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Re-published from the original David George Lord 1975 doctoral dissertation of the same title and with the permission of the Author
Adapted by AboutUtila.com WebMaster to facilitated on-line navigation and reading.
Copyright by David George Lord 1975
Table of Contents ● Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 ● References ● Appendices
Remittance System Interrelationships: Social Organization
Status and Role
In the Introduction to this study, the point was made that while migration and sojourning, which are intimately involved in a remittance economy, have been considered from certain economic and social perspectives, relatively little work has been done on the interface between the economic and social dynamics involved in a locale such as Utila. In Chapter 4 several key findings--brought out by contrasting agricultural and remittance phases in Utilian history--were, however, made. Among these was the fact that social stratification has been important in motivating individuals to strive, singly or in family groups, to gain or preserve social position. In the "Stratification" section below this point is elaborated while at the same time further detail of Utila's inner functioning is shown.
Also established in Chapter 4 was the point that Utilians were amply preadapted to a remittance style economy and all that it implied. Numerous aspects of Utilian preadaptation had to do with social organization generally, and certain elements particularly. Specific preadaptations were implied in the areas of family structure, and male and female status-roles. These preadaptations, in their modified forms, and other sociological phenomena, account for Utila's success with a remittance economy. It is therefore essential that we look more closely at the various segments that comprise Utilian society. To facilitate discussion the segments referred to will be examined in terms of five social groupings, which have significance in the following ways. First, "Religious Groups" shows some of the internal divisions that exist in Utila. The different denominations provide ideologies that help to extend, in a minor way, Utilian non-cooperation by drawing attention to differences within the population. It will also be pointed out that religious groups have been a mechanism for social mobility within the system of stratification.
Second, "Educational Groups" reaffirms a contention made in Chapter 2: Utilians have been isolated from mainland Honduras through emphasis on their Anglo-American heritage. Islanders reinforce their isolation by operating private English-language schools, whose curricula and teaching methods are distinct from government operated counterparts. Private schools teach values that promote individualism and other orientations crucial to Utilian pursuit of the good life--and to working in a remittance system. Equally important, the English language literacy provided by the private schools increases prospects of getting into the merchant marine.
Third, "Economic Groups" gives data on the extent of the remittance economy and its pervasiveness throughout the sociocultural system. It also illustrates how the Credit Union is especially important to the overall remittance system. Selective disbursement of loan funds enables credit purchasing (relating to consumerism), and, perhaps, differential access to merchant shipping lines (relating to social stratification and pursuit of the good life).
Fourth, "Residential Groups" illustrates crucial patterns in Utilian family and household structure that accommodate absenteeism necessitated by the remittance economy. Individual family striving initially oriented Utilians to test the viability of a merchant marine based economy. Subsequently, individual family striving sustains a sociocultural system where complementary husband and wife status-roles allow males to be absent for prolonged periods of time.
Fifth, "Informal Groups" demonstrates the "rest and recreation" mentality espoused by all Utilians on the occasion of males returning from the merchant marine on annual leave. Informal male drinking groups provide a context wherein the rigors of seafaring may be forgotten during three months of relative abandon. These groups are not only recreative per se in their function, but serve to support a male image of "manliness" that is important to the socialization of young males, to maintenance of the nuclear family unit, and to the mariner himself as an interim reward for his service.
Finally in this chapter I turn to discussion of male and female status-roles. The behavior of adult males and adult females appears to be consistent and congruent with virtually all the demands of a remittance system enmeshed in traditional island ways. This section, therefore, demonstrates preadaptability on the part of Utilians for the remittance system that has evolved using an image of limited good as partial explanation. It also shows the strength of the nuclear family unit (related to individualism), the viability of complementary male and female status roles in which females apparently take an inferior position to men, and the fact that male absenteeism does not necessarily lead to the matrifocal family so commonly found throughout the Caribbean culture area.
The key to understanding social organization in Utila lies in the facts that (1) there are three locally recognized strata based on ethnicity, and (2) there are prestige gradations within these strata based on income and life style. Since the subject of social organization generally is not too clear from the standpoint of the concepts and theories used to discuss it, in order to avoid misunderstanding here it would be helpful to define the terms employed in this section.
According to Broom and Selznick (1973:162), "those individuals, or families, or groups, who have similar ranks on any of the dimensions of stratification constitute a social stratum or social level." They also say, following Marx and Weber, that social class refers to " . . . a grouping of people--for example, all wage earners--who share a common situation in the organization of economic production" (1973:163).
The concepts stratum and class are both used extensively below, but with the modification of the class definition to contain also the notion of degrees of variation (gradation) within strata that are based in economic and life-style factors alone. The word group, also according to Broom and Selznick (1973:47) has a general meaning that ". . . refers to any collection of persons who are bound together by a distinctive set of social relations." Throughout the discussion I will be using "group" in this sense. Finally, "caste" will be understood to signify "an endogamous social group whose members are ascribed to it at birth for life" (Richards 1972:304). As it appears in Utila, stratum is identical with caste, but is better understood, perhaps, as ethnic grouping.
Social distinctions in Utila, by local standards, are not simply a matter of socioeconomic differences between various sectors of the society. As one life-long resident put it, "This is Little Rock, Arkansas," by which he was referring to the fact that ethnic prejudice and stereotyping are basic to the ordering of social existence in Utila with resultant ranking of the island's population into several distinguishable strata.
Although Negro and Spanish surname Utilians were relatively later arrivals to the island than whites, and therefore could not, in most cases, obtain choice properties that would give economic and social advantages, skin pigmentation--not arrival time--is the important consideration when looking at social stratification in Utila.
At the top of the social order in terms of social prestige, occupancy of the most important positions in local leadership, wealth, and so on are the so-called white population of Utila (nearly three-fifths of all islanders). Most of this segment of the society came from other parts of the Caribbean and conceivably have mixed ethnic backgrounds, but contemporary white Utilians would strongly disclaim this possibility. Doran (1952:264) would, in fact, support such a disclaimer from his research in the Cayman Islands--the original home of most Utilians--where he points out that "the maintenance since 1800 of an unmixed white population, comprising some 30 percent of the total, is certainly one significant difference from other West Indian islands." Doran aside, in Utila "white" people actually include two analytically distinguishable groupings who derive from the founding families--Cooper, Diamond, Howell, et al.--and their descendants both affinal and consanguineal.
One sector of the white population bears surnames of the founding families, but the other sector is white by having married into one of the white, founding families. (When working with Mr. Eddie Rose on genealogical relationships in the island, he invariably traced out family lines in terms of descent from the Cooper family alone; to him the white Utilians were categorized as such through their demonstrated relationship to the Cooper family specifically.)
The second subdivision within the white population contains people who bear Spanish surnames (not pseudonymized), e.g., Funez, Valle, Ponce, Zelaya, Zuniga, Perreira, Inestroza, members of which families have married into founding families and are now "white," a point that becomes extremely important in discussion below.
Second on the ladder of social prestige, etc., are Utilians with Negro ancestry, collectively called "colored." Somewhat like the white population, there are two analytically distinguishable sectors in the colored population. The first sector is made of Utilians who have what are locally considered the Negro physical features (elaborated below), and who are descended from the original colored settlers. The second sector consists in those individuals who bear Spanish surnames but who have married colored Utilians.
Colored people are not, in general, considered to be mentally or morally inferior to whites, but it was implied by white informants that there was a qualitative difference between themselves and coloreds that would forever separate the two groups even though they lived side by side. At no time, despite being introduced to this subject of stratification with the Little Rock, Arkansas metaphor, did I find the same stereotypes of colored people as I have encountered in the United States (e.g., that they are inherently lazy, immoral and decadent, and the like).
Third, and at the bottom of the hierarchy, are "Spaniards," identified as an ethnic population by a term that doubles as an epithet in Utila. "Spaniards" are individuals of Spanish heritage (usually from mainland Honduras) who bear Spanish surnames, speak little or no English, and are common laborers recently arrived in Utila. They are typically poor in comparison to Utilians, have to live in the worst housing in the island (due to cost factors and the absolute shortage of rental property), usually have shabby clothing (and little of this), are immoral in the extreme according to Utilians (women have questionable reputations, men and women live in common law union rather than marry according to civil statutes) and epitomize uncouth and uncivilized behavior (e.g., spitting on the floor on one hand, and being satisfied with meals of only beans and rice on the other). Occasionally the term "Indian" is used--interchangeably, also disparagingly--for Spaniard; the reference in this case is not to physical characteristics but to the uncouth customs associated with "Indian" culture. It also carries with it the idea of "uncivilized person." "Spaniards" typically have little to do with other Utilians, although there is some (limited) interaction between them and lower class white and colored islanders.
There is no distinct "native" population in Utila's local hierarchy, although Utilians acknowledge their presence elsewhere in the country. "Native" is a term applied by Utilians to people who elsewhere in Central America might be classified "mestizo," but who are definitely higher class than "Spaniards," and who are not derived from any of the Negro-descended populations (such as the Caribs or Sambos) found extensively on the mainland. In Utila, a person of higher class Spanish background--a "native"--becomes assimilated into the white sector of the society apparently within a generation after arrival via the mechanism of marrying members of white families. Lower class Spanish, "Spaniards," either stay to themselves, or marry into the colored stratum's lower class.
Boundaries between these several sectors of society are a conscious part of interaction between islanders, and expressions of them are many. The boundaries are breached only to the extent that the Spanish surname population can penetrate either white or colored strata as a function of their own individual or family socioeconomic class. Probably the most convincing of the data to support the preceding taxonomy of social strata comes from the vital records in Utila's Cabildo. Some 700 marriage records, dating back to 1881, demonstrate the caste-like, system that exists in Utila, and at the same time shows the importance of class--intra-stratum--variations.
Each of the records referred to above was coded to indicate whether the marriage took place between white, colored, or Spanish couples, or crosses between any of these. In order to properly code the marriages I made extensive use of the genealogical records assembled in Utila, and defined each of the categories as follows:
white -- anyone of, or marrying into, a founding family: anyone who could ultimately trace ancestry to the Cooper family
colored -- anyone identified in the genealogical material as colored and/or bearing one of the surnames belonging to recognized colored families (not pseudonymized): Hinds, Buckley, Coban, McKenzie, McCoy, Ebanks, White, James, Angus, Forbes, Bennett, Bernard, Sanders, and Crimmins
Spanish -- anyone having a Spanish surname
The results clearly support the taxonomy. Excluding 48 unions that could not be coded, 56 marriages took place between white and Spanish, 35 marriages between colored and Spanish, and seven between colored and white. All other marriages (80.1% of the total) were between people marrying within their own category. The Spanish-white marriages, significantly, all involved Spanish surname individuals that would initially be considered "natives" to white Utilians. The Spanish in colored-Spanish unions were all "Spaniards." Unquestionably, class determines where Spanish surname individuals are placed in the social hierarchy with the result that at least 70% of Spanish surname Utilians are categorically "white."
Finally, the incidence of colored-white marriages (at least two of which I know took place with white sailors not even from Utila) would underscore the almost caste-like nature of Utilian society since for white and colored Utilians class standing does not matter in marital considerations: white does not marry colored.
Another major way in which social stratification is manifested is in the demography of the settled part of the island. Counting the Aldea de los Cayitos, i.e., the two populated cays, there are seven "barrios" in Utila. Roughly equivalent in meaning to "ward" in a U.S. town or city, barrio is used mainly for identification purposes in official documents (e.g., recording of births or deaths), but is also used by islanders as a frame of reference to identify what kind of Utilian one is by stratum and class. In order of population size, the barrios run from Puente Caliente ("The Point") and Aldea de los Cayitos ("The Cays") as the largest, to Cola de Mico ("Monkey's Tail"), La Loma ("The Hill"), and Main Street of intermediary size, to Sandy Bay and Holland as the smallest. Ethnic composition is more important than the physical size of the barrios: Sandy Bay is almost exclusively colored, as is a sector of Cola de Mico, but Main Street is totally white with the exception of one indigent Spaniard household. The Point, especially its eastern portion, is made up of many transplanted "Cayans" (from the Aldea) and has only a few scattered households of colored or Spaniard types. The Cays are restricted to "whites only"; La Loma is also white, with one or two exceptions, and was one of the first areas settled when Utilians removed from the cays to the main island. To say that someone lives at Sandy Bay, for example, is virtually to say that the person is colored. Conversely, to say someone is from Main Street is to say he or she is white. In mixed areas, such as Cola de Mico, there are additional reference points. A reference point for Cola de Mico is the "Bucket of Blood" bar; anyone living below "The Bucket" is either white or upper class colored.
There are at least three dialects of English found in Utila that have a rough correspondence with the ethnicity-barrio residence-socioeconomic class phenomenon. The dialect found in use by residents of Main Street and La Loma--many of whom are "old heads" or from Utila's long-established white families--is distinct from the dialect employed by whites from the Point and Cola de Mico, and is in turn different from the colored dialect found in Sandy Bay, Holland, parts of Cola de Mico, and among scattered colored on the Point. On more than one occasion an interview with Mr. Eddie Rose, an old head and Main Street (white) resident, was interrupted by his ridicule of the English used by passing children from the Point.
In non-technical terms, the Main Street and colored dialects are similar to counterparts used by whites and blacks in the southern United States, though the Main Street dialect is not as drawn out as the stereotypic southern dialect. Pointian, in contrast, is much more rapid than Main Street dialect, and speakers of Pointian have a tendency to place the accent on the last syllable of a word, and also to use a rise in inflection at the end of a phrase or sentence.
Dialects are themselves indicative of the gradations that stem from socioeconomic class and ethnic background: Pointians, as more recently transplanted Cayans, have less prestige than those whites who moved to the main island at a much earlier date. (The impression given by main island people in general toward Cayans is that Cayans are a little provincial and rather out-of-touch with what goes on in the larger world. What Cayans think of people on the main island is unknown to me.)
Aside from the marriage, residential, and linguistic evidences of social stratification in Utila, are countless anecdotal examples from field notes. To cite just a few support data, several conversations between Utilians were overheard in which reference was made to "good hair" or other physical traits associated with whites as opposed to non-white residents. The context of the conversations, and tone of voice involved, unmistakably identified "good hair" as a desirable (superior?) thing; conversely, "bad hair" (short, kinky hair as seen on colored Utilians) was undesirable, and not from a purely esthetics standpoint.
Perhaps more convincing than the foregoing is the operation of Utila's three bars. Utila boasts three establishments where beer and hard liquor are served, but also where occasional dances are held. In all cases, colored, white, and Spaniard are served drinks, stand or sit together to drink, and treat one another to beer or whatever (all are equally denied credit drinking). On occasions when a dance is held at Spekeman's or the 06 (both pseudonyms), colored and white dancers are forbidden (even if so inclined) from cross ethnic dancing. At least two dances in my own knowledge were nearly ended when interethnic dance was attempted, and during August 1972, one of the bar owners even advertised dances as: "Colored folks dance, Friday night, 7:30 p.m." and directly above that on the advertising slate: "White folks dance, Saturday night, 7:30 p.m." The Bucket of Blood is frequented primarily by colored Utilians, young U.S. type tourists, and those whites who (one must conclude) do not worry about gossip. The latter point must be so since interethnic dancing does occur there regularly. Despite its slightly unsavory reputation, "The Bucket" is often the last of the bars in town to close up since the serious party goers and heaviest drinkers can almost invariably find activity there (due, perhaps, to the less restrictive rules).
It would be accurate to summarize bar behavior and extend it to all of Utila: if amicability is involved, then groups may mix; if intimacy is hinted then the groups remain separate. Thus, on one hand it is possible for people to go to church and school side by side, but on the other hand a white family would not entertain a colored family for dinner.
The preceding statement refers not only to individuals in one-on-one relationships, but also applies to groups; on occasion, groups can act as self-conscious units to demonstrate how clear the ethnic (stratification) lines are drawn in Utila. The paramount example of this group phenomenon is the so-called Olimpia Massacre referred to in Chapter 4. Although the incident occurred in 1905, it is still alive--in several different versions--among contemporary Utilians. The several versions of the story have to do with differing explanations for the piracy that resulted in robbery and multiple murder. Variations in the scenario aside, the end of the affair is most important because when the culprit, a colored Utilian, was caught on the mainland he was brought back to Utila and promptly lynched. Not only was he hung without the benefit of a trial, but according to one informant was buried in the cemetery in a standing position until public opinion forced reburial in a horizontal plane (even then he was buried on a north-south axis rather than the traditional east-west axis prescribed for Christians in Utila). White outrage over the piracy, even though colored islanders also had been murdered, has derived from assumed colored animosity towards whites (the hangman of the Olimpia murderer had his house mysteriously burn down shortly after the hanging), and subsequently whites have acted as a group to obtain retribution or at the least prevent further episodes of anti-white feeling.
[Webmaster note: The story of this murder is dramatized and told in the historical novel "And the Sea Shall Hide Them" by William Jackson (born in Utila) and first published in August 2003. Also the spelling of the ship's name is different, being Olympia and not Olimpia as cited in this paper]
Far less bloody, and more contemporary an example of self-conscious ethnic group action, occurred during the research period. Two young white female tourists from the U.S. visited Utila. They were just two of approximately a score of young people who toured Utila during our stay, but they alone of all those visitors--several of whom were stereotypic "hippies"--were escorted out the island by outraged Utilians. Reportedly, they made the error of associating too closely with one of Utila's lower class colored men. Broad hints were made that they had had sexual or other intimate relations with him that are proscribed between colored and white: hence their ouster. In this situation it was not just whites alone who expelled the women since the value system of upper class colored people was equally violated; both white and colored acted to mend the breach in proper behavior.
Finally, Utila's ethnic stratum and class distinctions are demonstrated through the selective emigration or sojourning of islanders. By and large, white Utilians remove to areas in the southern United States when they go north; colored Utilians, on the other hand, go to Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York. Without question, the decision to go to northern or southern U.S. cities and towns is conditioned by known attitudes toward non-whites found in these respective locales. The fact that Utilians are both sensitive to these attitudes and travel to places where their respective groups predominate would support the conclusion that they themselves hold similar attitudes.
All of the evidence taken together provides a model of Utilian society that has three distinct strata within each of which are gradations that differentiate the more or less affluent, vocal, and socially active individuals or families from one another. The fact that this situation is now intimately bound up in Utila's remittance economy rather than just in tradition per se is the crucial point.
Men originally opted for service in the merchant marine because few or no occupational alternatives existed for them either on or off the island. Currently, world-wide merchant shipping appears to be so secure that there is no threat to Utila's source of affluence. Yet, men and women alike see difficulties in pursuing a life style dictated by merchant mariner service. The question therefore arises as to why people do not go into other livelihoods. The obvious answer to this question is provided, for the most part, by the continued lack of economic opportunity in Utila noted above in Chapters 3 and 4 (e.g., in merchandising, tourism, and industry), and likewise by the well perceived difficulties that islanders would experience by permanent emigration to the United States (e.g., the higher cost of living and the faster pace of life). In addition, however, it could be hypothesized that Utila's social organization--centering on the stratification phenomenon--could itself be a positive motivation for perpetuation of merchant mariner service.
On one hand, white and upper class colored Utilians can--according to their own words and actions--attain the symbols of "the good life" (my phrase) by continuing their involvement in the merchant marine: the importance and comfortability afforded by remittances are defined by the pattern of stratification. The lower social elements in Utila might well serve as an inducement to continue going to sea simply because they illustrate to higher-ups what would happen if they did not (i.e., by demonstrating a depressed life style). Field data record that all white, propertied informants were hostile toward Spaniards in particular for having already inflated laborers' wages (the truth of this could not be verified), but more especially for the rumored threat they posed to Utilian land (through government land reform). It seems likely that higher strata Utilians would want to maintain as much economic distance as they could, figuratively speaking, between themselves and people like Spaniards; this they can only hope to do via their remittance economy.
On the other hand, viewed from the perspective of lower strata and lower class Utilians, the social system supported by remittances is beneficial and attractive from two standpoints. First, it provides a model for upward economic--and social--mobility that is not ignored by lower strata people. For example, it encourages non-English speaking Hondurans to also go into the merchant marine (since this service is not exclusive to English speakers), the proof of which lies in the number of visas issued to seamen, or seamen in transit (see Table 5 above). With added income and acquisition of the proper symbols of higher class, a Spaniard may ultimately attain white status through marriage into the white community, as illustrated below in the Montenegro example. Secondly, whether individuals go into the merchant marine themselves is immaterial insofar as benefiting from the system of stratification and the remittance economy: funds sent home by absentee sailors often go for maintenance work, house-building, and other jobs (all dictated by the sailors' positions in the social hierarchy) that directly engage day laborers. Thus, although Spaniards might still be relatively disadvantaged socially and politically, their economic security and basic life style are incalculably better than on the mainland, a fact that is supported by the recent addition of 30-40 more coastal Spaniards to the island population for this stated reason.
In the broadest sense of the term group, Utila's various social strata represent the most inclusive social groupings in the island. Yet while ethnicity and all of the other factors involved in stratification cannot help but touch many aspects of day-to-day living, not all situations and transactions are best understood by reference to them. Also important are the various formal and informal assemblages that develop from common residence, mutual liking, and so forth.
Formal groups in Utila are expressions of the foremost institutions in the island and help to pinpoint some of the core values in the system. To facilitate discussion I have lumped the formal groups under five headings and will treat with each of these separately.
Within this category fall the five Protestant Christian denominations in Utila: Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist, Pentecostal Church of God, Baptist, and Jehovah's Witnesses. All five denominations have churches, and all have ministers or elders to lead in various services, although the Methodists do not have a resident pastor, and the Pentecostal and Jehovah's Witnesses congregations are led by people from the United States.
In terms of their membership figures and total importance to Utila, only the Methodist, Adventist, and Pentecostal groups need be considered here, and from the outset of discussion it would be helpful to think of the Methodist Church as a conservative element in Utilian society--Establishment, in effect--as opposed to non-Establishment, in effect--as opposed to non-Establishment (though not necessarily "progressive") Adventist and Pentecostal churches.
The Methodists claim (according to William Miller, a U.S. citizen who taught at the Methodist College for more than a year) the largest number of church members, somewhere around 50% of all Utilians. From my own observations and from the comments of Dolly Cooper, one of the most active figures in the church, the majority of these members are nominal rather than practicing Methodists. Nevertheless, according to Rose (1904:72), Wesleyan Methodism was introduced in 1852 and rapidly garnered most of the islanders to its membership. Although some of the early members were unquestionably fervent in their religiosity, indications from informants are that the church actually constituted a kind of social diversion for the isolated Utilians rather than a vehicle for advancing one brand of Christian orthodoxy.
The strict, fundamentalist tenets of Methodism (proscriptions against drinking and gambling, for example) were honored in the breach--especially as regards drinking--but membership was no doubt advantageous and from other than a recreational standpoint as well. An examination of the baptismal records at Utila's Methodist Mission (dating back only to the 1920s) shows many Spanish surname Utilians being baptized into the Protestant faith. In-as-much as most, if not all of these one-time native Hondurans were at least nominally Roman Catholic upon their arrival in Utila, subsequent acceptance of Methodism (or one of the other Protestant faiths) probably counts as a part of their ultimate acceptance into white Utilian society (as just discussed above).
Relatively early in the island's history--c. 1891--the exclusivity of Methodism was challenged by Seventh Day Adventist missionaries. In Guanaja, farthest distant of the Bay Islands, nearly the entire population was converted to this sect, but in Utila missionaries were able to lure away perhaps only 20% of the faithful (not all Utilians, also according to William Miller, profess some denominational affiliation) and this figure appears to have remained stable until the present. What particular points of dogma, or matters of style, may have attracted people away from Methodism I do not know, but sociologically speaking it appears that Adventism is associated with slightly lower class Utilians--either colored or white--although representatives from founding families are also numbered in Adventist membership.
Pentacostals are a "high profile" group in Utila along with the Adventists, and with almost as great a frequency and intensity have evangelistic programs with speakers brought in from outside Utila (usually from the United States). The composition of the congregation again tends to appear slightly lower in class than the Methodists, but is on a par with the Adventists and also boasts people from founding families in the congregation. The basic observable differences between Adventist and Pentecostal are that the latter observe Sunday as the sabbath, but more importantly emphasize speaking in tongues as a crucial part of religious experience.
The relationships between the several denominations--neither unfriendly nor ecumenical--are not themselves important to this study; and, in fact, it is not for theological purposes that discussion of Methodists and others is introduced. Rather, it is for the ancillary functions that the churches perform--for their roles as Establishment-Non-Establishment institutions--that they merit attention.
As noted, Methodism was the first faith introduced into the island and has probably served as a vehicle for ethnic mobility for Spanish surname individuals. Like many Establishment institutions elsewhere in the Western world, it has earned many laurels but is currently sinking further and further into decline. The Methodist Mission in Utila maintained a parochial school--first grammar, then secondary--off and on for at least the last 80 years. During a significant portion of Utila's history it was the Methodist Mission that provided whatever formal learning islanders were to receive without going to the mainland or to the United States. It was also the Mission that solicited medical assistance for Utilians--in the absence of resident doctors, dentists, etc.--and provided space for regular clinics.
Educational and health services were, than, auxiliary responsibilities born by the Methodists, but these were often engineered by lay people rather than full-time resident pastors (who have been provided by English rather than the physically closer U.S. Methodists). A decline in attendance at services, a decline in actual membership, and abbreviated services through lack of lay participation have all correlated, it seems, with changes in the world outside Utila and with the problem in the last few years of finding a resident pastor who would be sensitive to Utilian culture and could mitigate some of those changes taking place in the United States, the Caribbean, and elsewhere. Utila's last two ministers have stayed only a relatively short time in the island before moving to Roatan where they could oversee Methodism in all of the Bay Islands.
In a sense, Utila has been a training ground for those seeking higher positions in the church organization. More importantly, these two ministers have run counter to local culture by, among other things, too excessive an insistence on "brotherhood" among all peoples, white and non-white. The last minister was a native of Costa Rica, colored, and married to a Guyanese wife. He was labeled by several informants as being too much inclined to "civil rights" ideas rather than to advancing Methodism. It was during his tenure in Utila that the secondary school--"college"--was closed (in April 1973) due to controversy surrounding two young teachers imported from the United States. Several serious breaches of behavior are attributed to them (improper wearing apparel such as shorts and T-shirt on the male; overly harsh discipline such as suspension of a student for incomplete homework; charges of hypocrisy against elders given the existence of "outside," i.e., illegitimate, children).
In sum, Utilian informants pointed to the closing of the school and the role of the minister at the time for the decline of Methodism in Utila. My own analysis shows additional cause, however. The dogmatism of some of the older members (e.g., in regard to gambling) appears laughable to many islanders who find little other recreational outlet. Most important, however, is the fact that the evangelical Adventist and Church of God denominations present a positive attraction to Utilians in two forms, one of which is dynamic ceremony that is emotionally stimulating, the other of which is psychological pacification by leaving the local value system alone, which the Methodist ministry is notorious for attacking.
Insofar as the several denominations having direct impact on the remittance economy is concerned, all of them certainly advocate financial responsibility, domestic fidelity, and hard work in general for professing Christians. The educational contribution, in the form of grammar and secondary schools, is of more tangible importance to the remittance economy, however; it is quite clear form informants' accounts that facility with the English language and with mathematics has given Utilians an advantage in obtaining work on ships or permission to emigrate to the United States. If the Methodist Church no longer provides schooling for Utilian youngsters then this service will devolve on others by default; the alternative is to leave Utila with grammar school education alone, and this cannot prove sufficient for securing a job as automation and more sophisticated technology demand increased expertise from sailors.
Finally, the socializing function of the church groups in Utila would seem to be of continuing importance as long as a remittance economy prevails. No matter how many other diversions might come to the island--and there is no indication that anything more than television, radio, cinema, and occasional dances are going to be on hand to entertain--the churches will probably remain to provide solace for lonely individuals, the kind of solace that attending a dance will not provide. As the "old heads" die in Utila, and as the Methodists default in their previously important roles, the Adventist and Pentecostal groups stand to benefit. They too, however, will have to come to grips with advocating practices and beliefs that displease sailors who have been working hard away from home, particularly the proscription against drinking. The strong possibility exists that all church groups in Utila could continue a trend currently in evidence, namely, that women and children are the primary ones to attend and support their churches. Men do not attend because they cannot tolerate preachments against things they hold important, and therefore they become nominal church members in increasing numbers.
For most of its history, formal education in the island was an offshoot of Methodist religious activity. The fact that the Methodists provided a school for Utila's youngsters probably has more to do with the incidental presence of Richard Rose than with the church being pro-education. Rose, who is something of a folk hero among old heads in Utila, came to the island at the start of its Fruit Boom period via the New England states. A Methodist minister and educator, he ran a school in Utila until his death in 1935.
Approximately three generations of Utilians were taught by Rose (including his son, Mr. Eddie, and Rev. F. Gideon Cooper who both worked with me in this study) in the six grades of grammar school that parallel the six standards of the British grammar school system. His policy of "spare the rod . . ." resulted in a reputation for himself and his scholars (according to people like Rev. Cooper) of academic excellence. Instruction was in the English language, but Rose was apparently very sensitive to Utila being part of Honduras and made efforts (sometimes sycophantic) to bridge the gap between British people and the Central American administration that governed them. Sometime, apparently prior to the Second World War, the Honduran government introduced state-financed primary education. Reportedly, the primary school system now operating in Utila (with 191 students up to the age fourteen in the six grades) is financed by United States A.I.D. funds and is not, therefore, a demonstration of government concern for the welfare of islanders. Whatever the source of financing may be, a half dozen teachers (most of whom are from the mainland) run Utila's official educational system. Through their presence they exemplify and even reinforce the stratification aspects of Utila's social organization.
One of the male teachers married a colored Utilian and to all intents is colored at this point (his only associates in the island are the Spaniard soldiers in the government Cuartel). Two women teachers and one other male have married into the white population and are now white islanders, though in a slightly marginal sense since they speak little or no English. The contemporary Spanish school in its several classes contrasts markedly with the English language school, and not simply because of the difference in the language of instruction.
Miss Phyla Bodden, a descendant of one of the older Utilian families, teaches fifty-three grammar school youngsters. She considers herself a mainstay of traditional Utilian culture, and as a repository of British-American background of the island population. Instruction at Miss Phyla's is considered (by students, their parents, and Miss Phyla) to be superior to the Spanish public school. In public school, instruction is given in Spanish, which is a second language to most islanders, and in addition there are no textbooks. All lessons are given to public school children by dictation, then the students recite their lessons until, by rote, they have mastered them. This "gab school" technique produces a literacy level of around third grade (in the U.S.) for graduates; mathematics are ponderous compared to private school, and no vocational training that might have practical applications is given. The absence of a public secondary school further limits the quality of public education in Utila, but it is not altogether the fault--by omission or commission--of the Honduran government. Monies were provided by the government for a secondary school building, and foundation pilings were actually poured, but the bulk of the funds were--according to informants--misappropriated by two Utilians who subsequently migrated to the U.S.
Miss Phyla's school is allowed to operate at sufferance of the local public school head, and could be closed at her whim (for non-compliance with unwritten standards that she alone in Utila is allowed to interpret). With the potential threat of private school closure, Miss Phyla and her students' parents take an embattled posture; she, during the course of a half dozen interviews, said repeatedly that the Honduran government is jealous of the higher standard of living among this English speaking minority and wants to "keep the Bay Islanders down."
Despite help from Standard and United Fruit in getting United States text books for use in her school, Miss Phyla has an uphill fight to give quality education in her school (high costs, overcrowding, lack of teaching aids, etc.). Students go to Miss Phyla's--as opposed to public school, or even no school at all--because of their parents' wishes, not from a burning desire on their part to be scholars or to maintain an English heritage per se. It escapes most youngsters that the attitude fostered long ago (cf. Rose 1904:158) regarding formal education--that it really is unnecessary--has resulted in at least one Utilian recently being denied seaman's papers on the grounds of illiteracy.
With 588 members, the Credit Union in Utila includes on its rolls more than half of the total main island population. This large membership, and the function that is served in providing loans for medical care, house building, and the fares for men to take ship in the U.S., make the Utila Credit Union one of the staunchest supports of consumerism in the island. On the surface it is just a financial institution in the island, but given membership figures, the kind of functions performed, and its corporate character, the Credit Union must be considered a formal economic group as well.
As a group, the Credit Union, or its leadership at least, underscores the differential involvement of people in the remittance economy, class gradation within social strata, and the solidarity of strata themselves. Most important here is the variable participation in the remittance economy in combination with the impact that the Credit Union can have.
First, although my support data are limited, it appears that anyone may join the Credit Union (a five dollar fee to purchase one share gives full membership) but not everyone applying for a loan could expect the same open-handedness of the Credit Union officers. Differential treatment could be anticipated, it seems, on the basis of how good a credit risk one is (was), and this would largely be a function of how many household or family members one has in the remittance system to provide repayment funds. Several residents of Sandy Bay Barrio, all colored, were pointed out to me as very poor (too poor to afford water and electric facilities even), and this was due to the fact that they had no one to go on the ships for them. The implication is that they would likewise be too poor to get a loan.
A glance at the roster of Credit Union officers for 1975 would show that the officers have been selected almost exclusively from "old heads" (here used to signify members of the founding white families, plus their supporters from the upper class colored stratum). Thus, the people who determine credit policy are, in effect the dominant segment of the population; they are the ones who have established the values of Utilian society, and can--by granting or denying loans--help to perpetuate class distinctions within strata through the mandatory life styles that might thereby be imposed.
On one hand, while Credit Union officers can--in the name of the membership--reinforce social distinctions in Utila, they can just as easily facilitate class mobility. Lopreato describes a situation in the Italian village of Stefanaconi that is relevant to this point when he says that
. . . mobility has been made possible by the rapid conversion of relatively large remittances of money from emigrants into appropriate social symbols such as landed property and 'modern' dwellings (1962:184).
Although ultimately it is, of course, remittances that allow class mobility, the Credit Union can make lump sum loans so that individuals or households may make large purchases without having to save up the money over an extended period of time, or themselves make installment payments for land, furniture, and so on. In short, the Credit Union makes it unnecessary to "delay gratification" for various wants, material or otherwise, and in this way may accelerate mobility. Such a speed-up could conceivably have a significant effect on consumerism generally by amplifying an attitude of "the more I get the more I want"; i.e., having already obtained some of the goods and services associated with "the good life," Utilians can obtain even more, but it is potentially of greatest impact on those who have had fewest of those goods and services.
The remittance economy and Credit Union taken together are certainly important in terms of emigration that took place prior to World War II during the period when Utila's economy was at its worst. As pointed out above in Chapter 4, emigration from Utila is likely to have taken many of the people who formed an economic middle sector and thus left a vacuum between the relatively wealthy and the relatively poor. Subsequent to the remittance economy, the stay-at-home population was able to acquire the "appropriate social symbols," as Lopreato puts it, and enjoy a life style previously attainable only by those in upper and middle economic sectors. In this acquisition of symbols, the Credit Union has most definitely helped to recreate a middle sector in Utila, and actually shorten the time involved in the process. It may even have made it possible for some of the previously lower sector families to move to the top of the economic scale, a fact that may have much to do with attitudes towards Spaniards that I discuss below.
One of the most obvious of the residential groups in Utila, the barrio, has already been examined above in connection with social stratification. No less important in Utilian life--practically speaking, of more importance--is the household, of which there are approximately 240 in the island.
Caribbean social anthropology is replete with accounts (e.g., Smith 1957:66 et passim) of how people all the way from Guatemala and British Honduras to Guyana and the Caribbean islands accommodate to the absence of males from household units. The classic "matrifocal family" is the accommodation referred to, and insofar as the Caribbean island of Utila is concerned, is almost totally irrelevant. The notion that males are rather inconsequential to the economic and emotional well-being of household units, which is my understanding of the matrifocal family model, describes household organization for 5% or less of Utila's population.
"Matrifocal family" is however an elusive phrase when it comes to precise definition, and the several key authors who use it (M.G. Smith 1962 and Raymond Smith 1957 besides Solien de Gonzalez already cited) leave the construct somewhat vague.
The general consensus is that matrifocality refers to female dominated matrilocal extended family households in which unrelated adult males are transient figures with little economic importance for the unit. Household composition was in too great a state of flux during the research period (and, I suspect, during any given period of time) to make categorical statements about the "normal" Utilian household (which actually tends to go through cycles described below), but it seems to be the ideal for the household to be coterminous with a nuclear family unit.
What may be confusing to a casual observer here is the fact that, for a variety of reasons (e.g., due to the lack of nursing homes, orphanages, and other institutions to house and care for certain categories of people), the nuclear family/household is necessarily more elastic than its counterpart in the United States. Thus, a Utilian household may, during that portion of the year when the males (or senior male) are absent on board ship, be composed of a woman up to age 45-50 or so, her single daughters (perhaps married ones as well), any grandchildren that might be around, any unmarried sons that might still be at home (too young for sea duty or the army perhaps), and any sons-in-law or other kin who happen to need housing. This configuration does not arise due to the purported worthlessness of males or their transience, but is due to logistic or other considerations.
Woman operate in their respective households as if the return of any absentee male were imminent; only by default do women perform the tasks ordinarily considered part of the male role. It appears from my own observations that women act as stewards for absentee males, and from both observation and interviews it can be asserted that it is the men who are ultimately responsible for their households and women simply stand in for them in their absence.
Women are not, by this analysis, to be viewed as ghost males who are in themselves inconsequential to Utilian society. The role of women in Utila (dealt with more fully below) is crucial to the maintenance of the system and to perpetuation of the remittance economy. The idea that women fill in for men, however, rather than supplant them, is what I wish to stress here, and is given support (as an example) by research done by Gail Smith on the effects of male absence from seafaring communities in Great Britain. It was her finding that "although the wives learned to cope [with problems of running a household all alone], they found it a strain having no one to turn to for moral support or to share these responsibilities. They gave them up to their husbands with great relief while he was on leave" (Smith 1975:8; emphasis added).
In order to illustrate some of the configurations that Utilian households can assume, a description of several "type" examples would be helpful (pseudonyms are used throughout). As noted, the ideal household appears to be one that consists in a single nuclear family, a representative of which is the household of Walter Williamson, Jr. "Wallie," not quite 50 years old at the time of the study, lives with his wife Leann (a Cooper by birth), and their five sons--ages six to sixteen--in a two story house in the Holland barrio. Wallie has been a fisherman all of his life, and still fishes with his sons in order to meet household needs for seafood. His main source of income has not been from fishing, however, but the merchant marine, which he entered during World War II. Aside from his home and the lot it sits on, Wallie owns plantation land out in the bush and is thus comfortably situated. He told me shortly before I left Utila that he wanted to build a new, better house on his town property and would, therefore, sign on for another six months at sea in order to accumulate the several thousand dollars necessary for the venture. During his absence, Leann would watch out for their sons and continue to bake coconut bread--her regular occupation--for sale in Utilian stores. She would receive monthly allotments from Wallie while he was gone, use as much as she needed for living expenses, and save the remainder.
While Wallie's household would probably not be confused as a matrifocal family in his absence, the household of Gustaf Aginuz might at first glance be taken as just such a unit due to the prevalence of adult--or almost adult--females. During the research period, Gustaf's household contained his wife, "Miss" Julia (age 45), and their three daughters Elaine (age twenty), Rose (age seventeen), and Molly (age fifteen). Also present were infant Horatio (Elaine's child) and an unidentified teenage male who helped with chores around the house. Miss Julia maintained a general store on the ground level of her two-story house, baked fresh coconut bread daily, and supervised the household while both her husband and son-in-law, Horatio Nelson, were at sea. Elaine's husband, Horatio, Sr., did not yet have a house for his own nuclear family; therefore, Elaine and son lived with Julia while her husband was on the ships--and fishing during his leave period, to get money for a home. Before the research period was ended Rose had married Ralph Trent, and her young bridegroom planned to ship out soon on his first voyage (at age nineteen he was already a year beyond the minimum age for merchant seamen) while she stayed with her mother, helping with the store and Elaine's baby, hoping to save money for her own home.
Obviously, Miss Julia is not a matriarch in charge of a matrifocal household; the absence of adult males to direct and participate in household operations is not permanent and is occupationally-related, and belies actual household functioning. It is my belief that in many societies where a remittance economy dominates, household structure may mistakenly be labeled matrifocal while in fact it approximates the kind of household and situation just exemplified. Quite clearly, for some household members--as in this example--continued residence after marriage in the parental home constitutes a temporary situation, merely a function of being at a dependent stage in life, which will hopefully be outgrown.
Household configurations that are neither the nuclear family type, nor what we might call the female-child cluster that arises from youthful dependency plus involvement in the merchant marine, are abundant and varied. For example, there is the incomplete nuclear family (household) due to being widowed, as in the case of Miss Samantha Bordeen. Miss Samantha (in her early 80s) has been widowed ten years but maintains her home with the assistance of daughter Frances. Frances, a spinster in her late 40s, has remained with her mother to keep house for the both of them. The other five children have long ago moved away to establish their own households (two of them remained in Utila) but they all keep in fairly close touch by mail or visits.
What might be called an augmented nuclear family also has representatives. In this type, an additional family member or members (either affinal or consanguineal) is present in the household beyond typical nuclear family individuals. The household of Homer Coppen and his wife Helen serves to illustrate this type, wherein Helen s sister "Terri" resides along with Homer, Helen and their daughters Virginia and Constance. Terri, in her late 20s, was a victim of polio as a child and is also mentally retarded. Too much for her widowed mother to take care of, Terri makes only occasional visits to her mother's home in the Cays. To the best of my knowledge, Homer supports Terri along with the rest of his dependents and receives no assistance from other sources, a fact that must cause a certain amount of hardship in the household since Homer is a pensioner with relatively small income (although he does have a small salary from clerking in his cousin's store).
Some households in Utila bear so little resemblance to a nuclear family that they might best be considered anomalous due to special kinds of problems. One example of this type consists in a brother and sister residing with their maternal grandmother. The children's father deserted them and their mother, and the mother has subsequently died. Without either father or mother present to care for the youngsters, their grandmother (herself widowed) has taken on the responsibility of raising them.
Finally, there are, I believe, examples of the so-called matrifocal family in Utila though my census data do not indicate exactly how many instances exist. A preliminary estimation is, however, that the phenomenon is restricted to Spaniards, lower class colored women (localized, more or less, in Sandy Bay barrio) and perhaps one instance in lower class white society. Women of the types just noted seem less scrupulous in their relationships with men, and conversely the men who associate with them are likely to provide little support or assume much responsibility for them or any children they might have. Whereas the other household types discussed here are "normal" in Utila, the matrifocal type is definitely atypical or "abnormal." My data do not indicate whether a matrifocal pattern has much antiquity in Utila, or whether it is a relatively recent phenomenon that arose when other elements of the population were becoming fairly well-to-do. To say that women in Utilian matrifocal households are impoverished, thereby suggesting the existence of a "culture of poverty" adaptation (cf. Lewis 1966), is premature. At most, it might be suggested that Spaniard and lower class colored values are more relaxed in terms of consensual unions and casual liaisons that do not bind males as tightly to women and families as is the case in other segments of Utilian society.
To conclude this section, it must be underscored that additional census material is needed before categorical statements on Utilian household types can be made. At this point, however, it appears that the 240 households in Utila fall into one of six types: nuclear, female-child cluster, incomplete nuclear, augmented nuclear, anomalous, and matrifocal. No exact percentages for each type could be projected over time since in the natural history of a family or group of people in contemporary Utila individuals can find themselves evolving to--and through--several of the types. At any given time a particular household of individuals must be viewed as a temporary arrangement. During the research period, however, it is estimated that 40-50% of Utilian households were of the nuclear type; and the balance of the population fell into one of the other patterns.
The presence of matrifocality in Utila is not readily explicable, as already noted, but put another way around is an equally interesting point--namely, the actual rarity of this household type. The relative absence of the phenomenon in Utila is perhaps due to the availability of relatively high-paying jobs for its men. This contrasts radically with the situations described for Guatemala, etc., where men simply are not important economic figures. Another significant factor, also economic at base, might be that the household in Utila is not primarily the unit of economic production and consumption. The household in Utila is fundamentally social rather than economic in its functions; it is the group that provides companionship for individuals and socialization of new members in the society, but though many households might have structural similarities to the matrifocal family the nuclear family is the essential production and consumption group.
In addition to more formal aspects of socialization in Utila, there are other, less structured, elements to the social system that are generated through mutual liking and compatibility between individuals. They are also generated in part for the purpose of pursuing a special activity or activities. Especially important activities are various types of recreation, and drinking is by far the most potent force for assembling an informal group--specifically of males.
In Chapter 4 it was noted that during the months of September, October, November and December most of Utila's merchant mariners attempt to be home for a rest and recreation period. A cinema that operates erratically and a once-a-week, at most, dance are the only diversions outside of bars and drinking. Men are therefore in a sense propelled into beer drinking and its attendant activities (card playing, listening to a juke box, conversing) while on leave. Almost invariably, drinking, etc., takes place with one or more companions, and Utilian men spend a great deal of money in the friendship groups generated around drinking.
Typically, a group of men who drink together in a bar will treat one another to rounds of drinks--turn-on-turn--which can go on for hours at a time. The structure of these groups is extremely loose, and people can be easily brought into the groups or just as easily drop out of them. Joining is effected by being treated to a beer by one of the men already drinking and thus is not something actively undertaken by a man; i.e., one is invited into a circle of friends who were together beforehand. Dropping out is effected by a man simply leaving, usually with an announcement that he has to go home for a bath, a nap, a meal, or some other reasonable excuse for leaving, but with the idea that he will probably be back.
In size, the drinking groups range from just two or three to as many as ten men, but the average size is around four or five. Even when groups grow as large as ten members there will be a distinct core to the group--perhaps the two or three men who got the group started on that occasion--who trade drinks. Late comers will not be treated, or treat, to the same degree as the core and may form secondary (satellite) groups of two or three who will tend to stand rounds more with one another than with the core group. Membership in these groups tends to be situational, happenstance, most of the time, but men will arrange with one another for a drinking session (a "spree") from time to time. Strangers, especially from the United States (as I well know from personal experience) are very welcome to the drinking group and will be singled out for solicitous attention beyond the friendly treatment--and care for one another's welfare--that ordinarily is part of drinking comportment.
The relevance of men's drinking groups to the total discussion of social organization and Utila's remittance economy lies in a complex and tightly interwoven set of behaviors and attitudes. To begin with, the major motivation to ship out is so that one can obtain money necessary for a good life in Utila. A good life consists not only in material goods and so-called creature comforts, but also in amiable people and relationships. Relaxing in the bars is part of the latter and is also an integral part of the actual work-leisure cycle. Thus, drinking is both a partial cause and an effect of the remittance system (drinking is something one does to demonstrate friendliness and comaraderie, while it is also a mechanism for relaxation or at least diversion), and drinking groups--since one does not drink alone--are an inherent part of drinking behavior in the island.
Put differently, in drinking groups one can clearly see some of the important aspects of being an island male (elaborated below). To the extent that males are essential to the remittance economy, but more especially the right kind of males (i.e., ones who will behave predictably in terms of Utila's value system which includes comradely drinking), these groupings are significant. Male status-role, however, goes beyond the rest-and-recreation character presented in bars; a fuller consideration of both male and female status-role is needed in order to appreciate the dynamics of Utila's remittance economy.
Since there are both social and psychological dimensions to the analysis of status-role, this section will attempt to integrate what Utilians themselves say that they do, and are, with behavior that my wife and I observed during the research period. Of especial help were John Sullivan (pseudonym), one the the few contemplative and introspective islanders; Eddie Rose, whose 80 years in Utila and penchant for observation--especially minutiae--gives him advantaged perspective of his fellow islanders; and Helen Coppen (also a pseudonym), one of the most skillful managers and organizers of things and people in Utila. These informants not only provided much of the basic material used here, but served as a double check against other informants' material.
The special design of Utila's social system, and the operation of its peculiar economic system, are fundamentally derived from two stereotyped and predictable sets of role behavior associated with ethnic and sexual statuses. Many of the stereotypes in both cases go back to the days before a remittance economy existed; others, however, derive from or have been amplified by the remittance system.
Ethnic group status-roles have already been covered to a large extent in the discussion of stratification where the relationship between these status-roles and the remittance economy is made: wealth provided by the merchant marine and remittances is a means by which some individuals may move up or down in the social hierarchy. Two propositions from that discussion particularly merit elaboration. As was pointed out, since attaining "the good life" (again my phrase) implies a certain amount of mobility within the society, it follows that the potential of movement is as important a motivation to behavior in Utila as the actual acquisition of the symbols of the good life. Further, this is doubtless one of the social features that keeps Utila from being depopulated through migration, i.e., the hope of achievement within Utilian society, and is thus part of Utilian sociocultural dynamic. Finally, the interesting possibility also, therefore, exists that people who are socially disadvantaged in Utila due to wealth have a vested interest in maintaining the stratification system as it is: they have the hope and expectation of working their way up within it. Conversely, people who are disadvantaged due to ethnicity per se have an interest in changing the system to better suit themselves. On the contemporary Utilian scene, therefore, Spaniards stand to profit from maintaining the status quo while colored people do not.
A case study that both illustrates and partially supports the foregoing points is the wedding shower that was given for Jane Perez (a pseudonym) just before her marriage. The shower, held at the Montenegro home (also a pseudonym), was attended by twenty to thirty guests, both males and females, who were friends of the bride and/or the Montenegros. Most of the guests were close in age to the bride and groom, i.e., late teenage or early twenties, and there were both married and single individuals in the group. No colored people attended, although Jane (who is categorically "white") and the Montenegros have colored friends.
It is unknown whether any colored friends were even invited. Significantly, there were two Spaniards present, which is probably related to the fact that the Montenegros are considered marginal whites at this point. Mr. Montenegro had, as a youth, spent several years in Utila where his father was trying to establish a salt factory. Most of his adult life was subsequently spent in Guatemala where all three of his children were born. He had only recently returned to Utila and was renting a residence until he could buy property and build his retirement home.
The Montenegros had the reputation throughout Utila of being somewhat less than successful, even foolish, in terms of handling their money. The rumored lack of fiscal responsibility, plus their mainland background (Mrs. Montenegro could not speak any English after being two years in Utila), made this family marginal according to the white Utilians. Perhaps in sympathy with their "paisanos" (countrymen), or even in defiance of Utilian values and norms, they invited Spaniards into their home. Inasmuch as there were no colored guests present, however, and since the Montenegro daughter, Evita (age fifteen), was "looking a boyfriend" exclusively from among the white boys in Utila, the family will probably be "white" very soon.
Prior to World War II it is quite clear that the status-role of all Spanish surname individuals in Utila was closer to that of whites, and together they could be distinguished from colored Utilians. A proof of this contention lies in the datum that all of the Spanish surname families or individuals in the island who became, and are now, categorically white, achieved that status-role before Utila moved to a remittance economy.
A comparison of pre- and post-remittance ethnic status-roles indicates that Utila evolved from basically a two strata society to a three strata society due to an initial bias built into the remittance system. English-speaking Utilians--colored or white--had definite advantage over Hondurans of Spanish heritage in gaining entrance to the merchant marine and/or migrating to the United States due to their language and cultural background. Prior to the Utilian commitment to a remittance economy, everyone in the island had virtually the same economic options (agricultural production, fishing, local shipping) and, perhaps for political or practical considerations, Spanish surname people had a similar status-role to whites at that time. In a very direct way, then, wealth from the remittance economy forged a significant portion of the status-role expectations and performance found in Utila today; but, as noted, advantages have shifted somewhat.
Turning to the status-roles of men and women in Utila, it has already been established that women especially are crucial to the perpetuation of the sociocultural system. In all areas--economic, political, religious, social--women consistently demonstrate their importance and competence and their co-equal position with men in terms of decision making, garnering of esteem, and so on. As Helen Coppen commented once, "Things are 50-50; they have to be"; and Viola Moran, in the same vein, noted that, "People here are hard, especially the women [because of men going on the ships]." Women are enduring creatures, like their men and can do hard labor (which for them is a virtue admired by men and women alike) in the form of hand laundering, baking, and cooking meals without benefit of pre-processed foods.
Despite perceived equality, or at least complementarity, between men and women as far as women see it, there are many evidences that women have a secondary social position in relationship to men. Thus, while there are examples of women going off to visit relatives on the mainland or other of the Bay Islands while leaving their husbands at home, of women who operate their own shops, of women in public office or in charge of civic activities, there are as many examples of women taking a secondary position to men. One of the best examples of the situation being described is the wedding of Rose Aginuz during which she--as guest of honor--actually assumed the task of waitress for her father and the elder males present.
Many other situations, often having to do with home and domestic activity (such as child watching), show male social superiority. To my knowledge, no Utilian male would stay home with children so that his wife could have an evening out, for example, to go to a dance. The woman would either have to take her children along with her (which is frequently the case) or get someone--perhaps her mother--to watch them. The male, however, will spend the entire evening, night after night, at a bar with a drinking group without having any concern over such matters. Utilian women are not servile in their relations with men, however, far from it. The attitude conveyed by women vis à vis men is, in fact, more an attitude of indulgence, such as one might take toward a young child. To illustrate this point, and put the example of Rose Aginuz's wedding into better perspective, an incident occurring between the police chief, Hester Thompson, and one of the men home on leave is enlightening.
Sandy Fortunato (a pseudonym) had come to Utila for a visit after having been absent, in the United States with his parents, for more than a dozen years. Although he was a U.S. citizen, his background was Utilian (he had also taken up a typical island occupation by working on a shrimper), and he was received back into the community as an old friend and family member. He quickly fell into the pattern followed by most merchant mariners while home on leave, but aside from the heavy drinking and partying he developed a passion for fried chicken and was soon in trouble for chicken stealing. Having been fined, and warned once by the chief of police, he was caught a second time and again brought before her. Miss Hester lectured Sandy about stealing other people's chickens and then told him that when he got the craving for fried chicken again he should come over to her house and she would fix him one of her own flock rather than have him get into trouble.
Sandy was due to leave in a short time (as were a number of other men who had also had a hand in the chicken thievery), and the strategy adopted by Miss Hester--and many other women in a variety of situations--was to indulge (pamper?) the male for soon he would be gone, taking the chicken stealing problem with him.
Women accept a secondary position to men apparently in order to make their short stay at home enjoyable, acknowledging the fact that it is difficult for men to be away from home, friends, and good times. Men accept this female attitude and resultant behavior--demand it in a sense--as just compensation for the same rationale: women should attend to male needs and be grateful for the money they earn and the life style they thereby provide for them and the household.
Speaking now of the male qua male in Utila, he typically works hard for his living (as he will tell you in any bar room conversation) and is proud of the fact that he works hard since it proves his capacity for endurance both physically--in doing heavy labor--and emotionally since he must be away from home and loved ones for so much of the year. On the other hand, he does not prize manual labor per se, especially with the land, as is evidenced by the reluctance of men to farm in the island. As an adjunct of their "work ethic," recreation is also pursued with an eye to demonstrating hardihood and the capacity to endure: drinking bouts of several day's duration prove, in part, one's masculinity. During drinking sessions, however, one does not want to "get hot" (which to Utilians connotes being drunk beyond the point where the individual can take care of himself) since this is both unwise--one could get into a fight--and weak (i.e., is the opposite of enduring).
Hard work and hard play are traits long present in the Utilian male population and the results are obvious: on one hand is the abiding commitment to the merchant marine, on the other, to the "rest and recreation" mentality I noted above. The work commitment, a man will tell you, lets him obtain the things needed for a comfortable life, but even more fundamental than this is the ability to pay the bills and meet the responsibilities attendant upon living comfortably. The ability to pay, then, leads directly into the "rest and recreation" phenomenon: relaxation among Utilian males is high-cost due to the expense of alcohol; but being able to meet the cost is part of the relaxation, part of the satisfaction of drinking--and drinking groups, where one's ability to pay can be shown off in large scale generosity, are necessary to this facet of the male status-role.
The Utilian man is adventuresome, as demonstrated by the fact that he sails to all corners of the world, stops in strange ports, etc., and when home on leave is ready to try all sorts of mischief (e.g., chicken thieving). He is also ready to create a good deal of commotion short of fighting--which appears to be looked down upon even though no Utilian would back away from a fight--that usually means making a lot of noise with stereo, jukebox, fireworks, and so on. Nevertheless, he is basically a homebody and enjoys domesticity. Men are attracted back to Utila through the knowledge that there they will enjoy home and friends, and if women are involved--mothers, wives, lovers--indulgences (though this does not mean total irresponsibility). Men are more or less assured that the island home they left a few months--and even a few years--ago will be the same when they get back; women and retired men who are desirous of the status quo for economic and sentimental reasons (not to mention possible in-put from lower stratum elements) exert conserving force on Utilian culture so that the absentee male does not have massive changes confronting him every time he returns from shipping out.
The only exception to the preceding, i.e., males being homebodies due to the predictable security of the household situation, would be where a man had to face infidelity in his spouse or untrustworthiness in household members. Given the repeated and prolonged absences of Utilian males, it is not surprising that both infidelity and untrustworthiness occur; but despite male sentimentality (men readily weep or are morose over unrequited love and the like), the typical male response would be a rather matter-of-fact acceptance of these conditions as occupational hazards. (Rather early in my research I had several men tell me that "Utilian men are good at three things: going to sea, drinking, and screwing other men's wives." This line appears to be part of local folklore.) The number of unfaithful spouses is actually quite small--even less common than other forms of sexual impropriety, namely common law unions and fornication (with resultant illegitimate children), which are themselves relatively infrequent.
Birth records for 1940-1974, for example--the period corresponding to Utila's remittance economy--show that out of 1131 births, 177 (15.65%) were illegitimate. Broken down by social strata these are distributed 31% white, 49% colored, and 20% Spaniard, figures that need some additional comment. Among white and colored populations, "outside" children are an unfortunate by-product of love affairs. Outside children among Spaniards are usually generated in a common law union. Illegitimacy is not a reliable measure of infidelity since men may be reluctant to disclaim their paternity of wives' children, and an increasing number of women are reportedly taking birth control pills. A common Utilian practice, illegitimacy aside, is to identify a child with its mother rather than its father (or both supposed parents); in reply to the question "Who's she for?" the answer "She's for Peggy" identifies an individual as the offspring of a particular woman: maternity cannot be denied.
The requisite adult female status-role of nurturer and conservator, is one that women apparently handle willingly from their earliest years. From childhood they are socialized into a "Susie Homemaker" personality that concentrates most of the female energy and interest in home and children. While still children themselves, female offspring are enlisted as child-watchers for any younger siblings, for incidental cousins, nephews, or whatever. They are utilized by mothers to go to the market (from an age when they cannot even see over the top of store counters) and to lend a hand in cleaning and cooking in the home. They are early geared to look for romantic love with men, an orientation reinforced by radio serials such as "Portia Faces Life" received from Radio Belize (British Honduras) and television "novelas" that are received from Tegucigalpa in half-an-hour segments two or three evenings a week. The local laundromat has several examples of romantic art drawn by Utilian girls: "Jim, I Love You To My Heart," and similar phrases. From approximately age fourteen (school-leaving age) until a woman marries, she is "looking a boyfriend," which is to say that she is receptive to serious overtures from males. Dating situations are, admittedly, few; but the weekly cinemas offer some opportunities as do church gatherings.
Utilian women are not adverse to flirtations, but like to control any romantic, or potentially romantic, situation by dictating hours and conditions of dating, for example. They must be modest--neither being scandalous on the street (such as using foul language or being boisterous) nor going into bars unaccompanied except for dances--decorous in dress (a bikini is approved at the beach, but not elsewhere) and, in fact, up-to-date in terms of their wearing apparel (polyester pant suits, shorts, and so forth are common in the island).
The female version of adventuresomeness, perhaps to counterbalance the male experience incurred by going on the ships, comes from going to the United States for a short, usually two or three month, visit to relatives or friends. As Laura Cooper (keeper of the laundromat) once told me, "I want to go North for my tour, and then come back to settle down." What Laura was saying, in effect, was that once she had experienced female adventure she was prepared to act out the typical Utilian female status-role of mother-wife, etc. Laura is very much like most nineteen-year-old women in the island: in love with love (my phrase). Once she has seen the outside world (New Orleans) that is enough, and beyond that she is ready for her own household.
Utilian females tend to dote on children, especially babies (and male offspring of whatever age); yet despite the penchant to want children of their own, family size is small. Census data indicate that the average family in Utila has only two or three children, which is somewhat ironic for a number of reasons. First of all, one demonstration of maleness in Utila is fathering children, being a real "gallo" (rooster). Likewise, a number of children are an economic asset (they can help in one's store or in one's coconut plantation or run on the ships or work in the United States) and are a veritable source of retirement security. Secondly, children are a source of companionship that is extremely important to Utilians especially the women. Perhaps as a function of men being absent so much, perhaps simply out of fondness for children as persons in their own right, women like to have offspring around them. Helen Coppen epitomized this point in her response to my questions about ideal family size--whether she, speaking on behalf of Utilians, would have liked more children (she has two daughters, one of whom is still at home, the other an airline stewardess with SAHSA airline): "I wish I had had two more children [to make the ideal of four in a family] because I don't want to be all alone when I get older." The implication was that this desire for three or four children was the norm.
Small family size is doubtless the result of relatively high infant mortality (of the 563 deaths recorded between 1900 and 1974, fully a third were children ten years of age or younger) which relates to a Utilian trait that is impossible to ignore, namely a concern with health and doctoring that--as noted in Chapter 4--consumed a third of all money ever loaned by the Credit Union. The avidity with which doctors are sought out may well have a recreational aspect to it (since people have to go to the mainland for medical care), but at the least it should also demonstrate their concern for their children's and their own well-being--which may also account for several Utilians since the turn of the century living past the age of 100.
Additional descriptive material regarding men and women in Utilian life could certainly be provided in this discussion, but points crucial to the study have been made. In sum, male and female status-roles in Utila today, like ethnic ones, are to a great extent connected to the economic system found in the island. Prior to the remittance economy, women and men were certainly complementary to one another, just as today. With the men resident in the island most of the time, however, and household structures having males present most of the time, the distinction between a man's occupations and privileges and a woman's were much clearer than at present when women so often must take over for men.
More importantly, differences of opinion and various kinds of conflict could not previously be ignored in the expectation that they would disappear with male departures. Women in earlier years appear to have been considered genuinely inferior to men in all respects; men were frequently condescending and supercilious towards them (cf. Rose 1905:24 et passim). Male and female status-roles in Utila would have been excellently preadapted for the type of living conditions eventually demanded by the remittance system, but there has been a change for women in the direction of greater independence, and for men a qualitative shift in the attitude that what they do while home in Utila is a direct function of hardships in the merchant mariner's life; previously the latter legitimization did not exist and was not, perhaps, even necessary; i.e., a man did what he wanted simply because he was a man.
Enmeshed in the discussion of social organization are major points concerning stratification in Utila and the maintenance of the remittance system. Put succinctly, both the socially advantaged and the socially disadvantaged have a vested interest in the system of stratification since it serves on one hand as an aspect of Utilian life that--given an Image of Limited Good carried over from the Coconut Oil years--must be preserved by continuing (white) participation in the remittance economy. On the other hand, in that stratification embodies all of the elements of the good life, mobility within strata serves as a goal to be attained--or overcome--especially by the colored population. In large measure, the importance of the stratification system is historically determined through its linkage to land tenure in the island and the recent experience of economic crisis, all of which revolve around the initial orientation toward individualism.
During Utila's earliest years--perhaps for two generations after settlement--the smallness of its population, its few non-kin relationships, and all-white composition gave the island a semblance of extended family structure and function. When colored and Spanish arrivals increased the population in absolute numbers, and when these newcomers de-homogenized the population, Utila's white population became a kind of cartel.
Resources were initially abundant, and there were few inhibitions to everyone enjoying the good life: an image of limited good was not greatly in evidence. The coming of colored and Spanish surname immigrants to Utila coincided with the Fruit Boom, and though parameters for social strata were loosely laid out at the time, the system was still open. As the market for Utila's tropical fruit disappeared, circa 1900 and was followed by the world-wide depression, there was concomitant economic deprivation and emergence of the image of limited good: opportunities for the good life disappeared.
Utila's Coconut Oil Years experience was one of extreme hardship for all islanders irrespective of social stratum, kind and quantity of land owned, etc. Emigration, which siphoned off hundreds of islanders, did nothing to help Utila's local situation. Those people who remained had little of the good life, and what little they had they obviously intended to keep. This they could do by totally closing the social system to any mobility between strata and by keeping political power and authority where it then resided. These sociocultural developments were the matrix for Utila's remittance economy that developed in the aftermath of World War II.
As in the discussion of social stratification, hypotheses concerning the remittance economy can be developed from descriptive data on status-role. First, women more than men have a vested interest in perpetuating the remittance economy. Women have, increasingly, been decision-makers and managers in the absence of males, but since these decisions are usually not major (e.g., whether or not the household should emigrate or the like), they have a relatively greater amount of freedom (at least from their husbands if not from society at large) without concomitant responsibilities. If a woman truly needs the presence of a male (e.g., due to sickness) a man can be induced to remain in Utila beyond the normal two to three month leave or he can take emergency leave from his ship. In other words, in circumstances considered by a woman to warrant it, she can manipulate the presence or absence of a male regardless of his usual work cycle of nine months on and three months off.
Day-to-day tasks of women are made easier through amenities provided by remittances. A woman can, in effect, manipulate remittance expenditures in her favor (i.e., so that her work load will be eased, her leisure time increased, and so on) simply by resort to traditional values: a woman can, for example, appeal to a man's desire to appear successful and generous in order to get a new electric refrigerator. If she gets bored with the island surroundings or its relative isolation she can use remittance monies to take children to the doctor in La Ceiba, a legitimate expenditure according to traditional values. Or, she could go north to the United States for a visit with other islanders, also recognized as legitimate in the value system (to maintain family ties, to assist at the time of childbirth, to do shopping for desired things not available in Utila or Honduras, etc). Such visits are themselves beneficial to maintaining the remittance system since they enable comparison between Utila and other places; comparison usually favors Utila as having a slower pace of life. Likewise, visits expose women to still other amenities that remittance monies can be used for.
The commitment of women to the remittance economy is doubly demonstrated through the responses of children to questions about their life goals. A sample of fifteen little boys and girls under age 12, when questioned about their objectives in life, indicated that they intended to go to sea (if male) or stay home to care for house and family (if female). Socialization of the next generation of Utilians, primarily in the hands of women, has already established that Utila will (all other things being equal) have a remittance economy for a long time to come.
A second hypothesis stemming from status-role discussion is that the prospect of retirement--rewards in the future rather than in the present--is what encourages continued male participation in the remittance economy. Unlike women, men do not derive optimum satisfaction from their remittance economy while still actively involved in it. Men, in contrast to women, invariably talk about goals toward which they are working and with which they can--in retirement--be happy and content. Women enjoy the fruits of the remittance system by increments; men anticipate enjoyment, more or less, as a kind of lump-sum phenomenon. The "rest and recreation" atmosphere of the community is, in the interim, a male device for coping with the retirement goal orientation. Permissiveness of male behavior and indulgence of male whims serve as intermittent rewards for men prior to attaining retirement. Males, then, are not anxious to see changes on the contemporary scene: their prospects for enjoyment are posited in a no-change culture. In order to ensure stasis, i.e., to protect their investment in the projected retirement, there is a built-in inducement beyond personal attachments to keep men coming home (rather than emigrating, perhaps, as they did in an earlier era) yet periodically shipping out in order to eventually build the good life.
Male future orientation and female present orientation are largely responsible, as the final hypothesis, for Utila's persistence in the remittance system. Though the male and female orientations are different, they complement one another in keeping Utila from any prospect of local economic self-sufficiency. Women want consumer items that they can use and enjoy in the here and now. Men, however desirous of saving for retirement they might be, must also satisfy wives (perhaps compensate them for male absence) and therefore engage in consumerism. The "rest and recreation mentality" of men plus their own penchant for consumerism does the rest to guarantee economic dependency on the merchant marine. Lack of investment in local ventures (empirically, there are, in fact, few things in which to invest), and the relatively small savings accumulated in the bank and Credit Union (see Chapter 4) attest to what is obvious to any observer: Utilian consume most of what they earn. That they do consume rather than invest has kept the island in a dependent status; and the prospects, given the lack of in-island opportunities, are that this situation will not change. Economic dependency and its relationship to the remittance economy will be dealt with still more fully in Chapter 6.
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