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Money Order Economy: Remittances in the Island of Utila

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: Economics

The Agricultural Phase: 1836-1941

Production and Consumption Bases


Land Ownership and Utilization

The Distribution of Wealth


The Remittance Phase: 1941 to Date

Production and Consumption Patterns

Land Ownership and Utilization



▲Top of Page Chapter 4 - Remittance System Interrelationships: Economics

A preliminary overview of Utila's past was traced out in Chapter 2 in order to illustrate preadaptation for a remittance system. That over-view was presented according to a two-phase scheme which emphasized economic phenomena as demarcations between a traditional society (based on agriculture) and a contemporary society (dependent on the merchant marine). Using the same two-phase distinction, the economic sector of Utila's remittance system is examined below. With this examination, the interface between economy, society and polity comes into clearer focus and assertions made in Chapter 1 are further strengthened.

The particular chapter divisions employed in the following discussion contribute to understanding Utila's remittance-supported society, and to the theses set forth in Chapter 1, in the following ways. First, "Production and Consumption Bases [Patterns]" lets us look at the traditional ways of making a living (and underwriting the expense of the good life) during the years leading up to World War II. Having established the baseline of Utilian earning and spending patterns, it is possible to see--by comparison with counterpart phenomena in the remittance phase--the ready transition from one phase to the other. This, then, supports the idea of preadaptation in Utilian society and long-existing tendencies to commercialism and consumerism.

Second, "Trade" illustrates how Utilians took advantage of their agricultural activity and the markets for agricultural produce in the United States to bring prosperity to their island. It likewise establishes the extensiveness of maritime activity which served as a preadaptation for future merchant marine service. In addition, this section underscores the facts of Utilian individualism and commercialism and also is an indicator of the deprivation islanders experienced once northern markets disappeared and island shipping vanished. This deprivation relates directly to the "limited good" perspective that prevailed in Utila as the good life became increasingly difficult to attain. From this viewpoint (i.e., that chances for the good life were actually diminishing radically), it is possible to understand Utilians choosing to go into the merchant marine.

Third, "Land Ownership and Utilization" is particularly relevant to the arguments pertaining to individualism and consumerism and to understanding motivations for present day involvement in the remittance system. Land, directly linked to socioeconomic success during the agricultural phase, has become the major symbol of the good life in contemporary Utila. Land ownership demonstrated individual striving during the agricultural phase. Since the remittance system began, however, land ownership demonstrates the most conspicuous facet of consumer consumption.

Further, because land represents an important element of the good life and because of its associations with social stratification (discussed in Chapter 5), Utilians are motivated to work in the remittance system. The quest for land and the reward that owning land can mean to a Utilian, show the significance of this section to the overall study

Fourth, "The Distribution of Wealth" shows the differential advantages, hence differential enjoyment of the good life, accruing to the individualistic (and commercialistic) islanders prior to the remittance economy. In connection with land ownership and social stratification, this discussion underscores the point about Utilian individualism. In relation to migration, this section helps to demonstrate the shrinking number of economic alternatives open to islanders and a preadaptation for the remittance system.

Finally, discussion of "Migration" lends support to the contention that Utilians, aware of the lessening opportunities to attain the good life, were prepared for the viable alternative of going into the merchant marine.

In summary, as in Chapter 2, emphasis in the following description and analysis is on the attributes of individualism, commercialism and social non-cooperation within the Utilian population. Again, it is through these orientations that traditional island practices and institutions become comprehendible. It is also through these orientations that Utila's physical limitations can be appreciated as contributors to the islander decision to go into the merchant marine rather than abandon the island, as many had earlier done, or remain to endure poverty.

▲Top of Page The Agricultural Phase: 1835-1941

▲Top of Page Production and Consumption Bases

During this initial economic phase particular patterns were established in producing and utilizing goods and services; these patterns have had continuing significance in the aftermath of World War II (the point dividing the two phases) and reflect islander values that were present with the very founding of Utila.

Production and distribution techniques in the initial economy were simple: slash-and-burn horticulture was practiced by each planter with little or no help from non-household members. Each man attempted to grow enough of the crops he had under cultivation to supply his household with those particular commodities and, just as importantly, have enough surplus to sell at various ports along the Honduran coast, in British Honduras or as far away as Tampa and New Orleans. Commercial production for export was absolutely necessary since planters concentrated on a narrow range of crops--items often associated with monocrop agriculture such as coconuts, bananas, citrus and the like--and made no attempt to provide a full array of agricultural foods needed by a household. Even kitchen gardens were apparently absent from Utila's agricultural scene.

Contact with consumer markets throughout the early years of settlement was effected by a boat owner periodically gathering produce from other planters and then "making a run" to specified ports such as El Porvenir or Puerto Cortes (on the Honduran coast); profit from sales would be turned back to the producer less fees for shipping.

In addition to planting and shipping, several other part-time occupations filled out the production aspect of Utila's economy. Males did some subsistence fishing, hunting for whelks, turtle eggs and crabs, and occasional husbanding of cattle, pigs and chickens. Women operated primarily in domestic functions--cooking, washing, etc.--and sometimes did sewing or baking to obtain income.

Internally, the island economy operated with mixed barter and monetary systems of exchange. Islanders often practiced selective reciprocity in goods (for example, when a man butchered a pig all of his neighbors shared in the meat; if a turtle or large fish were caught the flesh would be shared) and services (for example, in making boat repairs, house building and the like). Small-scale merchandising (as in the retail vending of rum or imported groceries and manufactures) was done primarily on a cash sale basis. From its very settlement, then, Utila has been characterized by commercialism. Apparently from 1836 onwards a system of mixed currency was used in the various monetary transactions; not only was Honduran currency used, but also that of other British Caribbean territories and the United States (the latter is still used in Utila and is referred to as "gold").

Insofar as overall consumption patterns are concerned, data indicate that islanders brought with them several cultural biases that, in their persistence, have had significant impact on the Utilian economy. In the realm of consumer consumption, preferences in clothing, housing, furnishings and in their diet reflected British and U.S. styles and sentiments from the beginning of island settlement.

Clothing and dry goods, for example, were purchased in British Honduras, the United States or in other Caribbean islands because they were of better style and quality than anything available in Central America. Likewise, these items tended to be cheaper than Central American products due to the fact that as a one-time British colony Utila was relatively duty free--not to mention the lower prices obtained through extensive smuggling between British Honduras and Utila (which may have something to do with mainland Hondurans still referring to islanders as "piratas").

Lumber for the construction of their frame houses (plus adornments such as lattice work) was imported from the United States on the grounds that it was better milled and treated than anything available from the Honduran mainland.

Household furnishings were derived largely from non-Central American countries. Islanders bought settees, rocking chairs, china cupboards, bedsteads and so on from the United States. Again, their quality and design are stated to have been more congenial to Utilians than anything available locally. Various "conspicuous consumption" items such as pianos, cast iron stoves, elaborate (kerosene) lighting fixtures, etc., were also acquired in the United States as desirable elaborations beyond basic household needs. Gadgets and bric-a-brac found ready homes in Utilian households.

Dietary preference ran to heavy meat intake--beef, pork and chicken in particular--the eating of wheat flour bread and consumption of prepared foods (tinned cocoa, biscuits, preserves, etc.). Items in this array were either atypical of Central American buying patterns or were too costly for mainland compatriots, but persisted after settlers came to Utila as a part of their traditional life style.

The significance of this brief sketch of biases in consumer consumption is that it demonstrates Utilian perseverance--and pride--in maintaining traditional patterns while at the same time being progressive, e.g., self-consciously modeling themselves on comparable communities along the Gulf Coast of the United States (cf. Rose 1904:11 et passim). The combination of biases accounts for a major component in the Utilian image of the "good life" and is therefore important in understanding economic motivations in Utila. It was the amplifying of consumption and production patterns alike that led to Utilian option for a remittance system when that option was afforded residents of the island.

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the United States market for tropical fruits expanded radically. Concomitantly, Utilian planters expanded their production to meet market demands and almost as a body, settlers moved from the original cay communities to occupy Utila proper.

Plantations were increased to commercial proportions--some as large as 90 acres--shipping increased in number of boats owned and operated and in gross tonnage transported and became an enterprise in its own right.

Consumerism in all its facets increased along with the additional production and income: more goods, more travel, more everything upon which money could be spent were acquired. Beyond these amplifications of the fundamental aspects of Utila's economy, the boom created by the influx of cash from the United States brought about several other alterations in the sociocultural system. For example, immigration to Utila increased markedly. Wage laborers (recent arrivals from other Caribbean islands and also from the Honduran mainland) arrived to do unskilled or semi-skilled tasks. A merchant-captain-landholder class of the "first families" also began to emerge.

Unfortunately for islanders, the advent of large fruit companies (Standard and United) to the Honduran mainland around the turn of the century aborted Utilian prosperity. Competition with the giant companies was futile and Utila was rapidly thrown into an economic recession; the world depression of the 1920s and 1930s only aggravated an already bad situation in Utila. Production had to be cut back; shipping disappeared; purchase of any goods save absolute essentials was radically curtailed.

Before turning, however, to Utila's second economic phase it would prove illuminating to look at greater depth into one or two of the first-phase alterations mentioned above.

▲Top of Page Trade

The magnitude of trade during the agricultural phase, either in monetary or other absolute terms, could not be ascertained, but some indication of the importance of trade to Utila is given by reference to a roster of ships owned by Utilians and sailing out of East Harbor during its boom period (approximately 1875-1900). Ships were primarily involved in local (i.e., coastal Honduran) trade but also plied waterways between Utila and the United States. Since the boom period represents the zenith in Utilian maritime activity, the number of ships, crews, etc., would be radically lower both before the boom and directly after it. The data for Table 3 were provided by Lutchen-Lehn (n.d.:47-49) and could be substantially corroborated by my own informants.

Table 3
Ships owned by Utilians and sailing out of East Harbor
During the Boom Period 1875-1900

Ship Name Owner Tonnage
*Clara L. Dyer D. Warren & Co. 125
*Franz B. Hiller D. Warren & Co. 150
*Storm King R. Woodville & Co. 90
*Royalist R.H. Rose & Co. 200
*Nellie Dixon Alfred Morgan, Sr. 130
*Elsa Louisa Alfred Morgan, Sr. 60
*Azelda Alfred Morgan, Sr. 50
*Violet Charles Cooper, Sr. 55
Luria Esau Cooper 175
Sybilla Alfred Morgan, Jr. 150
Marian Cutter Irwin Bodden 125
Southern Queen Edward Warren 125
Olimpia White Bush 100
Beloit Mowat Eden 86
Sally Dwight Hunter 75
Wireless Charles Cooper 75
Kate Esau Esau Cooper 70
Viola Hill Clifton Hill 70
Roncador James Bush 60
Adele Irwin Bodden 50
Frances Darryl Thompson 50
Dreadnaught Darryl Thompson 50
Telegram Edward Warren 50
Emma Grace Esau Cooper 50
Reporter Timothy Morgan 45
Editor Alfred Morgan, Jr. 45
Concord Alfred Morgan, Sr. 45
Bunifors ?? 45
Nautilius ?? 40
Unity Henry Bodden 40
Dispatch Henry Greenwood 40
V. C. Harriman Timothy Morgan 40
Britannic Albert Morgan 40
Beatrice Adele Damon Cooper 36
Violin Henry Greenwood 35
Romeria Lindsay Bush 35
Obispo Darryl Thompson 35
Nimrod Clifton Hill 35
Maxine Timothy Morgan 35
R. E. Hill George Hill 35
Daisy C. Bryant Cooper 31
Verdun Irwin Bodden 30
Honduras Alfred Morgan, Sr. 30
San Cristobal Van Baker 25
Conduct David Warren 25
Gerty May Alfred Morgan, Jr. 25
Monitor R. Woodville 25
John A. Woodville R. Woodville 25
C. L. Clark Alfred Morgan, Sr. 25
Underwriter Alfred Morgan, Sr. 25
Gypsy Irwin Bodden 21
Anette Damon Cooper 20
Exelcior Van Buren Bodden 20
Cecile Harry Bodden 20
Frank Luis Luther Howell 20
Wooloo Mooloo David Warren 20
Willie Ebanks A. Greenwood 20
Eureka Darryl Morgan 20
Pilgrim Luther Howell 20

*Ships marked with an asterisk were apparently the only ones involved in actual trade with the U.S.; other ships were restricted to local runs.

It should be obvious, then, from Table 3 that Utilians committed a great deal in money and energy to shipping as an economic venture. By the time the world depression hit Utila most of these ships no longer claimed East Harbor as their berth: some had been sold; some were long since inoperable due to age and decay; and many--according to informants--had been lost in hurricanes and bad weather. Insofar as shipping was ever important to Utila and its local captains, that importance waxed and waned entirely during the agricultural phase.

▲Top of Page Land Ownership and Utilization

Field data indicate that the founders of Utila--probably of lower or working class origin, as previously noted--carried with them the ideal of independent ownership of land. Several of my informants claimed that many islanders in the course of Utila's history had actually died "land poor" given their propensity to possess land. Nor was the acquisition of land indiscriminate: from the time Utilians moved to the main island certain plots appear to have been more favored than others.

The shore of East Harbor and the hill directly behind it--La Loma--were prime residential areas, so much so that when waterfront lots, for example, could not otherwise be obtained islanders resorted to making land. Subsequently, Utila's founding--first--families controlled the choice housesites in the island; and with that control some aspects of land tenure took on more than sheer economic (or aesthetic?) importance; there came to be a correlation between social place and physical space.

This latter, non-economic aspect of land ownership, was also extended in a modified form to plantation areas in the bush. Although bush land was more a chattel than an element of social stratification, there were more desirable properties than others as determined by accessibility and usefulness. Tracts were more or less distant from the community at East Harbor and more or less directly approachable through swampy areas that make up the bulk of the main island. Some land was flatter and more open than other, especially in terms of lava flows whose jagged ridges made pasturage or easy cultivation all but impossible (e.g., along the Iron Bound; see Map). Latecomers to Utila were often, it seems, relegated to less desirable properties simply as a function of their arriving too late for choice spots. The advantage of the founding families--both socially and economically--over subsequent arrivals was, to repeat, measured in part by land tenure.

During those years when the Bay Islands had been a British colony, land grants from the Crown were made to individuals for various parcels, both housesite and plantation types. Subsequent to the Wyke-Cruz Treaty all land transactions were subject to Honduran law. The sale of property (hence its acquisition) had to be arranged with private documents--sales contracts describing the property, cost, etc.--and public documents which legally registered a sales transaction and involved a lawyer and/or payment of registration fees.

Utila's low population density during the agricultural phase (see Appendix B) and what would seem to have been the rather easy matter of obtaining land either from Spanish or English governments (depending on the period in question) or from one of the already existing owners nevertheless did not prevent islanders from attempting to defraud one another of territory. Not only did they attempt to gain land from one another by chicanery, they at times would simply resort to squatting on another's land and win it to their own holdings by default.

The observation that islanders had, and have, a penchant for encroaching on one another's land is more than gossip or malicious slander on the part of informants. Rose (1904:67), in talking about various homicides that had occurred in Utila's history, notes that the first murder in the island involved land disputes and the moving of boundary markers.

Another datum we provided by (black) Utilian informants regarding an island tragedy taking place in 1905[*]. During that year one of the black residents of the island, a long-time and trusted employee of many island whites, shot or otherwise murdered more than a dozen people (both black and white) on board the goleta (passenger and cargo ship) Olimpia (see Table 3). The Olimpia massacre is legendary in Utila as the font of interracial friction, but more importantly here is one particular account of the massacre given by black informants. According to this version, the murderer had committed the murders and robbery in order to get revenge and economic recompense for being cheated out of a parcel of land that he had put in pawn. A wealthy white Utilian had accepted the land as collateral for a small cash loan; when the borrower attempted to pay off the loan and recover his land the lender claimed that a sale had been effected.

[[*] 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]

Insofar as utilization of land was concerned, to Joseph Cooper and the other early settlers, cay and main-island land was merely a factor--the prime factor--of production in their farming economy. Although they termed their cocals, etc., "plantations" the sense in which they used the term is not the conventional academic usage found, for example, in the writings of Mintz and Wolf (1957:380) in which they say:

We shall let plantation stand for an agricultural estate, operated by dominant owners (usually organized into a corporation) and a dependent labor force, organized to supply a large-scale market by means of abundant capital in which the factors of production are employed primarily to further capital accumulation without reference to the status needs of the owners.

Utilians never managed to achieve the full-fledged state of plantation agriculture--agribusiness, in fact--due primarily to external market conditions. They did amplify their original farming activity, however, to a very lucrative pitch; and incipient plantation economy, in the sense of the term as used by Mintz and Wolf, may have had much to do with the "social place=physical space" phenomenon that ultimately developed.

By and large, bush properties were divided into pasture lands and plantations. No exact figures nor estimates could be found, but pasture land seems to have been by far the lesser use to which the bush was put. Animal husbandry was not, apparently, a popular pursuit with islanders even though one could imagine that there would be a ready local market for such a product as beef. The quality of pasture fed tropically grown beef might have been one factor inhibiting a local market, however, since--without corn or other cereal grains to fatten the animals--that meat would be lean and stringy (in contrast to imported meat that might well have been corn fed). Still another factor bearing on the quality of island-grown beef would have been the lack of refrigeration or proper preservation of butchered meat: Utilian butchers, however deft they might have been in cutting less-than-prime carcasses, could never adequately age the meat to provide tender, tasty viands for island households.

In pure economic terms, it could be hypothesized that animal husbandry was not popular since, for example, beef raising is a high capital, long term investment. From calf stage to marketable beef stage might take as long as two to three years, which along with the problems of insuring good health to the tropically raised animals (warding off insect and parasite pests such as ticks, mosquitoes, worms, etc.) may well have made beef raising too risky a venture.

In contrast to relatively small scale, economically secondary pastoral usage, land for plantations was crucial to Utilians. Again, no exact figures are available, but plantings from a few to several score acres are known to have existed in the island. Popular with Utilian farmers were banana and plantain "trees" (actually perennial herbs with soft herbaceous stalks) that could be brought into production within two to three years from the time the root stock material was planted. Coconuts, which took up to seven or eight years to bear, were also popular since they would continue to produce year after year with relatively little care once they had reached maturity. Fruit trees, especially citrus and mango of different varieties, also found a place in island plantations although they do not seem to have been economically as important as bananas or coconuts.

The care of a banana or coconut "walk" consisted mainly in keeping back the ever-encroaching tropical bush and harvesting ripe fruit. Some walks appear to have consisted of mixed trees, i.e., some coconut, some banana, some mango or citrus, rather than solid stands of just one kind. This is evidently due to terrain; banana plants, for example, are quite tenacious growers and can even survive in little pockets of earth between lava flows where other trees or tree-like plants could not prosper. The mixed nature of an individual's plantation required considerable familiarity with his inventory of cultivars; a man had to know each of his trees in order to properly attend to it during various facets of the growing/bearing cycle (this too, perhaps, inhibited large scale use, at least initially, of outside wage laborers: too much reliance on individuals not intimately concerned with planting would put a block between a man and his production--with costly results).

As already mentioned, seaside and hillside properties were specifically housesites. The major consideration in choosing the shorefront or hillside was comfort; either of these locales was kept cooler and more insect free than inland sites because of the easterly winds. Subsequently, when trade and transshipping of fruit from the island interior became important to Utila, shorefront lots gained economic value for their ready access to ships at wharves or at anchor in the harbor. Stores and bars were located along the shoreline in order to minimize problems of supplying them from cargo boats. Large warehouses were even built out over the water near the shore as collection centers for agricultural produce (especially coconuts) to make transshipment easier. Those who owned the wharves and/or seaside lands could levy fees for access to the various boats. In this way too the peculiarities of land tenure, as it developed in Utila, helped to reinforce the growth of distinctive socioeconomic classes.

▲Top of Page The Distribution of Wealth

Settler families were, logically, in an advantageous position to establish and control any initial economic enterprises. Not surprisingly, then, a relatively larger amount of Utila's wealth gravitated to the founding families, especially when monies earned in planting were multiplied by the entrance of these same families into maritime trade and/or merchandising. Reference to Table 3 should provide sufficient evidence that a handful of families dominated shipping; the same families, essentially, who were the merchants and holders of the largest amounts of land.

Support, from the section on land ownership, also exists for the contention that socioeconomic classes formed rather early. Additional data regarding differential distribution of wealth come from two other sources, one direct and the other inferential. Francis Moran (a pseudonym), a merchant in the Utila of 1973, pointed out that during the "Coconut Oil Years," already mentioned, his family's store was the only such venture (out of more than half-a-dozen) to weather the depression disaster. As will be recalled, merchants during this period were in the position of operating "company stores": people could render out coconut oil, but payment was received only in merchandise from the purchaser. Either the Moran enterprise was simply luckier than others, or--as asserted by my informant--there was more substantial foundation to it: the Moran family was categorically in a different position relative to the other merchants and other islanders as well. Those merchants who were financially submerged by the depression must have entered those years relatively better off than most islanders, which further points to the existence of economic gradations in Utila's population.

Inferential evidence of (socio)economic classes in Utila comes from census records and various registries in the municipality. Taken together the figures from these sources show the importance to Utila of emigration during the agricultural phase as a literal escape valve from the local economic situation. Emigration points quite directly to certain aspects of Utila's economic class structure as well as to the overall condition of an economy that would force many people to evacuate.

▲Top of Page  Migration

Appendix B, compiled from a number of different sources, demonstrates that between 1858 and 1935 Utila's population increased by 955 people. Vital statistics were not kept in Utila before 1881, but from 1900 (after which date fairly reliable, intact records exist) until 1935 only 507 births were recorded. For the same 1900-1935 period some 200 death entries can be found. Obviously natural population increase would not account for the number of resident Utilians in 1935: many outsiders had to have immigrated to the island over the years. And, indeed, informants affirm the importance of outsiders augmenting the island population.

Reference to Appendix B again shows that Utila experienced two sizeable jumps in population--between 1867 and 1889 (during the fruit boom) and between 1897 and 1935. The first jump would, as just noted, have to be due to the influx of immigrants since Utilian fecundity would not account for the increase; this is also logical since there was the attraction of wealth to be made from the expanding fruit production frontier.

The apparent jump from the 1897 to 1935 populations is, however, mainly due to natural increase but the figures hide the fact that during this period Utila in fact lost a significant proportion of her population through emigration to the United States.

Although the overall island population grew from approximately 600 to slightly more than 1000 during the period under discussion, an estimated 500 emigrants permanently left Utila to settle in New Orleans, Tampa, New York, Chicago and other U.S. cities. Most of these islanders maintained contact with Utila and, in fact, returned--with varying frequency--to visit friends and relatives. Some sent money to family members still in the island in order bolster flagging finances. Lowenthal and Comitas (1962:202) make an observation that is significant here in the analysis of Utila's outward-bound population:

The common belief that international migrants are the most desperately poverty-stricken misfits and outcasts is denied by the evidence; in the Irish famine, for instance, only the comparatively well-off could scrape up the energy and the passage money to emigrate across the Atlantic.

Utila's emigrant population was, more than likely, made up of people who were not as economically disadvantaged as late-arriving wage laborers. They were, nevertheless, in a less enviable position than the Morans, and rather than attempt to weather the economic storm besetting Utila, opted to go to the United States while they still had some resources to draw upon. The inference here is that Utila had supported a socioeconomic structure consisting of at least three sectors; two of these remained in the island (the wealthiest and the poorest) while a middle sector--perhaps Utila's potential or would-be "middle class"--chose to emigrate. Those who emigrated would, hypothetically, have been at least in a fair position to help with remittances, as they subsequently did, those who remained since they were perhaps the relatively more adventuresome, competitive, or at the least more solvent than those who were in a sense compelled to stay. At the same time, of course, Utila lost some of the very people who might have prevented the island from becoming a money order economy had they exercised their energies and talents in Utila proper to overcome limitations already discussed.

▲Top of Page The Remittance Phase: 1941 to Date

▲Top of Page Production and Consumption Patterns

Shortly before the United States entered World War II, United Fruit Company sent representatives to Utila to sign up seamen for its steamship line. The score or so local men who joined the company, having become experienced with United, rapidly found themselves working in wartime U.S. merchant shipping. While at sea they sent monthly allotments to family members at home. Monthly money orders and checks from absentee sailors and remittances from permanent emigrants started an economic upturn in Utila. Nor did economic renaissance end with the war; returning sailors inspired others to ship out, and themselves returned--again and again--for tours of sea duty.

In the years that followed, Utilian males have totally forsaken agriculture, part time subsistence fishing, or any of the traditional pursuits of island men. Young boys have been socialized, and therefore geared themselves, to the expectation that at age eighteen (when they can obtain seamen's papers) they would take their place in the ranks of merchant mariners. Females have likewise been socialized to anticipate wifedom and motherhood as largely solitary status-roles, solitary save for the company of other women who share in the same cultural pattern.

Utilians spend much of their wealth on improved housing and/or their own piece of land. So great an expenditure of money can best be explained by the reward that having these commodities represents to islanders, but while being the reward on one hand for going to sea, the house and lot are also the motivation for shipping out. Traditional house plans have been retained, but additional refinements are made. Many people have wired their houses for electricity, which came to Utila on a part time basis during the 1950s; some half a dozen men bought their own generators.

Some houses (less than a score out of 240, however) are now totally equipped with indoor plumbing--sinks and lavatories, showers, toilets--rather than wash basins and pitchers, out-of-doors bathing facilities and privies. House pilings--used to elevate structures off the ground as protection against high tides, and for circulation of air--were made taller and from reinforced concrete (as opposed to short buttonwood posts). Space "under the house floor" could now be used for storage or work purposes, or as a recreation area where a porch swing could be suspended. Furnishings have been far from neglected. Many islanders own kerosene refrigerators and stoves and new vinyl covered furniture.

In 1973 Utila obtained full time water and electrification service from a fish processing plant that had been opened by U.S. investors. Subscribers to the service--an estimated 80%-85% of island households--pay for electricity according to kilowatt-hours used and for water based on the number of people in the household and have become thoroughly tied to the existence of these amenities. (The rate of electricity runs from $5.00 for 0-20kwh to $37.65 for 440kwh, or 16¢ per kwh, about three times as much as Southern California Edison.) Although the utilities are very costly in themselves, the effect of their availability has been most significant economically.

Ever since electrification was available even on a part time basis, Utilians have purchased an increasing number of appliances and electrically-operated gadgets. There are, for example, more than forty television sets in the island, an equal number of stereophonic record players, radios, electric irons and fans and perhaps a score of electric refrigerators and washers. These have absorbed much of the island income, as have butane gas stoves, power tools, motor cycles, bicycles and motor-driven dories. Ready-made clothing, imported canned goods (as well as tobacco and liquor) continued to appear in increasing volume from the beginning of this phase.

Men often have returned to Utila with lump sums of money that they had saved while abroad; it is not rare for a man to bring $2000-$3000 with him when he comes home. Much of this latter wealth has been spent in outright recreation. Thus, while wives or other family members might use remittances on things noted above, sailors themselves often exhaust the lump sum savings on a two or three month spree involving day or week-long binges at local bars or in private parties held in someone's home. Inasmuch as home leave is coordinated, in most cases, with island holidays (the 15th of September, Central America's Independence Day, to New Years, inclusive), partying has been reinforced by the culture itself, to say nothing of sailors' traditional desire to "blow off steam."

The foregoing is not meant to imply that islanders have totally consumed the earnings brought in by merchant mariners; some investment has taken place, even if inadvertent, in the purchasing of real estate. Also, without question, many Utilians put money aside in a savings account in the United States (in Tampa, for example) or in La Ceiba, the nearest coastal city to Utila. Not until 1966, however, was there any formal financial institution in the island itself. In 1966 a credit union was established where islanders could save money, and--just as importantly--borrow it.

The incidence of island males investing in businesses (shops or bars, for example) or in capital goods (land for use as plantations, boats that could be run on coastal or other trade) has nevertheless been relatively small. Few households have earmarked funds to obtain schooling for their children beyond the primary school level, although it has not been unusual for a child to be sent to the United States for secondary school.

In sum, economic prosperity achieved by Utilians in post World War II years has not been harnessed in order to insure long term economic well-being that could derive from the island itself, and the argument advanced in this study is that opportunities for such investment would be limited and largely unprofitable anyway.

Before turning to other aspects of Utila's remittance phase economy, a look at some specific features might bring contemporary production and consumption patterns into greater relief. At the time I did research in Utila its remittance economy had been in force for almost a quarter of a century. Approximately 240 households--around 900 islanders--constituted the population of the main island, and these households marshalled close to 150 men between the ages of 18 and 55 to work various U.S. and Scandinavian shipping lines.

According to figures provided by the manager of the recently opened bank in Utila, some 270 remittances clear his bank monthly (based on figures from 17 February 1973, when the bank opened, until May 1974). At an average of $100 per check, roughly $27,000 has entered Utila via Bancahsa each month. The Credit Union manager also provided remittance figures: between $15,000-$20,000 monthly entered Utila in money order or check allotments. In addition to the $40,000+ income to Utila each month for at least ten months of every year has been the lump sum savings (previously referred to) brought by sailors on home leave, monthly pensions coming to retired mariners, and incidental remittances from emigrants (temporary and permanent) in the United States. It would seem that just short of $1,000,000 a year enters Utila. Per capita income is therefore over $1100 if just the main island population of Utila is used for calculations (slightly more than $830 if the Cayans are included), and is thus far higher than it is in most of Central America or most Caribbean islands. Utila's overall standard of living obviously far surpasses that of any mainland Honduran community of the same size. (For comparison figures, see Table 4.)

Table 4
Comparision per Capita Income Figures from
Central American and Caribbean Countries

  1960 1963 1968 1969 1970 1971
Barbados 330 399 472 512 621 ---
British Honduras --- 346 --- --- --- ---
Costa Rica 347 351 429 468 504 542
Dominican Republic 222 284 280 309 338 362
El Salvador 219 235 265 265 274 276
Guatemala 258 284 306 315 337 353
Haiti --- 74 86 87 --- ---
Honduras 197 201 259 260 264 270
Jamaica 368 412 507 561 634 631
Martinique --- 573 --- --- --- ---
Mexico 315 370 543 580 632 ---
Netherlands Antilles 1193 1113 1139 --- --- ---
Nicaragua 242 286 377 385 399 416
Panama 349 431 552 600 646 ---
Puerto Rico 717 914 1393 1533 1671 ---
Trinidad, Tobago 535 595 683 --- --- ---

Source: United Nations Statistical Yearbook, 1972, p. 622.

With regard to expenditure of this income, it has already been observed that two or three months of the year are "rest and recreation" time for returned sailors. At the rate of 35¢ per bottle of beer and around 50¢ for a shot of rum, a major (though seasonal) expense in Utila has been the alcohol consumed in traditional drinking sprees.

Savings accounts at the bank amount to $125,000, and shares in the Credit Union total $120,000. Savings may have been accumulated over a number of years; the bulk of Utila's annual income still has to be accounted for.

Between $3000-$4000 worth of provisions are purchased weekly from the mainland by Utila's ten merchants. In the absence of other victuallers in the island (there is only one farmer left perhaps eight or ten seasonal fishermen, and approximately the same number of cattle owner/butchers) these expenditures reflect the basic annual outlay for food stuffs and small household goods: $200,000.

Interestingly, retail merchandising in Utila is done in very small amounts: 10¢ worth of flour, 5¢ worth of powdered milk, 15¢ worth of lard, and so on are standard sales/purchases (local recipes are even given out in the manner: "take 5¢ Klim [powdered milk], 15¢ flour," etc.) despite the apparent wealth of the islanders. Piecemeal merchandising extends to the vending of aspirin (2¢ each), penicillin (5¢ each), and to other non-food items that are sold by the tablet or "piece." One merchant claimed that this was done because people in his neighborhood were poor--which was also the reason given for not stocking certain items that cost too much for his clientele. (My wife and I, for example, were virtually his only customers for Log Cabin Maple Syrup, imported from Guatemala.)

Although some people were very definitely less well off in the neighborhood being referred to, this style of merchandising pervaded the entire island to include neighborhoods with individuals who just as definitely were wealthy by island standards. I think, therefore, that "penny capitalism"--to use Tax's words (cf. Tax 1953)--might have as much or more to do with two other factors in Utila's economy.

First, there is a problem for many islanders of monetary logistics: remittance checks are received once a month, which means that Utilians can easily experience a feast-or-famine situation if their allotment is not big enough to last until a subsequent money order or check and/or they do not follow a fairly strict budget. It might seem that buying each day's actual needs as they arise would facilitate budget watching, although the fact is that people pay more for items purchased in small quantities or by the piece than in bulk. Furthermore, there is the problem of actually overspending the budget by having unobserved five and ten cent expenditures quickly mount to whole dollars.

The second reason for the perpetuation of small scale retailing is the tradition of daily marketing. As in many parts of the Caribbean and Central America, Utilian women have done their marketing on a day-to-day basis, which--aside from possible cash-on-hand problems--has had to do with the availability of certain items (e.g., in Utila beef is butchered each Tuesday and Friday) and possible problems of perishability since many homes do not have refrigerators or ice chests.

Loans from the Credit Union have averaged a little more than $70,000 a year since its inception (divided roughly into thirds between loans for medical bills, passage money for men to go to their ships, and house construction) and these, obviously, must be repaid.

Exact figures for the number of people going to visit relatives in the U.S.--some of them to become temporary emigrants--could not be obtained, but Utila-New Orleans air passages on SAHSA (the Honduran airline running between these two points) totaled 48 for the period March through May 1974. Although this is a slack period for Utilian travel, even at so low a rate as 16 trips per month nearly $20,000 a year ($100 for a round trip ticket) is spent by Utilians, accounting for another substantial sum expended.

The remainder of Utila's income, as closely as I can calculate from the data, does go for house building, house furnishings, etc., just as it did traditionally. In 1974, expenditures were reflecting the same inflation that plagued the United States. Building materials have risen drastically in price over a twelve month period, partly in their own right and partly through increased freight charges, the latter being tied to higher petroleum costs (in January 1974 diesel fuel, for example, jumped from 19¢ per gallon to 36.5¢ per gallon). Jalousie windows, plumbing and lighting fixtures, etc., are all increasingly expensive (a "good" house could be built just a few years ago for less than $7000; the same house today would cost between $12,000-$13,000).

▲Top of Page Land Ownership and Utilization

A recent map of Utila, prepared in September 1973 by the Instituto Nacional Agrario--the land reform organ in Honduras--shows that the main island and satellite cays are divided into 119 parcels of land owned by 64 private parties, the municipality, and the Tela Railroad Company (part of United Fruit). Discounting the cays, these parcels all lie outside the residential community at East Harbor, and constitute the usable land of Utila. Mangrove swamp, which technically is owned by the municipality, is not considered in the land survey represented by the map, nor is the area of the two lagoons considered. Both lagoons were, however, apparently being negotiated for by mainland Hondurans at the time field work ended as potential residence sites once they had been drained.

Fewer than 50 families (including at least ten emigrants now living in the United States) control the non-mangrove land of the island. Control is, perhaps, a better term to use in regard to Utilian soil because islanders experience to this day a wide variety of difficulties surrounding deed rights and uncontested ownership of property.

First of all, most of the sales documents (referred to above), which amount to our equivalent of an abstract, are clouded according to land reform--INA--leaders and their supporters. Apparently many, if not most, sales of land in Utila have been effected by means of private documents alone, the public documents being ignored due to the cost involved (sometimes several hundred dollars, in fact). Several islanders attempting to make land purchases during the field work period had been detained and put to some--often considerable--expense in order to clear the abstracts needed for complete transactions.

Second, the descriptions of property in sales documents often seem to be at variance with others' claims. Lack of proper surveying cannot be held to account for discrepancies--several informants claimed that a number of good surveyors had been trained on the island. Rather, the propensity of Utilians to try to gain parcels of someone else's land must be the source of misinformation in land-related documents.

Many islanders had contemporary anecdotes about themselves or other residents of Utila being cheated (usually by one another rather than by outsiders) over land transactions; the local bank manager, for example, observed in passing one day--as a casual, matter of fact statement--that "the Pointians are at war again," meaning that residents of the barrio Puente Caliente in East Harbor were once again taking one another before the Judge of Letters over a disputed strip of land. Litigation that continues on and on seems to be the only logical resultant of attitudes toward and conditions around land that exist in the island.

Third, island property is "developed"; i.e., the usable land in Utila has been planted into crops, put into pasturage, or the like and little of it exists as rank bush per se. As developed land it is highly desirable compared to tracts that would have to be worked up from a wild state--as, for example, in many areas of the undeveloped mainland such as the Mosquitia. This fact, so many Utilians believe, is what has been a prime consideration in recent government land reform agitation: Utila has improved land that Government could award to campesinos from the mainland in order to help insure political support among the masses. The map referenced at the beginning of this section was commissioned by INA officials who, according to islanders, have brought into question the legality of titles, descriptions, etc., solely in order to bilk islanders out of their land, and use that land to buy political clientele. This point cannot be substantiated, though Utilian contentions may have some justice.

The current regime came to power by coup in 1972 and clearly wants a broad base of support among "the people." The Bay Islands, long time objects of contention and (perhaps) envy, have a standard of living far above that to be found on the mainland. Wages for common laborers, for example, may be two to three times higher in the islands than on the coast, even though banana worker unions have forced higher wages there than exist inland. (In Utila a common laborer may earn 6 to 8 lempiras daily--$3.00-$4.00--as opposed to four to six lempiras on the mainland; skilled workers, e.g., carpenters, make from $5.00 a day and upward.)

The prospect of settling people who would be loyal to Government in an area where people could apparently enjoy a better life style--and at the same time dilute some of the islander independence from Tegucigalpa--must indeed be appealing. Utilian informants almost uniformly consider the entire land reform program to be conspiratorial--even a "Communist plot"--and distrust it in the extreme. Furor over INA investigations had died down by the time field work was completed, but there is little doubt that land tenure is, and will continue to be, a touchy issue in the island.

In the post-World War II years the value of bush land as a factor in agricultural production has disappeared. Land these days, whether in the bush or in East Harbor, is considered valuable--an asset--for one of two reasons. First, Utilians are anxious that they--as individuals or households--can have and hold their own plot of ground, even if it is no larger than the area of the house. Newly married couples pursue the ideal of neolocal residence (though this may be preceded by matri-or patrilocality until they can afford setting up housekeeping), which often entails the carving out of a new residential lot somewhere in the island. Many retired sailors, as another example, wish to have a place of their own where they can live out the remainder of their years in relative peace and security. Besides the value of land as a part of one's sanctuary or necessary life space is the investment or speculation consideration that has recently arisen.

Over the last ten years or so a steady trickle of promoter/developer types from the United States has found its way into Utila. The intent of these individuals has been to buy real estate in East Harbor or on the island periphery and open a resort, factory, cluster of tourist cottages, or some other venture that is usually touted as a benefit not only to the investor but to Utila as well.

To my knowledge, none of the enterprises thus undertaken has ever been profitable (unless, perhaps, as a tax loss that might advantage an investor), and with only two or three exceptions the island is now devoid of outside investors. The fact remains, however, that outsiders have inflated the value of real estate--inside and out of the municipal limits--to an incredible extent. One plot of land along the seashore and within the East Harbor community--perhaps 60 feet by 80 feet--was reported to have brought $10,000 from a U.S. developer.

Utilians, as a result, have come to place very high prices on land anywhere near the shore or refuse to sell land outright and opt instead for leasing their properties. Islanders have heard that the Bahamas, Barbados and other Caribbean islands are out of favor with many U.S. investors due to racial strife and the high cost of living. Consequently, Utila, with its English-speaking, U.S.-oriented population, is a "natural" to get the diverted investors. It is also rumored--in conjunction with the stories told about the Bahamas, etc.--that the Mafia is, in fact, tied into some of the dealings carried out in Utila. Whether the rumored Mafia connection is desirable or not to Utilians is hard to say; most of the people with whom the matter was discussed were unimpressed with the possibility that organized crime was directly involved in island financial ventures.

High prices for land are charged even when an outsider has married into the community. The example exists in my notes of a young mainlander from Tegucigalpa who, having married an island girl, wanted to buy property in the island for a sometime residence. The girl's aunt offered to sell the new bridegroom a small plot of land (within East Harbor limits but not shore front property) for $10,000. Whether $10,000 has come to be a minimum sale price to outsiders remains to be seen.

To be sure, cheaper land than that just mentioned is still available to islanders and "developers" in bush areas outside the municipality and behind shore front property. Few if any local people would, however, genuinely want to live beyond the town limits: living conditions would simply fall below the standard now expected by Utilians. Insect pests, almost always more abundant than in East Harbor proper, would not be tolerated. More importantly, running water and day-long electricity are not available outside of town, the lack of which would eliminate many of the amenities now viewed as fundamental to the "good life." For similar reasons this type of land is also undesirable to developers, in addition to the obvious drawback that landlocked, viewless property would represent if tourist trade were a consideration.

The essential point in discussing land utilization in Utila is that while land ownership, or control, is still an abiding concern of islanders, there has been a shift from earlier times in how it gains importance and economic value. In pre-war years it was primarily a capital good, necessary for a man in order to pursue the planting occupation. Secondary value accrued, through residence sites, in social prestige. In post-war years land of any kind is simply a chattel that, even unplanted or lying within municipal boundaries but next to a swamp, has appreciating value over time given the desire of outsiders and local people alike to control or speculate with it.

▲Top of Page Migration

The movement of people into and out of Utila has already been mentioned in connection with Utila's pre-war (agricultural) economic phase. Immigration during the remittance phase has continued at a very modest rate, due to mainland Hondurans seeking employment and to developers settling at the site of their respective investments, but in 1973 less than 10% (fewer than 100 people in the total population) constitute immigrants. Far more important to Utila is its emigrant population.

During the agricultural phase, those people who left Utila did so permanently in the majority of cases. They removed to the United States in large numbers, often took up U.S. citizenship, and in many cases became cultural brokers (cf. Wolf 1965:97) who facilitated the movement of other islanders to overseas settings. As the remittance economy has developed, proportionately more emigrants appear to be only temporary in their removal from Utila.

Paralleling the behavior of Ithacans (Lowenthal and Comitas 1962: 203), Montserratians (Philpott 1968:472) and Chinese from Hong Kong (Watson 1974:218), the present generation of Utilian emigrants leave home for service in the merchant marine or at landbased occupations with the full intent that they will return home. For some the return is regular with the advent of the annual holiday season. For others the return may be several years in the making; some never do quite make it back. But the important point is that emotionally, and financially, emigrant islanders are still very much tied to their natal community, as is evidenced by the flow of remittance monies.

The continued and continuing attachment to Utila is in some cases, no doubt, a matter of practicality: jobs that emigrants have taken are only short-term ones (eg., a billet lasting for a specified number of months or a specified number of voyages) that would require some sort of home base upon which they could fall back. This would appear to be especially so in instances where Utilians have gone to New York, etc., on tourist visas with the manifest intent of visiting friends and family. In fact, many islanders travel north with the unmentioned or undiscussed intent of finding jobs--often through the assistance of permanent migrants who act as brokers--and working until they are either discovered and sent home, or until they have made as much money as they had aimed to make and voluntarily go back.

It is apparently a common ploy for islanders to obtain a visitor's visa to the U.S. for the ostensible purpose of visiting a citizen-relative, but once the "visiting" islander has reached his or her U.S. destination a job is secured--often as a domestic or in some semi-skilled occupation--and the visitor becomes one of the untold number of aliens working illegally in the United States. Wages obtained for their services may be pitifully small in comparison to those of a United States citizen, but the temporary migrant may be able to afford depressed wages since he or she can live with a relative. Quite possibly neither taxes nor other withholdings will be taken out, which is a convenience for both the employer and the employee and an inducement for migration to continue.

Some islanders claim to have stayed in the U.S. for as long as a year pursuing their labors and saving towards the time when they would return to Utila. Not all islanders can remain as long as this, and field evidence is that many do not want to; rather, they prefer to work for only a few months--until a specified amount of money is earned to finance some in-island project they have in mind--and then go home. How many people there are who involve themselves in this illegal activity is virtually impossible to determine (some indication of Utila-U.S. traffic is reflected, however, in Table 5), but it is by no means rare.

Table 5
Visas issued by the United States Embassy, Tegucigalpa, Honduras*

1962 1,124 3,155
1963 1,296 3,056
1964 1,815 3,890
1965 2,096 4,775
1966 1,716 5,299
1967 1,495 6,210
1968 1,775 6,899
1969 1,156 7,989
1970 1,312 9,824
1971 1,135 10,495
1972 959 13,230
1973 1,171 16,350

Following are the numbers by classification for FY1973.
The proportions are approximately the same for preceding years

Government officials 100
Visitors (tourists or persons visiting families) 8,424
Transit (mostly seamen joining ships) 2,703
Crew members (mostly seamen, a few airmen) 2,120
Students 418
International organization personnel 20
Temporary workers (mostly musicians) 41
Cultural & professional exchange visitors 75
Fiancés 15

*Data provided by the American Consul, U.S. Embassy, Tegucigalpa, Honduras (February 1974).

One island couple was singled out by informants as actually practicing a rotational "visitation" system: the husband would work in the U.S. a few months and then return only to have his wife fly north and figuratively take his place, etc. Although the object seems to be to save a lump sum of money with which to return to Utila, it is also the practice of the temporary migrants--in the fashion of the merchant mariners--to send home remittances to relatives, especially in the case where children have been left behind. Amounts sent, usually on a monthly basis, vary according to the whims of the sender and, of course, his or her capacity to remit. There is the obvious restriction placed on the amount sent home by the temporary migrant because of the characteristically low wages and the high cost of living in the United States--even with a culture broker's assistance. Emigrants invariably fulfill this obligation, as far as could be learned from informants, and maintain an active, though absentee, involvement in Utilian life.

Aside from those cases just referred to, the return to Utila may have even more to do with two other matters of practicality that, in a real sense, prevent permanent removal. To begin with, the possibilities of permanent migration to the U.S., with attendant U.S. citizenship, are not as favorable as they were in the pre-quota days earlier in this century. Further, although potentially permanent migrants might envision themselves as better off than stay-at-home Utilians, the fact is that since most islanders are semi-skilled (at best) in the overall fabric of U.S. economic life they would be worse off than in their little island; this fact may well come home to islanders during their temporary stays overseas.

The remaining reason for the return of temporary emigrants may well have to do with the value of U.S. dollars even in the inflated Utilian economy. At the conversion rate of two lemipras for each dollar, the value of wages earned out-of-country and then brought home is considerably enhanced. Beans and rice, lumber and kerosene may all have risen appreciably in cost over the past few years, but Utilians are the first to remark on the high cost of living in the north as compared to their home in the island. Likewise, they are constantly made aware of their advantageous position relative to mainland compatriots through trips to the coast and by contrasting themselves with mainland immigrants to Utila, who are almost uniformly despised for their impoverished economic station in life.

In sum, emigration is a vitally important factor in the life of Utila today, but it is not a migration of islanders such that connections with family, friends, and the home of one's youth are severed; it is a rotational and serial emigration that keeps Utila economically alive.

▲Top of Page Analysis

A stated objective of this study is to illuminate the dynamics of economic, social and political integration in Utila. More especially, it is my aim to show that traditional elements of the system have preadapted it to the remittance economy just discussed, and that key features of Utilian tradition have been an emphasis on individualism, commercialism, non-cooperation, and an "image of limited good." These key features are intimately interrelated and share coequal importance in motivating Utilians to pursue the remittance system.

Individualism refers to the trait of independent economic, social, and political action that characterizes people in Utila. As noted, the earliest economic endeavors in the island were undertaken as one-man (or one-family) efforts. Commercialism underscored the rarity of mutual economic support--as in cooperative work ventures--which has marked the evolution of Utilian economic life. Likewise, in terms of social and political endeavors--as will be brought out in Chapters 5 and 6--there has been a self-serving, self-help kind of attitude among islanders from the time of settlement: one's prestige, share in power and authority, and other rewards were a function of one's own effort, hence the tradition of non-cooperation.

Limited good derives from the concept Image of Limited Good formulated by George Foster, and seems to describe a way of assessing reality that was typical of Utilians during a period of diminishing income and disappearing opportunities. While developed in connection with peasant populations, the Image of Limited Good was intended to apply--in lesser or greater degrees--to all societies, and hold as one of its basic assumptions that

peasants view their social, economic, and natural universes--their total environment--as one in which all of the desired things in life such as land, wealth, health, friendship and love, manliness and honor, respect and status, power and influence, security and safety, exist in finite quantity and are always in short supply (Foster 1967:304, emphasis in the original).

Limited good in Utila differs from Foster's construct partly because Utilians are not peasants. Utilians were yeoman farmers, not subjected to high taxes by a superordinate governing unit, nor rents to a landlord class that could be an effective barrier between tillers of the soil and the soil itself. More importantly, the Utilian image of limited good arose from the reality that prime parcels of land for plantations, and subsequent access to the sea for marketing, were in short supply--hence the need to "make land." The relative scarcity of the fundamental factor of production, and the attendant limitation on income, logically implied a limitation on the capacity to achieve the good life. This perspective was, as could be seen above, crucial to development of the remittance system.

Uninhabited (or virtually so) at the time of Joseph Cooper's arrival, Utilian land--cays and main island alike--was available to all who duly applied for it and had their request granted by the Honduran government. By the time Utila became a British colony, more of its land had been taken by additional migrants, but parcels were still available for land grants by the crown. Even today, municipal property (e.g., the lagoons) and interior bush land can be fairly easily obtained. Yet, from its earliest years, Utila experienced problems over ownership of land, and even murder over boundary markers. The close association between land ownership (or the type of land owned) and social stratification that came into being with the arrival of colored and Spanish settlers, discussed more fully in Chapter 5, accentuated the limitation on price land in Utila.

On the one hand, then, is the empirical reality that there is still available land for islanders to purchase; on the other is the fact of Utilian contentiousness over as little as a few feet of earth. The key to understanding this condition is the point made concerning stratification (detailed in Chapter 5): various parcels of land carry differential prestige and advantage. Since there is a finite number of choice parcels, there is finite entrance into or participation within the system of stratification. To the extent that stratification itself determines one's share of the good life, land ownership--what kind of land as well as how much--defines the quantity and quality of good life one may enjoy.

Utilians have, of course, always had an ethnic component to the land ownership-stratification-good life interrelationship, but as long as whites had been first on the scene (therefore in a position to define the stratification system), and the island's wealth came from its own produce (therefore being limited by the size of a plantation and one's luck and skill in marketing) there were no potential problems. Since the beginning of a remittance economy, however, this has changed.

With remittances being available to anyone who can qualify for the merchant marine and chooses to pursue the seaman's life, or who chooses to go periodically to the United States and work illegally till evicted, virtually anyone in Utila has the potential--if he has enough money and can find a seller--to acquire the prime requisite of the good life and socioeconomic position. This potential is a threat not to the stratification system itself, but to the personnel within it; the "wrong kind of people" (my term) can attempt to run island politics and so on. For this reason, which is merely an extension of the image of limited good held by the original occupants, fighting over land is of far greater importance than it might at first seem. Likewise, the function of remittances in land fights is crucial, as already discussed.

From its foundation, the economic heart of Utila was its independent farming operations that seldom in 140 years allowed cooperation in economic or any other venture. Men not only produced independently of one another, but they also marketed independently, in direct competition with each other, as evidenced in Chapter 4's roster of privately owned ships used in trade.

Land was an object of contention, and indeed an expanding population could hardly have yielded any other orientation: three-fourths of the island was useless (as described in Chapter 3), and improved agricultural techniques were precluded by the same natural limitations. Unconquerable plant diseases, and logistic problems in marketing--distance and restriction to the use of sailing vessels--were the final strictures involved in promoting an image of limited good. Natural rather than human boundaries gave Utila's economic system the semblance of being closed; natural rather than human factors created the dependency Utila has experienced from the time its early settlers turned from subsistence to commercial agriculture. Utilians were actually spurred on by one another's successes to strive for the good life (note the early penchant of islanders for consumerism).

Individuated economic production, distribution, and consumption were never conducive to cooperative action in other sectors of the sociocultural system; hence there has never really been strong political control (in the form of a centralized decision-making body that monopolized power and authority which are elaborated in Chapter 6). One needs to keep in mind that early demographic conditions in Utila would have reinforced both economic, political, and other individualism: the Cays were the first areas of habitation, and each family (household) was more or less obliged to have its plantations separate from others due to the smallness of cays under cultivation. At least two cays were used for actual habitation, and this too promoted individualism in the population since political decisions would obviously be specific to one cay or the other (but not both) on many occasions.

A still further consideration of the image of limited good relates to preadaptations for merchant mariner life and the remittance economy. Just noted above was the fact that Utilians have always tended to expend their money for consumer goods. This is a major support for the contention that islanders have been inclined from the founding years to a "rest and recreation" mentality typical in the island today. Consumerism is directly self-rewarding of the individuals who labor in order to so expend their funds: hard (profitable) work will yield commensurate pleasure through purchasing the symbols of the good life. Self-indulgence in dancing and drinking is part of the foregoing since they too are part of the good life and either cost money or time for their enjoyment.

With individualism and the rest and recreation mentality already built into Utilian society, virtually no changes had to occur for islanders to adopt the remittance system. A final factor, least mentioned in this study but of coequal importance with individualism, etc., was the fact that islanders already had something of a maritime tradition to work from. Utilian shipping activities and subsistence fishing had, at the time the remittance economy was born, already acquainted islanders with the periodic absence of males and the reactions necessary to keep a smoothly operating system in their absence. Fortunately, Utila's non-cooperativeness in the political sector meant that there were few or no disruptions attendant upon male absence.

With the introduction of this type of "Image of Limited Good" considerably more of Utilian society and culture comes into focus. The points about preadaptation and accommodation need, however, even further discussion. Still working from the standpoint of their individualism, non-cooperation, and "limited good," I will further analyze the ideas of preadaptation and accommodation in the following chapter.

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