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What's All In A Sea Turtle?

Last week we enjoyed the manner in which sea turtles or the loggerheads are captured. It is a simple art that came natural to most Sanpedranos. On a typical afternoon in May there were up to ten sailing boats trawling outside the reef and hunting for the monster “cawamos” as they were called in Spanish. By the end of the evening you could walk along the beach and see about ten loggerheads pulled up on the beach. Their fins would be tied or they could use them to flip over and swim back to sea. As children we used to find pleasure to molest these monstrous animals. We would hit them on the throat so that they would open their big mouths. When they did this, we would place a piece of stick in their mouths only to enjoy the pleasure of their strength and how they cracked the stick into two pieces.

Now, what all is in a sea turtle? What all is used from this animal. The meat only? Wrong. The cawamo is a very useful animal. Most of the meat is found at the base of the fins, of which there are four, two arms and two legs as we would say. Also edible and a delicacy are the fins, in stew or soup. Other parts that are edible are the small intestine which was called “la cinta”, liver, pancreas, heart, esophagus, trachea, lungs, and some meat attached to the neck Occasionally you captured a pregnant turtle, or so we used to call her when there were immature eggs in her body. The immature eggs came in a bunch more or less like a bunch of grapes except that they were yellow like egg yolk. Now that was considered a real delicacy. When regular meat sold for ten cents (10) a pound, the eggs sold for about 25 cents a pound. The rest of the edible parts were not weighed along with the meat. It was given as extra to the buyer.

When you were finished with a cawamo twenty five years ago, the only remains were the shell and the large intestines and perhaps a few more organs inside the body. Everything else was consumed as food and with good reason for there was no meat on the island at that time. The Sanpedrano diet was strictly fish, conch, lobster and turtle meat, which has always been considered a delicacy. When dad was finished with slaughtering and processing the meat, we would take the remains of the carcass or the shell and leave it in the deeper sea for the fishes to consume the rest. As the shell settled to the bottom, there was a sense of sadness to see a dead turtle, but then again, another one would be brought in a day or two. Turtles and their meat were a main part of our diet twenty five years ago.


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