Ambergris Caye is advertised as a vacation destination known for its gorgeous waters and beautiful surroundings – the perfect place to relax. Tourists fall in love with the island, especially its people, and some make it their home after they retire. Shaping the island into what it has now become is in great part due to its senior residents, for they are the people responsible for creating this haven. One San Pedro elder who continues a traditional way of life here is Mr. Amelio Kumul.
Amelio was born in the quiet town of San Pedro to Edubijes and Pablo Kumul on December 28th, 1928. Along with his five sisters and two brothers, he grew up playing marbles and swimming in the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean Sea.
Amelio attended primary school and remembers going to classes at a small two-story house located where the San Pedro Police Station is now. "At that time, as you got older, you were moved from the first floor to the second floor of the school house. Education was limited, so once they thought you were old enough, your parents usually took you out of classes," Amelio said.
On November 8th, 1942, Amelio and the residents of the island were surprised when a hurricane hit the sleepy town. At that time, there were no radios or televisions to warn the residents of the approaching storm. Once the first phase of the hurricane had passed, the residents gathered in the center of town to form a plan of action. Everyone was instructed to quickly go home, recover a few items of food and clothing, and meet at a designated house. There, they weathered the remainder of the storm together. After a few hours, when the "coast was clear," the residents returned to their homes to salvage what they could.
Before the hurricane, Amelio’s father worked at the Habaneros coconut plantation, but because the storm uprooted most of the trees, he was out of a job. As a result, Amelio was asked to help with the household expenses, so at the age of 14, he went to work as a fisherman on his uncle’s boat. Every morning, they would head out to sea, cast their nets, and return home with boats full of fish. Some of the catch would be sold to the residents of the island and what was left would be salted (as a preservative) before being shipped out to Belize City or Corozal Town.
About three years later, when the coconut trees began to bear fruit again, Amelio and his father returned to work on the plantation. Before he was allowed to collect his coconuts, Amelio was required to clean an area of bushes and weeds. When they finished gathering the coconuts, the nuts were cracked and their hard, stringy husk was removed. The husks were sold to housewives around the island, who would use them to build fires for cooking. Some of the smaller coconuts would be sold in Mexico City. The larger nuts would be laid out to dry in preparation for shipment to Belize City and Corozal Town.
In 1950, Amelio met the love of his life, Lidubina Bardalez (deceased). The couple was married on December 24th, 1951 and became the proud parents of five children – Socorro, Lily, Bina, Amelio and Pablo.
Four years later, however, another hurricane, Hurricane Janet, destroyed the Habaneros plantation completely. Desperate for another way to make a living, Amelio joined several other men who had begun working for the Caribeña Co-operative, catching lobster and conch. For the next twenty-four years, Amelio worked hand-in-hand with the fishermen, supplying merchants in Belize City and the United States of America.
At the age of 51, at his wife’s insistence, Amelio slowly began to retire and spend more time at home. It did not agree with Amelio’s hardworking nature though, to just do nothing. After much discussion with his wife, he began producing recado, a spice used to season meats, from their home. First, Amelio would buy "achiote"(a seed-like spice) and combine it with garlic, cloves and several other "secret" ingredients. Next, he would grind the ingredients, drench the mixture with a vinegar solution and let it sit. This mixture would then be rolled into balls and sold for twenty-five cents each.
To make extra income, Amelio grew plantains in his backyard and sold the leaves from the tree to housewives (15 leaves for five dollars) to wrap "tamales," a native Mexican dish. He also kept busy by grating coconuts and selling the shavings to island residents.
Twenty-five years later, Amelio can still be found grinding his recado and grating his coconuts, which he now sells to restaurants, as well. He also takes some time to go fishing with his brother-in-law.
In his free time, Amelio enjoys sitting on his porch, watching people pass by. "Life in San Pedro has changed dramatically from when I was a boy. It is amazing to see how much an island can change in a few years," he said.
A hardworking, resourceful man, Amelio Kumul has learned to make the best of whatever life has offered and today continues to "spice" up the lives of many individuals residing in "Our Community."