Blocks of chicle gum ready for export: The Chiclero that extracted the chewing gum that the world chewed with much gusto
Top photo: Here are the blocks of chicle ready to be transported from the Benque Viejo Bodega, to the San Ignacio Boat Wharf and then to the Belize City Ware Houses. (This Bodega was situated by the Park in front of the Benque Viejo Town Council Offices, near the river. ) Lots of chicle used to come from across the river.
It was a dangerous way to make a living. You have to climb the tree with just a rope to hold you like a hammock and some men fell to their death accidentally cutting the rope that sustained them. Very sharp machetes were used for that task. No safety harnesses, no hard hats, etc. Those were the days of exploitation by the British.
This employment had to be when the rainfall began, as the resin flow better better.
So, these men, as you see in this picture, had to withstand the dangers of falling from the tree, the mosquitos, and other insects and bugs (Many died from snake bite), to produce CHEWING GUM FOR THE CHEWERS.
We were next door neighbors to the A. Figueros, and everytime the chicle men would reach from the bush my sisters and I would run to the Figueroas under a shed where the men were boiling the chicle. They would cut piece off the big block and give us to chew. We had to chew,chew,chew, to spit out the milk.then we could enjoy our chicle (Then the chicle would have no flavor). That was about our only chewing gum growing up. But oh for those days!
THESE ARE THE CHICLE BLOCKS READY FOR THE EXPORT MARKET.
This was the second largest Industry in the building of our Economy and the Industry that employed more Belizeans than any other. Notable chicle exporters in Belize history included Mr. Robert Sydney Turton and B.E.C.
This chicle was mostly sold to the Wrigley Company that owned the owners of the Wrigley Field and the Chicago Cubs
Many are wondering, what became of this large Industry.
MY ONLY ANSWER IS, - Hurricane Hattie which destroyed most of the Sapodila Trees.-- and synthetic Gums that were introduced..
The Chiclero that extracted the chewing gum that the world chewed with much gusto
This is one of the most extensive and SAD STORIES in the history of Belize. It took me many years to reach into the belly of this industry.
The story is long, but I will give a tip view of this important STORY, which I have recorded at length.
CHICLEROS were hired men, who had to work in the jungles of Belize for SIX MONTHS without coming home. - BY LAW ..
CHICLEROS worked during rainy months, because this was the season when the SAP of the ( sapodilla ) Chicle trees run freely.
CHICLEROS were the victims of snakes, mosquitos, doctor flies,- wasps - biting ants, scorpions and even Wild Animals.
BUT CHICLEROS were in danger that up on the tree, if he made the slightest mistake with that RAZOR SHARP machete, and touch that suspention rope, he would be a dead man.
BUT the worse danger facing the CHICLEROS were those professional KILLERS who were allegedly hired to shoot them down while on the tree top.
IN THOSE DAYS COMPENSATION DID NOT EXISTED, so a Chiclero's body if it was found,it was transported like cargo to be burried by a poor family. - His chicle LOST
I have a written a book,on one of Belize;s HERO of hundreds of Chicleros he saved.
THIS SHOWS THE COMPLETE PROCESS OF CHICLE EXTRACTION from top to bottom
The Chiclero cuts NEAT channels on the bark of the Sapodila Tree. ( neat because if not clear cuts the resin remains under the bark pf the tree.
Then the Chicle Resin flows neatly down the tree, to full a rubber coated bag.
Then In the evening the resin is collected and taken to camp for the cooking process.
The chiclero had to be very careful that his machete does not slip and cut the tense rope - ( he would be a dead man )
COOKING THE CHICLE RESIN IS THE FINAL PROCESS
Then it was moulded into blocks fort he export market.
Here is a Maya man doing the cooking ( look like my friend Tanico)
This cooking was an art. Good fire and water, while stirring or it gets over cooked. and lost.
HERE IS A CREOLE MAN ALSO COOKING HIS PRODUCT
This goes to show that this industry employed people of all Ethnic Groups. -Careful cooking ..
The color of Chicle varied according to the quality. There was the CHICLE HEMBRA which had the best texture, and the CHICLE MACHO which had a sticky texture.
The Chicle Hembra had the best price, SO the geniuses mixed the Macho with the Hembra and they got a better price.
The Chicle Macho was more common in the Chiquibul area. So it is believed, that the Chiquibul Forest got its name from the chicle bull, (Bull the macho of the cow). There were about 35 Chicle Traders. Many of these contractors were accompanying Mr. Turton on their way to Bullet Tree, when Eluterio Hernandez appeared on the road, near today's Juan Chuc Store, and shot off two of Mr Turton fingers.
Hector Silva: I was browsing among books, which I have written when my eyes caught the LIFE OF A CHICLERO. ( A chiclero was a hard working man, who made a living for his family, by extracting the Resin of the Sapodilla tree and selling it to a Chicle Contractor.
These men signed a Contract in June, to enter the jungles and stay there for six months. In December they would come down to claim their INCOME. - If they didn't appear, that was it, until next year.
NOW COME THE SAD DAYS.
Many Christmas seasons , many chicleros, did not return home, nor to collect their Income.So that became a day of mourning in those communities.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THOSE CHICLEROS, - The Official answer was that Tiger eat them, Snake bit them, or that they fell from the Tree
ALL LIES. - According to eye witnesses, ( Chicleros nearby ), they were shot by PROFESSIONAL KILLERS, imported from abroad. Processed Chicle was CASH IN HAD. - SO, Chicleros missing was Chicle money DEAD.
SO OUR CHRISTMASES WERE MIXED. - - - ( I am now trying to get sponsors for my books, explaining how dangerous it was to BUILD A NATION, by those hard working men. ).
The blocks of chicle depended on the amount of cooked gum. Some blocks weighed 25 lbs and some 50 lbs, or in between, always managable to load them on a Mule Back.
I was a chicerio from the age of 12 to the age of 28. I passed through rough expèriences in the jungle from july to February with out seeing my family for 7 months. My brother accidentally cut his rope and fell approximately 40ft from a tree and I had to walk 2 days and 2 nights to get help. My father was also a chiclero and died on the job from a bitten by a yellow jaw and died wen i was only 7 years old. And because jobs were scarce i had to follow his footsteps. Being a chiclero is rough! It takes a real man to be a chiclero.
One of the by-products of the Resin:
Use up to now and will never fade off the shelves.
My father was a damn good chiclero I witnessed him making a bag ( laundry style) out of the resin it was strong well made and prevented moisture from seeping in
When there is not sufficient water in the jungle to cook the Resin, the POOR COOK have to invite his friends to donate their URINE, so as not to loose the PRODUCT . ( But like how Seferino Coleman would say, " THIS DA BETWEEM YOU AND ME "
The mayas of southern Belize also were a part of the chiclero havesting. There were lots of stories from those that went to camp out for days.
Short oral histories of Chicleros from Corozal
Source: Alan Baker
These men were in their 80's in 2003 so they would be in their late 90's today.
Click here for the document.
The Chiceros sang some very cute songs, I remember hearing this one: "Hairy foot Sambo dah whe
Yu think a yawndah"
If yu foot soh hairy Sambo dah whe yu think ah yawndah."