Boating downriver to the train to sell bananas, long ago. Also a few other photos of the banana industry and little history of the banana industry in Belize
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Tuesday May 29, 2018

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Bunches of banana near a old Market by the bridge foot in its early days, 1918. It is the side further from the bridge and the Fishermen stalls would be right of this. The main centre of the building had arches like these around its perimeter. Lot of development work was been done to add other buildings around it, including part of where some of the plaintains sit.
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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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Boating downriver to the train to sell bananas, long ago. Also a few other photos of the banana industry and little history of the banana industry in Belize

The banana industry and the railroad that was built in the early 1900s from Middlesex in the Stann Creek Valley to Commerce Bight for export was critical to the development of Belize. In those days the banana industry was thriving as one of the biggest industries in the country, providing a major source of income for the people of southern Belize until the Panama Disease wiped out the industry in 1918, around the time when there was also the global Spanish Flu pandemic.

Edible bananas are native to the tropical regions of South East Asia. They were first introduced to the Caribbean Islands early in the period of Spanish colonization. These bananas were much smaller than the large banana bunches we grow on plantations today. Harry S. Pariser in his book (Explore Belize, 1997) wrote that it was the American Confederates were the first to grow banana's in their settlements in the south of British Honduras in the 1860's. More banana plantations were started shortly after by the British.

In Spanish speaking Central America, bananas were first grown commercially in Costa Rica by American entrepreneur, Minor C. Keith in the 1870's. He expanded his production into Guatemala and Honduras and in 1889 merged his business with the Boston Fruit Company to form the United Fruit Company. This company would expand into Middlesex, Belize in 1909 and had monopoly over the Central American banana industry until the 1950's.

The banana industry of Belize owes its origins to four (4) banana farms which started operation in the late 1800's in the south of Belize. These companies were:

  • The Manatee Fruit Company of Soldier Creek/ Manatee River,
  • The British Honduras Fruit Company of Mullins River,
  • The Belize Fruit Company of Mullins River
  • and the Walize Fruit Company based in Monkey River.

By 1890, there were five (5) banana companies chartered in the colony as both fruit producers and shipping agents for bananas grown on independent farms.

The prosperity of the Stann Creek Valley was founded on bananas. The industry was moved into the Stann Creek Valley by a company called the British Honduras Syndicate in the late 1880’s. They were a company from England and amalgamated the existing banana farms around Mullins and Manatee Rivers. They grew the Gros Michele variety of banana. The British Honduras Syndicate, cultivated bananas on a 14,301 acre estate nine miles inland from Stann Creek Town (now Dangriga). In 1892, the British Honduras Syndicate constructed a two feet gauge mule driven tramway from its headquarters at Melinda to the Stann Creek Town pier on the north side of Dangriga, to take the bananas to be sold in Mobile, Alabama. The influx of people and activity led to the area becoming a town called Stann Creek Town in 1895, and eighty years later in 1975 the name was changed to Dangriga.

Another big investor in the banana industry of Belize was the United Fruit Company. In 1909, an agreement between the colonial government and the United Fruit Company, gave the company the option to purchase 7,538 acres of Stann Creek Valley land at the then Middlesex Forest Reserve at one dollar an acre to plant bananas. This company cleared 2,500 acres of land for bananas. The government agreed to provide a rail transport system from the Valley to the wharf in Stann Creek Town, which it did. By 1917 the Stann Creek Valley and surrounding area was producing over 25,000 stems of bananas a week, equal to over 100,000 boxes.

In the 1920’s most of the Stann Creek Valley was planted with bananas. The decline in banana production started in 1917, a year after the Panama Disease was detected in 1916, the industry collapsed soon after. To combat the disease banana planting spread further up the valley in search of disease free lands but in 1937 the ravages of Panama disease and Cercospora leaf spot finally killed the industry.

In 1947, at the site of the present day citrus factory at Alta Vista there was an attempt to revive the banana industry by British Honduras Fruit Enterprises Company. They grew the Robosta type banana and brought production up to about 5,000 stems weekly. These were shipped from the Commerce Bight Pier. After a few years another disease struck the industry this time it was nematodes. It was during these years that the government completed the road on the south side of the North Stann Creek River connecting Alta Vista to Canada Hill. Previously the road only went up to the Canada Hill cassava factory.

In the early 1960’s a firm from Mobile Alabama, Greene & Atkins, began experimenting with a type of disease resistant banana in Waha Leaf area of the Stann Creek District. In the beginning, the company had various problems, one of which was that small farmers were planting a type of banana’s which was not disease-resistant, and this resulted in the infection of the other varieties. The colonial government had to step in to keep a tight control to prevent non-resistant varieties. By 1965 Greene & Atkins had made great strides in production.

In 1966, two other banana growing firms, Caribbean Empire Company Limited and Gulf American Company went into operation. The Gulf of America Company proposed to cultivate bananas for the export market from their 500-acre farm established on the Sibun River branching off from the Western Highway starting at Mile 35.

The banana industry was reconstituted in 1975 around the Mayan King Area, with the formation of a Banana Control Board. This was followed by the Banana Growers Association which now manages the industry.

There are still banana trenches that can be found in the citrus orchards of the Stann Creek Valley to this day, depicting a time of when banana was planted in the area. Shortly after the collapse of the banana industry most lands that were not planted with citrus were abandoned and retaken by the jungle, between the 1930’s to early 1980’s during of the expansion of the citrus industry, persons could just settle a piece of available land in the Valley that had been reclaimed by the jungle and cultivate it with citrus.

Nick Pollard: Great History my Grandparents lived that history in Monkey River where 3 ships went to load... Another British Company was Cranshire; there were 3 large wooden ships that loaded at Little Monkey Caye: Desire, Susy S and the Laguna

Joseito Sosa: Wow so interested I was transferred to the Banana Industry in 1974 and was sent to Honduras to be train to become an Operational Manager and Quality Control Director I returned and lived in Big Creek for 8 years upon which I had trained several of my friends to do the job but for personal reason and promised I had made to these kids I resigned proving to them that in this life one has make sanctifies so that others can enjoy a better life. I return back to the City and began working once again for the Eurocaribe Shipping Co. My decision paid off after couple of months and my promise to the guys I had trained was implemented they were given their right full place as Supervisor which to this day I feel so good that I stood up for what I think was right. So all this history I didn’t know before but yes these sites and places mention in this historic statement did exist because we did encounter them during our work in the Banana Fields. We once exported Bananas at the Riversdale Sea shore where one of the guys that worked on tug that pulled the loaded Barges of Bananas lost his leg when the rope that is used to pull the Barges Got wrap around his leg and as the tug pulled on the rope it severed off his leg into the air. It wasn’t a very nice sight. Something I can never forget . There are so much stories to tell working in the Banana Industry. So when you place a Banana to your mouth just imagine all the sacrifices that are being place so that the fruit can grow and you can enjoy it. I was there the sacrifices allowed me to be who I am today.

Jeremy A. Enriquez: These seven pictures below were taken around 1910, and provide a glimpse of the banana industry in the Stann Creek Valley.

In the early 1900s, before the development of the citrus industry, there was a flourishing banana industry in the Stann Creek Valley. As a result, a rail line, called the Stann Creek Valley Railway, was constructed to transport bananas from Middlesex to the port at Commerce Bight, a distance of about 25 miles. The construction of this railway, the first in Belize, began in 1905 and was completed in 1908.

For almost a decade, this railway operated profitably until the Panama Disease in 1918 totally destroyed the banana plantations. (Recall that from 1918 to 1920, as the world was also being ravaged by the worst pandemic, the Spanish flu, that killed over 50 million persons worldwide, the banana plantations were destroyed by this other banana pandemic around that time.

In 1938, the rail line was dismantled and removed and sold to Belize Estate and Produce Company, after people with interest in cassava production requested a road instead. The Stann Creek Valley road to Middlesex is now part of the Thomas Vincent Ramos Highway.

A number of Punta Gorda folks worked in the banana industry and relocated to Dangriga. Others from PG also migrated with their families to work in the banana plantations in Guatemala. Some returned while others remained.

Jerome Lozano: I live in Independence aka Mango Creek which we referred to as the banana belt. Many of those in the age groups of 50's and 60's worked in the banana industry in Cowpen. A relative of mine Walter Panting who is still alive was a tenant farmer in the industry. Other names like Winston Duncan and Aubrey Gordon Sr was some others. Mr Panting always give me stories of Belize Fruit Company, and when the contract was up that was when Monkey River economic went down and many people migrated. Mr Panting still get excited when he talks about the banana industry.

Here is what a Jesuit priest, Father Brady, wrote in detail about his observation of the banana business in British Honduras during his trip to British Honduras. Source: 1895 – Woodstock Letters Vol. XXIV pp 274 – 286 Letter from Father Eugene Brady April 27, 1895.

“But the Carib loves best to sell bananas and cocoanuts. The mail steamer from new Orleans goes down to Guatemala, and then returning coasts along the extent of British Honduras buying fruit for the North American market. Scarcely is the steamer sighted on the southern horizon, than a multitude of boats shoots out from every port and creek and river laden with fruit for sale. The ship has an immense hold, and will receive as many as 30,000 bunches of bananas. But the master of the ship fixes the price, and if the Carib does not like it, he can throw his fruit to the pigs and poultry. Many hearts are broken at the side of that ship. The price paid for a cocoanut is 1 cent. It sells in Cincinnati for five or even ten cents. A bunch of bananas containing eight or ten hands or clusters, which brings in Cincinnati $1.25, is purchased by the ship officers for 25 cents. … A rival line of steamers is not gathering fruit on that coast; and if a Carib is suspected of dealing with the rival line, his fruit is rejected, and the labour of a week is lost and the fruit perishes for he can do nothing with unsold bananas.”

Top photograph courtesy Belize Abroad

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