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The First Industry of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye

Before you begin reading, pause a moment and make wild guess. What was the first industry that that the early settlers and founders of San Pedro were engaged in? I will take you back to 1890 or about 130 years ago. At that time the villagers were living with the corn which they planted and the fish which they caught near the shores. Lots of corn tortillas and plenty of fish was an excellent supply of carbs and protein and by no means can we consider this underprivileged. This same dish accompanied by a fine sauce and some healthy veggies on the side will cost you $40BZE at any of the fine restaurants in San Pedro. 

Back to 1890 – At that time, some businessmen came to the island. They were in the business of cutting and exporting logwood to European markets. Logwood was a large tree that grew wildly in the forests of Belize and neighboring Mexico, especially the Yucatan peninsula, and it was valuable as a very hardwood and also for its dye. Logwood was also called bloodwood. These businessmen were looking for the Mestizo men because they had heard that they were excellent bushmen and quite adroit with the machete and axe.

There you have it. The first industry which the islanders were involved in was logwood cutting.  This explains why the islanders engaged in this industry referred to their journey/job as “La Tinta”, meaning ink or dye. For this journey the men received coupons with which their families could get some food at the store owned by a businessman. Some 20 of them were taken to the mainland where they would spend about a month away from their families and living under harsh conditions.


There was still an adequate supply of corn and beans on the table but there was no fish in the kitchen. Several bush houses at the camp were used as living quarters, supplies, and for the bosses and foreman. To substitute the fish in the menu the men did some hunting as there was abundance of deer, wild pigs, large birds and armadillos. Therefore dining was not a problem.  The problem was due to the ever presence of venomous snakes, lots of mosquitoes and the “malaria mosquito” as it was called. Adding to these hardships was working under the blazing sun and the high temperatures quite unlike the cool Caribbean breeze that they were already accustomed to on their island. 

There was also one more problem experienced in these logwood camps. During these times there were still a lot of Mayas roaming around the wilderness of Yucatan and Belize. They were still rebelling against the Spaniards and the Mestizos that had aligned with the “Spanish Conquistadores” (colonizers) and continued their pursuit in driving them back. At times they would encircle the camps instilling fear on them. If they gave in and ran away, then the Mayas would steal their food supplies, rifles and ammunition and whatever they found of value and usefulness.  

The San Pedrano logwood cutters spent about a month in the bush doing what they knew to do best. Imagine their day as they toiled. Imagine the end of the day as they gathered in the camps for tea and some smoked venison. Imagine them sleeping in their thatch houses in the middle of the mosquito infested jungle. Imagine them thinking about their wives and girlfriends and children back home. One thing kept them motivated and going – the thought that they were earning money to sustain their families.


The First Industry of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye

It was when the logwood quota was met that the businessmen then made plans to get the logwood up to the site for processing and exportation. For this they did not need the team of cutters, so they were returned to the island. A sea vessel sailed them back to the island where, I am sure, there was some sort of welcome, hugging, questioning, complaining, laughter and tears. Some of the men arrived home to met a new baby or to received the news of the passing of a beloved. Most importantly it was time to settle accounts. The amount that the families had spent on food was deducted from their pay and the balance was paid to them also in the form of coupons that could be redeemed at the store owned by their boss.

There you have it, amigos, the first industry of the San Pedranos; their joys, sorrows and fears.  They were our roots and they set the pace for the building of our San Pedro. Don’t you agree that they deserve a monument, mural or even a street named in their honor? Feel free to tell Chronicles what you think want to read about.

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