Did you know that 25 years ago seeing a naked boy walking the streets of San Pedro was a common occurrence? Boys walked the streets naked up until about seven or eight years of age. There was one particular family from Belize City, the father was a boat builder, and those children walked naked until they were maybe ten or twelve years old.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It was not like you see it in some poverty stricken areas of Africa or South America as shown in some film documentaries. Not everyone was going about naked. But there were several of them, so much that it was common, and seeing them caused no emotions. It was normal. And the children themselves felt comfortable and did not bother that anyone was looking at them.
Boys walked in their yards, swam naked and occasionally they were on the streets going some place as if they were sons of Adam and Eve. Why was that so? Were they poor and could not afford clothing? No. Were they underprivileged? No. Was it too hot? No. Then what was the reason? It was a custom as much as walking barefooted was a custom or the men walking about with their pants rolled up or their unbuttoned shirts.
My parents say I never did. However, I do remember being about 5 or 6 years of age and after coming out of the sea, my mom or sister would make us strip naked and put us (my brother and I) into the “batella” (the washing tub) and give us a good shampoo and scrubbing from head to toe. That was in the outdoor garage, and anybody passing by could see us, so we put up some crocus bags as curtain to keep off the public eye from this weekly ritual. Or when we came out of the sea, we would go to the well in the middle of the yard, and strip naked and pour pails of fresh water over our bodies. Again this was only in our yard, but some kids even swam naked, not bothering that there were girls in their midst.
No, girls never walked naked about the place. Boys were allowed because they “were boys”. And it was not until the boy was getting too old (7 or 8) that family or friends would tease the child so he would put on some clothing. This sense of freedom is not seen today fortunately. The children are properly clothed from the time of birth. Fathers do not walk about the house in underwear. Boys and girls use swimwear from age one. But do observe a little trace of that custom remaining in San Pedro. Many people still do not wear shoes and quite a few men love to open up their shirts even at public places and gatherings. You will find also that a lot of teenagers and men still remove their shirts altogether in the house. Some habits and customs are hard to kick, right?