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Caye Caulker has always had a few families for about 10,000 years. The island sits in the middle of a natural feeding grounds and migratory routes for many fish, the conch and lobster industries. These grounds run about 8 miles in any seaward direction.

Recent population levels started with the Indian War of the Castes in the Yucatan. When many mestizos of mixed Mayan and Spanish blood fled the massacres occuring all over the Yucatan. This was the Mayan uprising for defense of independence around 1868. The last visit of any consequence for a few days, was the beaten armada of Spanish boats, that got beat in the Battle of St. Georges Caye during the colonial era.

The current site of the village inhabitants has been unchanged as a site for living by humans for thousands of years. The reasons are geographic in nature. The bay at the back of the village provide shelter for vessels, be they sailboats, or dugout canoes. In front of the village, there is a fairly shallow lagoon area, between 6 inches and 14 feet deep running a mile to the eastward protecting Great Coral Barrier Reef. In front of the village, the reef is known as a dry reef. The reef comes to the surface, while further north, the reef is a deep reef and waves pass over it around 8 feet deep. The shallow reef gives a protected anchorage in front of this particular spot of the island. Not only that, the holding ground is good with coral sand bottom. Whereas in other parts, the bottom is a soft mushy mud and extremely difficult to stay anchored there in a wild strong northerly weather front. These are the natural geographic reasons for habitations at this particular spot on the island.

When the War of the Castes was on, a man named Reyes got a Colonial Grant for the whole island. He subsequently started selling off pieces of it. His descendents today still live in the village of Caye Caulker. They are the Reyes of the Paradise Hotel complex.

There have been about 3 major hurricanes sweep Caye Caulker clean of human habitation since the first Reyes fled the War of the Castes in the Yucatan. Another one is due any season. For the island is only 8 feet high at the highest and a direct hit by the eye of a hurricane will push a storm surge of artificially raised sea levels about 15 feet higher than normal in front of it. The island is basically a sand bar over a limestone shelf and inside the shelf of limestone are many huge underwater caves. Several scuba divers have lost their lives exploring them.

During World War II, fishermen living on the island collected debris from torpedoed ships in the Caribbean, that came floating ashore. The most lucrative were bales of rubber. Today, bales of marijuana are more common. The fishing industry supported about 80 families since World War II and the island has a self regulating economy that controls how many people can actual live there and support themselves. Currently the diversified economy supports about 800 people all total. In good seasons population rises and in bad seasons the population declines as people move away.

When the British first started mapping, some cartographer in England decided the spelling of the name was Corker. But there were some very famous sailboat designers and shipwrights that developed on the island. The Young family and the Alamina family were the most prominent. Since then in recent years, many people build boats, either of wood, ferro cement, or fiberglass. Boats were brought to the island for careening and caulking. About 1960 the real spelling started to come back into vogue locally and as communications and the information age has expanded, the current spelling is more common. Though in England where they make the maps, the cartographers still spell it the way they want it.

During Hurricane Hattie in 1961, the storm swept across the narrow part of the village. It lifted the wooden schoolhouse off it's tall posts and dropped it between waves, cracking it open like an egg shell. Most children had been in the schoolhouse as a shelter. !3 people died in all, mostly children. The Hurricane Eye and storm surge hit the mainland port 21 miles to the south and buried that port city under 16 feet of water. The village of Calabash Caye on Turneffe Atoll, disappeared totally with it's nearly 300 residents. Because Hurricane Hattie went south of Caye Caulker, only the edge of the storm hit the island, but that was bad enough. Out of 90 houses only 8 survived completely. The village council managed to get tools from the mainland, Governor Thornley's Emergency Committee, and formed teams to do various type work. About 42 houses were built in a few weeks. Ray Auxillou was the Governor's representative at the time and by the time the mainland people had got themselves organized a month later and saw their first visit from elected representative Louise Sylvestre, the most of the rehabilition work had been done to their their surprise. The British Army helped a lot, a week after the hurricane with helicopters and medical and food supplies. Caye Caulker remains a vulnerable place for a directly hitting hurricane, because of high winds and storm surge, being a low lying island.

Tourism first started in 1964, with a few visitors on weekends from the mainland Belleview Hotel, brought out by a local boat called 'Sailfish', built by a schoolteacher beside the then Teachers House. The early tourists were mostly agency people dealing with the Belize Government. Around 1969, Dr. Hildebrand of the University of Corpus Christi started visiting each winter with a Marine Biology Expedition of around 24 students and they camped in the village. Backpackers found their way to the island, but transportation then was still haphazard by fishing sailboats. The service was irregular. There was no accomodation. The Auxillou family pioneered the tourism industry and the first Scuba Diving lessons and trips were started around the late 1960's.

As speedboats came in using outboard motors, the fishing cooperative put in an electrical plant, the tourist visitors became more regular. During the 1970's, the hippie crowd following the GRINGO TRAIL, which was Isla Mujeres, Tulum, Caye Caulker, Tikal and Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. The reputation spread by word of mouth. Many marijuana smugglers of the gentler time of family smuggling to the USA, in the 1970's came as tourists to the island village to wait for their loads to get ready. Sometimes this took months.

The economy then was still mostly fishing and lobster traps. Coconut oil was produced mostly by widows as a cash product for sale in the mainland port market. It was always small scale.

Up to the 1960's the lobster industry was serviced by ex-world War II amphibian aircraft out of Florida, that landed in the bay behind the village. Eventually, the lobster industry got developed more consistantly by several Americans who built freezer plants on the mainland. But prices were only around 4 cents a pound. Tony Vega, still alive in the village, wanted better prices for himself and managed to convince others to join him. The approach decided on was a Cooperative. The mainland government of the PUP fought the idea hard. They said fishermen could not cooperate and besides the port town on the mainland was going through the throes of a growing political movement and the port townies were looking to control the whole country under a plantation model of self government. The townie politicians then were getting favors and money from the lobster buyers with freezer plants and did not want locals to invest and develop resources themselves. The situation has not change since that day and the same political bought townies scenario still exists.

Tony Vega led the fight and this writer was a founding member of this cooperative movement. The US Peace Corps played a role in it's success. The townies were not that far wrong in their opinion of fishermen. The cooperative meetings in the village were loud, wild and raucous. Fights could be found afterward. There were a number of cliques that formed to exploit the situation for personal gain, like in any new political movement. Several Peace Corps volunteers were arranged throughout the years and the only direction was to keep the cooperative going. Village feuds were common. But the sane voice of reason and impartial Peace Corps volunteers smoothed the way and after about 13 years of rough and ready development problems, the Northern Fisherman's Cooperative became such a success, the United Nations organizations brought people from all over the world to study it. It is still an example for the rest of the world. Though locally in the village in recent years, tourism has replaced lobster as an easier way to earn money. The Cooperative members from the village found this fact out, when they lost control of their cooperative to a rural farming/lobster village called Sartenja up the coast line in Corozal Bay.

Nowadays, the diversified economy of the village still includes lobster, fish and tourists. Internet e-commerce is growing in a small way, mostly held back by a telecommunictions monopoly on the mainland. The Belize Development Trust introduced by volunteer, Peter Singfield, a Canadian Web page robot, that would let villagers access the internet through e-mail and e-commerce is slowly expanding in small way in the village. Web pages are common for villagers nowadays, cable t.v., and all the accoutraments of modern society. Real development is still waiting for the telecommunications monopoly to expire, so a village Internet Service Provider and server can go in business. But these problems are the usual mainland political holdups. They are not technical or financial.

Nobody wants to work hard in Caye Caulker. They have done enough of that. Mostly they want a two or three hours a day work, or 5 hours for three days a week, or some such set up. They are accustomed to working hard in a lobster season for three months and then having lots of slow leisure time to do whatever is needed the rest of the year. Life is simple if you want it, or costly if you can afford it. Your gadgets that own you, dictate how hard you want to work on the island. With fish in the sea, it is easy to eat and the weather is nice, so socializing is the prefered way of life. Not a struggle for money.

History courtesy of Ray Auxillou. Thanks a bunch Ray!

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