markets, were born in Africa, probably from around the Bight of Benin, the Congo, and Angola--the principal sources of British slaves in the late eighteenth century. The Eboe or Ibo seem to have been particularly numerous; one section of Belize Town was known as Eboe Town in the first half of the nineteenth century. At first, many slaves maintained African ethnic identifications and cultural practices. Gradually, however, the process of assimilation was creating a new, synthetic Creole culture.

The whites, although a minority in the settlement, monopolized power and wealth by dominating the chief economic activities of trade and cutting timber. They also controlled the first legislature and the judicial and administrative institutions. As a result, the British settlers had a disproportionate influence on the development of the Creole culture. Anglican, Baptist, and Methodist missionaries helped devalue and suppress African cultural heritage.

Cutting wood was seasonal work that required workers to spend several months isolated in temporary makeshift camps in the forest, away from families in Belize Town. Settlers needed only one or two slaves to cut logwood, a small tree that grows in clumps near the coast. But as the trade shifted to mahogany in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the settlers needed more money, land, and slaves for larger-scale operations. After 1770 about 80 percent of all male slaves aged ten years or more cut timber. Huntsmen found the trees, which were then cut, trimmed, and hauled to the riverside. During the rainy season, settlers and slaves floated rafts of untrimmed logs downriver, where the wood was processed for shipment. Huntsmen were highly skilled and valued slaves, as were the axmen who cut the trees while standing on a springy platform four to five meters high. Another group of slaves cared for the oxen that pulled the huge logs to the river. Others trimmed the trees and cleared the tracks. The use of small gangs of slaves for cutting wood reduced the need for close supervision; whip-wielding drivers, who were ubiquitous on large plantations elsewhere, were unknown in the settlement.

The slaves' experience, though different from that on plantations in other colonies in the region, was nevertheless oppressive. They were frequently the objects of "extreme inhumanity," as a report published in 1820 stated. The settlement's chaplain reported "instances, many instances, of horrible barbarity" against the slaves. The slaves' own actions, including suicide, abortion, murder, escape, and revolt, suggest how they viewed their situation. Slaves who lived in small, scattered, and remote groups could escape with relative ease if they were willing to leave their families. In the eighteenth century, many escaped to Yucatán, and in the early nineteenth century a steady flow of runaways went to Guatemala and down the coast to Honduras. Some runaways established communities, such as one near Sibun River, that offered refuge to others. When freedom could be attained by slipping into the bush, revolt was not such a pressing option. Nevertheless, numerous slave revolts took place. The last revolt in 1820, led by two black slaves, Will and Sharper, involved a considerable number of well-armed individuals who "had been treated with very unnecessary harshness by their Owner, and had certainly good grounds for complaint."

Emancipation and Apprenticeship in the Old Settlement:

The essence of society, a rigidly hierarchical system in which people were ranked according to race and class was well established by the time of full emancipation in 1838. The act to abolish slavery throughout the British colonies, passed in 1833, was intended to avoid drastic social changes by effecting emancipation over a five-year transition period. The act included two generous measures for slave owners: a system of "apprenticeship" calculated to extend their control over the former slaves who were to continue to work for their masters without pay, and compensation for the former slave owners for their loss of property. These measures helped ensure that the majority of the population, even when it was legally freed after apprenticeship ended in 1838, depended on their former owners for work. These owners still monopolized the land. Before 1838, a handful of the inhabitants controlled the settlement and owned most of the people. After 1838, the masters of the settlement, a tiny elite, continued to control the country for over a century by denying access to land, and by promoting economic dependency of the freed slaves through a combination of wage advances and company stores.

"Coloured Subjects of Free Condition"

One way the settler minority maintained its control was by dividing the slaves from the growing population of free Creole people who were given limited privileges. Though some Creoles were legally free, they could neither hold commissions in the military nor act as jurors or magistrates, and their economic activities were restricted. They could vote in elections only if they had owned more property and lived in the area longer than whites. Privileges, however, led many free blacks to stress their loyalty and acculturation to British ways. When officials in other colonies of the British West Indies began giving free blacks expanded legal rights, the British Colonial Office threatened to dissolve the Baymen's Public Meeting unless it followed suit. The "Coloured Subjects of Free Condition" were granted civil rights on July 5, 1831, a few years before the abolition of slavery was completed.

Source: The US Library of Congress

Slave Population of Belize 1745 - 1832
Occupation of the Slave Population of Belize by Age, Sex , 1834

The British system of slavery was historically the most oppressive when compared to the French and the Spanish. The French Code Noir offered freedom in various forms and education. All this were unheard of in British colonies. The Code Noir granted that: a free, unmarried man should have relations with a slave owned by him, he should then be married to the slave concubine, thus freeing her and any resulting child from slavery." Slave masters 20 years of age years without parental permission may free their slaves.

Slaves who were declared to be sole legatees by their masters, or named as executors of their wills, or tutors of their children, should be held and considered as freed slaves.

Freed slaves were French subjects, even if born elsewhere. Freed slaves had the same rights as French colonial subjects." So the 'good times' friendship perpetuates a lie on the Belize flag, the only flag on the planet with people on it.

1st August, 1834 marked the Abolition of Slavery in British Dominions. Although slavery was abolished, the date saw the commencement of the transitional period of Apprenticeship which many argue was just another form of slavery. Emancipation came four years later when apprenticeship came to an end and all slaves were truly considered free agents.

The following is extracted from a letter written by Lord Stanley and dated 20th May, 1833 "Copy of the Resolution moved by me, on the part of His Majesty's Government in the House of Commons on the 14th instant for laying the groundwork of a Bill for the Extinction of Slavery through His Majesty's Dominions."

The West India Regiment

The British army was the biggest purchaser of slaves. These men formed and served in the West India Regiment. In the late 1790s, Britain was defending several of its territories around the world and they were stretched thin. Between the years of 1775 and 1783, there was the American War of Independence, Anglo French War, Anglo Spanish War and the 4th Anglo Dutch War. Britain was having difficulty in the Caribbean as well. Many of the infantry men that were shipped from Britain had not adjusted well to the climate and were dying from heat exhaustion and deceases like yellow fever. The high mortality of troops led that army to form the West India Regiments in Jamaica in 1795, just prior to the Battle of St. George’s Caye. From there, they were deployed to various parts of the Caribbean. There were several regiments formed. Members of the regiments 1st through 6th were garrisoned in St. George’s Caye. These were comprised of white officers while the infantry was comprised of black slaves that were purchased for that specific purpose. Between 1795 and 1807, estimates suggest that some 13,400 slaves were purchased for the West India Regiments. The British bought 7% of the total slaves that were sold in the West Indies. Africans and Creoles were bought from sugar plantations and from ships arriving from Angola and the Congo. This was a strategy that not only the British used to make their armies larger and to cover more territory, but also one that North Americans later adapted and which was immortalized in the song “Buffalo Soldiers” by the famous reggae singer, Bob Marley.

The West India Regiments were disbanded, but subsequently reassembled in the early 1800s. Some were shifted from one regiment to form another. Slavery was abolished in 1833, therefore black soldiers recruited were now free, but remained serving in their regiments. After emancipation, West India Regiment recruits included men liberated from illegal slave ships, as well as black soldiers captured from enemy French and Dutch colonies. Now free men soldiers were given the same rights as white soldiers. Significantly, they were also formally recognized as a part of the British Army. The West India Regiment did get a change in the uniform, as Queen Victoria was impressed by the exotic appearance of the French North African Zouave Infantry, and so they adapted the style that would remain until 1914, when all British Army uniforms were standardized. There were many battles throughout the 1800s and the West India Regiment also participated in the historic World War I, which began in 1914.

The Life of a SLAVE in Belize


“In August 1813, for instance, a slave, Lizzy, was brought before a Summary Court accused of acting with 'insolence and bad conduct' to her mistress Elizabeth Potts. Lizzy was found guilty and sentenced to be lashed 100 times on her bare back and then led round the town 'at the cart's tail'. In October a slave found guilty of stealing was sentenced to 250 lashes and then to be dragged round the town.” In his speech “How to make a slave”, Willie Lynch argued that punishing an enslaved African in a public space was important. In some ways, he was saying that the idea of punishment and control is more important than the act itself. He said that it was important to not kill the enslaved African because “you spoil good economics”.

QUOTE: Dobson, N. (1973). A history of Belize. Trinidad and Jamaica: Longman Caribbean. P. 153

Slave masters PAID to FREE SLAVES

Slave owners in Belize played a smart move when they managed to ask for an exaggerated compensation to free our African ancestors. They got half of it approved and still got more than many others in region.

“In order to compensate slave owners for “their losses”, Britain paid 20 million pounds in government bonds. This was equal to roughly 40% of the national budget at the time and about 1.34 billion pounds today; on the other hand the slaves received nothing.

Instead the final emancipation would be reached over a period of six years which was later shortened to four years. In Belize slave owners were paid an average of £54 per enslaved person.”

In recent years, Belize has joined other Caribbean nations to have former enslaving countries provide REPARITIONS to advance the conditions of Afro-descendants.

Manumission: The legal process by which slaves were freed before Emancipation on August 1 1838.

"Sometimes this occurred when a slave purchased his freedom, but it was usually done by a master in respect of his slave woman concubine and their children.

More than 500 slaves were manumitted between 1808 and 1830.

This process created a group of people called "free coloured" whom the masters used as buffers between themselves and the slaves.. Some of them became slave masters, and after emancipation would, by virtue of wealth and education as well as colour, become a class that aspired to replace the Europeans as the colony's elite. The 1832 census, for example, records 31 free coloured slave owners, 17 of who were women, and 26 white slave owners."

Below is an example of Manumission in 1792. Johann Jacob Sluscher frees his children Kitty Sluscher, James Dominicio Sluscher, Martha Sluscher and Matthias Sluscher at the cost of 5 Shillings. Their mother name was Venus.

Slaves REVOLT in Belize

Africans revolted against slavery in Belize in 1765, 1768, 1773 and 1821. A settler in 1765 reported “The Negroes belonging to one Mr. Thomas Cooke of Jamaica, rebelled, killed their Master and a Carpenter robbed the house of ever thing that was valuable and fled to the woods… we do not know when it will end” (Shoman, 2000, p. 51).

Three years after, they were faced with similar circumstances, a letter of 1768 reads “Matters are come to this miserable pass, that Twenty three British Negroes, Armed, had gone off from the New River to the Spaniards, and many more were expected to follow them; so that the Business of every kind was at a Stand” (Shoman, 2000, p. 51).

In May 1773, a captain recorded “The Negroes before our People came up with them had taken five settlements and murthered six White Men and were join’d by several others the whole about fifty with sixteen Musquets Cutlasses, etc… ” (Shoman, 2000, p. 52).

Slaves would continue to resist. Will and Sharper led a considerable number of slaves to revolt in 1821. A state of emergency was declared in the settlement.

INFO: Burdon, John Alder. (1931). Archives of British Honduras, Vol. 1. London: Siifton Praed. Shoman, Assad. (1994, Revised 2000). Thirteen chapters of a history of Belize. Belize: Angelus Press.

Slave Trade

Emancipation Day is celebrated in many former British colonies in the Caribbean and areas of the United States on various dates in observance of the emancipation of slaves of African origin. It is also observed in other areas in regard to the abolition of serfdom or other forms of servitude.

The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 ended slavery in the British Empire on August 1, 1834. Emancipation Day is widely observed in the British West Indies during the first week of August. In many Caribbean countries the Emancipation Day celebration is a part of Carnival, as the Caribbean Carnival takes place at this time (although Carnaval in Trinidad and Tobago takes place in February or March according to Ash Wednesday. In Belize it is not observed. The anthem and flag of Belize prefers to remember “Our father’s the Baymen valiant and proud”. In truth, the British were regarded as the most cruel slave masters. The clip I prepared for a Caribbean History class on the slave trade.

In March 1834 in anticipation of Emancipation Day, Belize established a slave registration period of two months. In theory, we can get the names. Less known is that in early 1822, George Arthur superintendent and commandant to British Honduras freed the indigenous slaves that the settlers took from along the Mosquito Shore (interesting debate followed if their kids with the other slaves should also be free). In both cases, the slave owners were compensated.

Belize History Association: A conversation on Enslavement and Emancipation in Belize

The Belize History Association and the Institute for Social and Cultural Research of the National Institute of Culture and History coordinated a virtual panel discussion to commemorate Emancipation Day. The panel was entitled “A conversation on Enslavement and Emancipation in Belize.”

The panelists included the newly elected board of directors of the Belize History Association including Dr. Abigail McKay (Chair), Ms. Ruby Reyes (Vice-Chair), Mr. Frantz Smith (Senior Member), Ms. Ifasína Efunyemi (Senior Member), Ms. Karla Pinelo (Junior Member), and Jayleen Logan (Junior Member). Mr. Emerson Guild of the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) also provided special remarks.

Emancipation Day -1 August 1838

On 1 August 1834, slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire. As a condition, enslavers were compensated for their loss of "property". On the other hand, nothing was given to the enslaved population, roughly 1,923 persons in Belize at the time. Instead, the new law stated that all previously enslaved persons were to work for free as apprentices for their former enslavers. The apprenticeship period was initially to last six years, but was later shortened to four years, ending in 1838.

Alexander Henderson, a Baptist Pastor describes the Eve of Emancipation on 31 July 1838: "A little before twelve, I went down and found the place filled with people and a greater proportion slaves. I laid my watch on the table, sitting down silently till twelve, when I rose telling them that slavery was no more with them. Then we all fell on our knees, and afterwards rose to sing...Gladness dwelt on every countenance." On 1 August 1838, full emancipation was in effect in Belize.

1st August, 1834 marked the Abolition of Slavery in British Dominions. Although slavery was abolished, the date saw the commencement of the transitional period of Apprenticeship which many argue was just another form of slavery. Emancipation came four years later when apprenticeship came to an end and all slaves were truly considered free agents.

The following is extracted from a letter written by Lord Stanley and dated 20th May, 1833 "Copy of the Resolution moved by me, on the part of His Majesty's Government in the House of Commons on the 14th instant for laying the groundwork of a Bill for the Extinction of Slavery through His Majesty's Dominions

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