Letter from Belize no. 64
26th May 2017
It has been one of those “Bakson bizy bakson” (courtesy A.A. Milne) kind of months. One highlight was a visit from an archeologist from University of Texas, Austin to look at our Maya site.
Fred Valdez has been excavating in Belize since the late 70s and when contacted by one of our UK Directors he replied immediately to say he would be in Belize in May and would be interested to see the Retreat site. He loved it as he is particularly interested in village sites and will see if he can make a case for further investigation here.
Click on any of these photos for a larger view.
Fred with students Sam, Luisa and David in the Maya mound site
We were joined on the day by our satsangees Roy, Adam and Adela who have formed a Maya group to reawaken the culture, its customs and its language as well as its spirituality and have recently amalgamated with another group in Orange Walk so there is now a northern region group. They were very keen to meet Fred and his team and both groups got on like a house on fire.
Impromptu history lesson with Fred
A toast to future relations
A few days later I went with Roy and Adela to visit the site that Fred and his students are working on and that was really interesting. Positioned on an area of chert (very hard stone), it was the tool making area for a few thousand years (I think I am right in saying that) supplying tools to settlements in what is modern day Belize and exporting further afield. Which got me thinking about how they must have communicated and used the rivers and sea for transport way back then.
Maya site tool-making area
The team had come across a burial site and were having to deal with the painstaking task of lifting ancient bones which was more of a distraction than a delight as they were not actually studying burials and it was their last day before moving on to a different site.
May 18th was International Museum Day and the Corozal House of Culture celebrated with their inauguration of Corozal Town’s Historical Walk. Because of the devastation of Hurricane Janet in 1955 not only were buildings destroyed but documents were too so it has been very difficult for CHOC to find details of the few remaining buildings of interest. Even if they could find some reference to them it was hard to find dates and details. But they persisted and found some people who still had photographs from that time or anecdotal information and they have put together a really interesting 45 minute walk telling the story of 8 buildings of interest.
So join me on the walk and you are lucky because you can avoid the searing heat and humidity.
Corozal House of Culture
The Corozal House of Culture occupies what was the Public Market from 1886 to 1986. Its cast iron frame was shipped over from England in 1885 as an intended market. Imagine that. It was the commercial and social hub of Corozal selling meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. The finest cuts were sold to the elite families, 2nd choice to the upper middle class such as Government officials and only then were the remaining townsfolk able to purchase what was left. A dash of a hierarchy and ‘divide and rule’ there.
Roy Rodriguez and Mr Riveroll cutting the ribbon to mark the Historical Walk open
Opposite the Market building was her Majesty’s prison. The mid to late 1800s was apparently a period of unrest and instability along the Rio Hondo river and in Corozal Town. There was an increase in population because of people fleeing the Caste Wars in Mexico and with that an increase in criminal activity, mostly due to cross border illegal trading. So in the early 1870’s the British colonial authorities build a police station manned by a constabulary force of Jamaicans and Barbadians and a thick, high walled prison for criminals serving 3 months or less imprisonment. Her Majesty’s Prison was abandoned in 1956 as a result of post-Hurricane Janet reconstruction. Since 1986 the structure has been occupied by Kiddy Kinder Preschool, transforming it from a detention centre to a children’s classroom. Actually I park outside there when I go shopping and had not realized it had been a prison. One just hears the chatter of children.
Her Majesty’s Prison
The next building is the Schofield residence. Built of mahogany in the early 1880’s it was one of the few wooden structures to survive the hurricane.
Thomas Schofield had acquired the house and surrounding land when a loan he had made to a Mr Carmichael could not be repaid. Although the land was sold to the Government to make way for new housing in the reconstruction after Hurricane Janet, the house remained in the family until 1980 when it was sold to the Catholic church.
We then moved on to what was originally built as the priests’ residence in the 1890’s and went on to be classrooms for Xavier College and is currently the Parish Office.
It is definitely hurricane proof with very thick stone walls and we were told by the people using it as offices that it remains nice and cool in the hottest of weather.
After that came Central Park and the Town Hall which houses this remarkable mural telling the history of Corozal town going back to the days of the Maya.
Town Hall Mural
We then moved on to Fort Barlee which was interesting.
The fort was built in the late 1870s to protect British interests and Yucatecan settlers who had come here to escape the Caste Wars. This shows the remains of one of 4 gun turrets built from bricks originally used as ballast by ships that would be returning to Britain with mahogany.
Last was the Ahmad residence and store built in 1949. The Ahmads were a Palestinian family who came looking for better business opportunities. They decided to settle here and the family business continues today and some members still live in the upstairs part of the house.
Another highlight of the month for me was being asked by the Corozal Women’s Forum to take photographs at a presentation of scholarship awards to 2 bright young things ready to start secondary school. A sub-committee of 5 women from CWF have spent many months researching, visiting schools, talking to head masters, teachers, students, applicants’ parents, assessing applications and finally choosing these 2 girls who, without the scholarship, would not be able to continue their education.
Evelyn Victoria Ramirez
Lizbeth Nayeli Abrego
It was a very moving and humbling experience and we wish them well.
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Our love to all