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Dec 8, 2011

Channel Five at year 1 in a Chiclero feature

As part of our twenty-year anniversary we re-visit another feature from News Five’s first year of broadcasting. In 1992, a very young news Reporter, William Neal, ventured into the jungles of Belize to visit a master at his trade. It was one of the first times a Chiclero was shown on national television extracting and producing gum from a sapodilla tree.

William Neal, Reporting [File: 1992]

For most Belizeans, chicle—if you are not chewing it—is something found only in history books. And economic anachronism ranking in importance somewhere between mahogany and logwood. But economics have a way of changing and with the world’s appetite for natural products growing daily, Belize’s chicle is once again flowing.

Meet Atanascio Soler, chiclero extraordinaire. For over fifty years, Tenico as he is known to his friends has bled the sap of the sapodilla tree. Born in Benque Viejo, he has scaled the heights of his profession in Guatemala, Mexico and virtually every piece of jungle between Hondo and Sarstoon. Today, tenico and his son, Tenash, are working the forest near Rancho Dolores in the Belize District.

Atanscio Soler, Chiclero

“Yo make some core this way and every three core yo take out, you take out a row to go and meet the back part of the tree with the other one. If yo doesn’t do it that way, the milk go and hide.”

Chicle extraction is a mixture of science and art. Poorly made incisions can result in a low yield of precious sap while overzealous cutting can actually kill the tree. With proper planning, the milk can be harvested over time without causing damage. This is why environmentalists see the chicle industry as a prime example of sustainable development—evidence they say that the rainforest is more valuable standing than cut down.

Atanscio Soler

Atanascio Soler

“I left one limb to the back that I neva wanted to chop or I mi too tired. Next year I can come back and chop that tree and the two limbs that I chop this year, the next seven eight years, they are good again; they are ready to give milk again.”

The sap is collected in wax-coated canvas bags which are left overnight to fill. Tenico will cut about seven or eight trees each day as well as collect the milk from the day before.

When enough sap has been harvested, it is gathered together and brought back to the camp for cooking.

Depending on the quality and quantity of the milk, it may take around three hours of careful boiling to remove all the excess water.

Atanscio Soler

“When yo see the bubble come and it brings that ugly black smoke that dah dampness. So that’s the way you know the chicle; when it bring the bubble with clear smoke that is the time it cook.”

Various bush utensils are used like the comalong.

Atanscio Soler

“You haul it up in the jungle. It’s a palm tree that has lotta fine roots. And the lotta fine roots gather up the chicle fast. Sometimes the chicle get too over hot like what happen to me today—too hot—and when I shub in the chamol, which is what we call the stick that we work it with, instead of it get hard it get thinner and it start to raise and overflow out of the pot. So when you shub in the comalong that’s the one that bring it down—he hold it down and gather it. don’t care how it’s hot; he fix it up.”

Meanwhile, the molding trays have been washed and soaked—a process not all that different from baking a cake. The chicle will harden over the course of an hour and finally turned out of the mold.

William Neal

William Neal

“Now the hard work is done. The trees have been bled, the chicle cooked and the molds cast. From here, Tenico will take his blocks to Belize City where they will be exported to Japan only to be imported back as this (PK chicle) or as nylon ropes, tires or even pigtail buckets—virtually anything made from plastic.”

But the intricacies of international commerce seem far away from the forest of Belize and the life that Tenico, despite the hardships, has grown to appreciate.

Atanscio Soler

“Because I get to like it. I get to like to be a free boss of myself because let me tell you something, when I am working good and I meet plenty work like up there, I make three of those for the week and four. Anytime I make four it is two hundred and eighty-odd dollars; up to three hundred dollars. An old man like me; where can I make that around home or in Belize? I’m not an office man, I’m not a special man; I’m a rough man.”

William Neal for Channel Five.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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2 Responses for “Channel Five at year 1 in a Chiclero feature”

  1. Beliceno says:

    True honest Belizean, working hard to make an honest day wage. hats off to him

  2. A very proud grandson says:

    Today marks one year since he left us.although hes gone he left behind a legacy he was highly respected and love….te qiero abuelito

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