Gales Point Manatee, Belize District, is home to one of the most vibrant African populations of Belize — full of the sounds of the Sambai and the drums that transfuse the souls of villagers with a strong sense of self. But even there, elders sit with a sense of nostalgia for the Belize that existed in the early days.
One of those elders is Walter Goff, a 76-year-old community leader and activist who is still enjoying reasonably good health. “In the old days there used to be better cooperation and unity in living,” Mr. Goff said. “People helped each other at their farms. Now I find that what makes it difficult is that we don’t have that personal love for each other.”
Mr. Goff is particularly concerned with the violent emotions that have replaced that community love. “When there was a misunderstanding, people would go to blows and it’s over. But now, as you talk, the smallest boy out there is with a gun,” he commented. He said that the best way to live one’s life is serving God. “Live for the Lord,” he advises young people. “There is nothing to gain in street life. There’s nothing to lose and all to gain in living for the Lord. Keep away from drugs, stealing and house breaking. We don’t need that; we need love.”
In looking back at the three score and ten years he’s been blessed with, Mr. Goff regrets the time he has spent on distractive and destructive vices – drinking, smoking and gambling. The practice continued even when he took a wife and started having children. Then one day he came to his senses and realized there wasn’t much of a future in walking that path. “I quit smoking, dancing and started to live for the Lord,” he said. “Up to now, I find that the biggest regret I have is the time I wasted without the Lord.”
Today Walter Goff is a widower. He lost his wife, Elva, three years ago, but he still has seven of his eight children alive, with whom he tries to spend time as much as possible. Marilyn and Faye still live in Gales Point. Margaret lives in Teakettle, Cayo. Most of the others, including Beatrice, Petrona, Christobel, and Albert, live in Belize City. His eldest son, Godfrey, died recently.
Walter Goff was born a year before the 1931 hurricane struck Belize. He was a toddler then, born to George Goff of Belize City and Doris Slusher of Gales Point. Ten years later he was working to earn a living. “In those days, the money used to be smaller but we would stretch it further,” said Goff.
Mr. Goff started to work for 50 cents a day in 1941. He used to work at a sawmill cutting wood and carrying water for the boss’s wife, earning three dollars a week. “Soap used to be for three cents then,” he recollected. Goff did not stay long in school. He attended St. John’s Anglican and Methodist until Standard Six. There were no secondary schools there, and still today young people have to leave the village to further their education. Fortunately today, those who have to commute to attend school, for example to Dangriga, ride the bus under Government sponsorship with Lismo Flowers of Mullins River.
In the early 1950’s he used to go out into the mahogany camps to work. He used to work for two-week periods and then return home to spend time with his family. He started his family at the age of 23. Those days a half sack of flour, weighing 50 pounds, was for three dollars. “It’s about ten times that price today,” Goff pointed out.
During this era, jobs were scarce and some of his relatives migrated to the United States. In the late 1950’s he settled back into his village. One of his trades was dorey-making. He learned the skill from an elder in the village, Alden Myers, who was the father of his childhood friends. Goff was a teenager when Myers taught him dorey-making. They used big trees from the forest — tamarind, tibruce, emery, and even mahogany. This training proved beneficial well into his adult life. Walter Goff told us that he only stopped building doreys seven to eight years ago, when he was in his late sixties.
Mr. Goff has worked on sand-lighters and in mahogany camps. He has also worked as a fisherman and a farmer. He remembers living a very full life with many challenges and memorable experiences, but what he prides himself for the most are the many years he has given to his community as a member of the Gales Point Village Council. He has been serving on the Council since 1959, and has had four discontinuous terms as chairman. “I always try to do for my village what my village cannot do for me,” said Goff. “I don’t like to see opportunities pass by. I have to step out on behalf of the village.”
Mr. Goff also commented that he has also been actively involved in educating young people. He liked Math and Reading when he was a boy. In those days, the teachers used to speed test students. Those who answered correctly moved towards the head of the line; those who didn’t, moved towards the tail. He tried to be ahead as much as he could. Now he helps others to strive towards better learning. Recently, he helped Standard Four and Five children with reading.
Walter Goff’s social contributions go beyond local politics and mentorship. He was formerly the chairman of the Parent Teacher’s Association and now serves as the secretary. He is also very active in his church – Galilee Gospel Chapel. Mr. Goff has also played a leading role in steering the growth of the village. He told us that he was involved with the extension of the village, acquiring lots from Central Government, setting up the village’s water, electricity and transportation systems, and developing sports such as football and softball.
But, Mr. Goff’s favorite sport seems to have been dorey racing — a pastime which took him to other parts of the country to race, including Belize City during the times of the River Regatta. He remembers racing with Dean Lindo and Eckert Lewis. Villagers also used to build doreys and take them out to Caye Caulker to race, but the Caye Caulker folks did not quickly master the art of sailing them. The sails had to be hoisted first and three to five men were needed at a time to make the launch a success.
In his own village, Walter Goff was often the one to start and declare the winner of pit pan dorey races, or paddle dories in races. He recalled sailing dugout doreys, seagull boats, sloops, and sandlighters. Two villagers, Leonard Myers and Ellsworth Welch, still build these boats, and are, therefore, helping to keep the village traditions alive. Racing occurs seasonally between February and May, and also in September, Goff said.
(NOTE: The Government recognized Walter Goff as one of 25 Belizean Patriots on Wednesday, September 13th, 2006.)
Written by Adele Ramos of the Amandala Newspaper
Minor edits done by The San Pedro Sun