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Nov 13, 2012

One of the last living chicleros dies

Atanascio Soler

Twenty years ago, our own William Neal won an award from CNN for a story on Anastacio Soler, a chiclero who was born in Benque Viejo and spent his adult life extracting chicle from sapodilla trees throughout Belize as well as in Guatemala and Mexico. Soler, one of the last remaining chiclero’s, passed away on Sunday and tonight we repeat that award winning piece in his tribute.

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

 “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

“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.

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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16 Responses for “One of the last living chicleros dies”

  1. Lucas says:

    Sorry man, he is not one of the last chicleros. at least not from Benque. Let me name some I remember and who are still well alive. Ramon De La O, Orlando De La O, Luis De La O, Diego Coyoc, Hipolito Kutch, Nicolas Moh, Francisco Yacab, Belarmino Kutch, Mr. Villalobos( I do not remember his first name but he is the father of Jorge Villalobos). Two other guys whom I do not remember their names but are brothers with Hilberto Gamez.; Roberto Pacheco; The legendary Pedro Can who along with Rosendo Banos and Peto Yacab were caught by Guatemalan soldiers when chicliando in Guatemalan territory. Pedro and Peto managed to escape but not Rosendo and until now, the whereabout of his remains is unknown. Young people of Benque can contact Pedro Can to tell them that story. Their are other chicleros who are still alive but I do not remember their names. These are old people and all from Benque. The youngest of them are now probably in their late fifties or early sixties. The others may be in their seventies, eighties and probably in their nineties. By the way, I knew PIN SOLER.

  2. Marquis says:

    What a great man and storyteller – Anastacio, rest in peace.

  3. Ok says:

    @lucas, “one of the last” means there is still a few out there! As simple as that! Hence you mentioned a few! My grandfather was a great chiclero from the north! Lately I was wondering If Belizeans still did this? Happy to hear there is still a few out there!

  4. Enrique de Leon says:

    Thank you Lucas….you probably mentioned everyone who we know. Mr Pedro Can…. I believe also that there were others such as Narcizo Perez…….. I believe Ana Segura – Carolina Segura also became part of the same trade ….. Carolina later becoming the first female mayor of Benque Viejo…..

  5. Xtasy says:

    LUCAS you should learn to read properly and UNDERSTAND what you read. The article said ONE of the last living chicleros….not THE last living chicleros. That statement can mean a 1000 more still living….he’s just one of them. Typical cruffy…..qucik to jump up and find fault in everything.

  6. Respect says:

    Hard working man of the soil. RIP.

  7. drose flowers says:


  8. Lucas says:

    One of the last means an ENDANGERED SPECIES WHICH IS ON THE VERGE OF EXTINTION. My thesis is that it is not true. There are SCORES of Chicleros still alive. I know some in Socutz, San Ignacio and Santa Elena, Arenal, Cala Creek, a couple from O.W and Palmar and I know there are many chicleros still alive in the Toledo District. I can name others from Benque e.g. Don mundo Requena, Lencho, El Guero ( The father in law of Jorge Nabet) and as I said there are others just from Benque whom I know are still alive but do not remember their names. As I said, Mr. Soler is not one of the last. Hay aun muchos chicleros vivitos y coleando. However, you guys have no idea how I met these men of old.

  9. Charles Soler says:

    He was my Grandfather …A Great Father An Grandfather …It doesn’t really matters what anyone has to say ..cause its not like your getting paid for it or if anyone cares..I Loved him we loved him..May he rest in peace .if you have a problem Keep it to yourself no one cares. but we do

  10. verymad says:

    My grandfather was a chiclero and had good storys. I remember all of us (kids) waiting for him just to hear about his adventures. In one of the many he worked together with CORNELIO REYNA. ( he said that Cornelio was very lazy but kept everyone entertain with his guitar. Dont forget the ladies that cook for them. I wish my grandpa was still here.

  11. Jones says:

    So why is it people are fight over the grammar of the article and not the significance of the article itself?

  12. Maya says:

    The topic was properly stated. With BZ giving away all our land yes there is just a few left. Mr Soler truely was a hard working man as bush work is not easy. Great story to pass on to the young ones about how BZ once was. Appreciate other people. please stop being so self centered and ignorant by trying to discredit a hard working individual.

  13. Brian Lopez says:

    you FOOLS especially ‘”lucas’” i dont care what anyone has to say
    but i know my grandfather was a HERO to me and before he die he
    had a lot of interesting stories he use to tell us i wish i hear his voice
    again may his soul rest in peace and rise in glory

  14. Rob Kenyon says:

    When I was a little boy, I read an adventure story called ‘Flight Into Danger’ by ‘Lee Hackett’, which was based on stories told about chicleros, and how they would discover lost cities in the jungle.
    Did they?

  15. anashellie lopez says:

    my grandfather was the best grandfather anyone could ever have he was hard working,funny,nice,loving and i just want everyone to stop saying bad things about him because non of you guys know how it hurt me and everyone in my family when he died when he was alive he and my grandmother was and still is my rock, my refuge,my angel and my everything

  16. anashellie lopez says:

    my grandfather was the best grandfather anyone could ever have he was hard working,funny,nice,loving and i just want everyone to stop saying bad things about him because non of you guys know how it hurt me and everyone in my family when he died when he was alive he and my grandmother was and still is my rock, my refuge,my angel and my everything

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