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Mayas Traded Salt on Ambergris Caye

By Angel Nuñez

It has been suggested that the name of our Island, Ambergris Caye is derived from the fact that amber grease was very visible on the shores of this Island a long time ago. Ambergris is a waxy or oily substance found in the intestines of the sperm whales which often passed in front of our island while migrating.

This name is very colorful and picturesque. Now the name of the settlement and later on village was San Pedro, in honor of Saint Peter, one of Jesus’ apostles who was a fisherman. While this is a very appropriate name, another name that would have been appropriate would be something related with salt because salt too, like ambergris, was abundant on the island. Perhaps Ta-ab Caye. Ta-ab is Salt in Maya.

Salt lake in North Ambergris Caye

In the days of the Mayas, there is evidence that they reaped this salt and used it as a trading commodity with other Mayas in the region. Now my grandfather was a fisherman on the island in the 1920’s and 30’s, and he narrated how he took his children up the coast to the Bercellon or Basil Jones area up north and collected sacks of salt to be used to corn or preserve their fish. In the days of no refrigeration you can imagine how valuable this salt was to the fishermen of San Pedro Village.

Now how exactly did these salt mines operate? Very simple. During the high tide, the lagoons in the higher grounds in Basil Jones became full of salt water. Now during the dry and hot summer months the water evaporated leaving in the dry lagoons tons upon tons of sea salt. This was naturally manufactured sea salt from the process of evaporation.

Salt lake in North Ambergris CayeBasil Jones was a British businessman who had title to that piece of land but he was never on the Island so the land became nobody’s and everybody’s land. For the same reason, the salt found in the dry lakes was everybody’s property, so that all fishermen felt they were entitled to help themselves with this salt. And trust me, they did.

A very respectable Sanpedrano once told me that once there was an attempt by a local businessman to try to stop the Sanpedranos from obtaining this salt. At first he used to buy salt from them and sell it in the city. Then he tried to monopolize it by telling them that they could not go and collect the salt. He stored hundreds of sacks in his bodega and one day after a severe thunderstorm his salt got wet and melted so he had a total loss. Sanpedranos were very happy with his occurrence and that was the end of that monopoly.

So what do you think could have been another name for San Pedro? Salt City? But there is one city in the United States of America with that name, right? Well what do you know! What an interesting history of our island if we go back twenty five years ago and beyond.

25 Years Ago Books Can Be Purchased At:
-Ambergris Today -Lala’s Store -Chico’s Meat Shop -Pampered Paws -Ambergris Jade -San Pedro BTB Office -Aquarious Salon (Kim) -S.P. Town Library -Di Bush -Richies Stationery -San Pedrano’s Stationery

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