A Brief History of San Pedro, Belize & Dia De San Pedro: Part Two
I had walked into the San Pedro House of Culture to meet with Mito Paz for the “scoop” on Dia De San Pedro (Day of St. Peter) and we went all the way back to the Caste Wars (1847 to 1901) and the settlers of Ambergris Caye in the mid 1800s.
And Part One ended with the November 1942 Hurricane that destroyed all the coconut palms on the island, the northern settlement (the village that was north of Rocky Point) and left 7 buildings standing in San Pedro town.
The attack at Pearl Harbor had happened less than a year before and World War Two was raging across the globe.
The men of Ambergris Caye were jobless (no coconut palms, no jobs) – and many left the island looking for work. America was looking for male labor (even Mito’s uncle went to work in a factory in Pittsburgh, later to return). A few joined the war effort (we were still British Honduras at that point), one or two went down to Panama to help with expansion and lock work on the canal, some went to the mainland…
And after the war many returned. The lobster industry had started a bit during the 1920s and 30s…before that it was junk.
A Captain Foote came to the island buying lobster for one cent a pound…later freezer boats and canning began to buy lobsters and prices crept up slowly. At one point after WW2, a man with a Catalina seaplane would fly down to the island, fill it with a few thousand pounds of lobster and fly away to Florida. Taking the lobster on concession!
Here is a picture of it from the San Pedro Sun at last year’s House of Culture Event.
He still owes local fishermen for his last load.
Fishing really started to take off on the island – and the boat were not all that different from the ones used today. Here are the current boats in Belize City.
The biggest differences? Today, ice is used and then they used a “live well”. Water circulated through the center of the boat to keep the catch alive. The boats were out to sea for up to 15 days. AND there was no motor.
Fishing, mainly for snapper, mullet and bonefish, continued. Small scale at first. The pre-Lenten season was the most active with dried fish being sold as far as Honduras. Much was done using nets…some using fish traps. You can still see a few on the back side of the island today.
In the early 1960s, to unite and get a better price, the Caye Caulker fishing co-op was founded and then a year later, one in San Pedro.
Making a living became easier with the unity and the co-ops but the island’s industry was about to shift.
50 years ago, the Holiday Hotel opened on Ambergris Caye. The very first tourist hotel in the country of BELIZE…and that is a whole story in itself…a whole book in fact. Celi McCorkle, the founder and proprietor of the Holiday Hotel is an AMAZING woman.
And slowly at first San Pedro began to transform…to move away from the fishing industry towards diving and tourism. But that would take decades…
All this time, Dia De San Pedro (or The Day of St Peter) was being celebrated on Ambergris Caye. Especially during the early years and the decades when fishing was the primary industry and San Pedro was still a tiny village.
Nine days of piety and a nine step altar. The statue of St Peter would move up a step each night at one of the novenas…or services held at a local families house.
The novenas or nine days devoted to the saint would end with the bishop coming from Belize City to be met by decorated local boats and docks. He would confirm local children readied for their confirmation, perform a blessing of a parade of the fishing boats (sometimes with holy water in a water pistol!) and then a feast and festival.
Back in the days before restaurants, bars and nightclubs, this sort of party was hugely anticipated. Dance contests, a huge band, food, a giant party.
This is a HORRIBLE photo of a photo of San Pedro’s prize winning band in the 1920s.
Things have changed over the years…now we have mechanical rides each year…
but the church services have always remained. Over the last few years, some of the older traditions are being brought back under Mito’s stewardship.
Here is a brief outline of the events this year. Keep your eyes on the San Pedro Town Council’s facebook page for the full schedule.
Saturday, June 20th:
La Bajada Service at the RC Church, 4am. Novena, 5am. And an exhibition of fishing, the festival and San Pedro at the Lobsterfestival in Central Park.
Each night, The Novena will take place at the Roman Catholic Church at 6pm.
Friday, June 26th There will be a karaoke competition and dance performance with an after party in the Old Football field.
Saturday Night festivities continue in the Sporting Area with dancers, a marimba performance by the Benque Youth Academy and more.
Sunday June 28th. There is a Fishing Rodeo.
Lots more…stay tuned for the FULL schedule from the town council but there is usually a beach party, fireworks, always a fishermens’ Mass and Breakfast.
And a boat procession.
And stay tuned for the FULL story (as I know it) of Miss Celi, the founder of the Holiday Hotel.