Oh yes, tattoos go back to around the year 1965 as far as local tattoos go here in San Pedro. Before this time there were a few tattoos made on a few guys, but they were made in Belize City or Corozal Town.
Actually it was difficult to get a tattoo back then, and when the folks saw them, they looked real cool. Only occasionally did a foreign British soldier or a U.S. citizen visit the island and when he boasted a tattoo, everyone thought he was cool. The local folks admired them and only dreamt of the day when they could get their own.
Some time in the early 1960’s, it was Dimas Guerrero who started in the arts of tattoos. Dimas had actually started painting in color and pencil and he had as teacher a fellow from Corozal Town who visited San Pedro from time to time.
He painted many girls and coconut palms and beaches on the walls at all the bars in the village. This guy made a tattoo on Dimas, and he who was a keen observer, learned the tricks of the art.
Soon Dimas made his own tattoo needles, by tying three or four needles in straight line unto a piece of stick. Then he made his own ink. Unbelievable but this he did with smoke.
He made a smoky fire and collected the smoke that became a fine black ash which he mixed with water and alcohol. This was the black ink. Dimas’ first tattoos were in full black but when the ink settled under the skin, it looked green.
Dimas specialized in sharks and hearts. When he tattooed hearts he would print the person’s girlfriend’s name right in the middle. The heart, which was usually printed on the upper arm, carried a cross at the top to symbolize the suffering the guys were willing to undergo for the sake of the loved one. Also, the heart carried drips of blood to symbolize the guy’s willingness to give up his life for the girl of his dreams. These hearts were very special because it was the guy’s way of telling the girl his feelings and also a way of announcing it to the whole world.
The sharks were the next popular tattoos. Usually the shark was placed on the lower arm. All the fishermen, especially the skin divers loved sharks. But children and even older fishermen had to get one from the expert hands of Dimas Guerrero. Thank God the guys did not tattoo the girl’s name on the shark, nor that of the mother-in-law.
I believe Dimas must have tattooed over 100 sharks on all the teenagers and older adults of the village.
Then came the fad of printing the girlfriend’s name on the chest, upper arm or even shoulder. That was the fun part, but it was not fun when one broke with the girl and wanted to remove her name. It was not possible, so Dimas used to scribble over it trying to change it. Many young men got married but carried one or two other names of different girls on tattoos.
It is also worthy to mention that Dimas did not charge for these tattoos, well at least to his friends. I got two free ones, a heart and a shark, but I was fortunate that the name did coincide with my marriage partner. Getting a tattoo was one of the silly things which I did 25 years ago and which I still regret.
– by Angel Nuñez, Columnist