Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

The Matriarch of First Bight

Mrs. Filomena swings in her hammock holding a charcoal box iron she used back in 1940s.
Mrs. Filomena was born on August 11, 1928 in Juticalpa. Her father was Basilio Herrera from Juticalpa, Olancho. He was a political activist for the Liberal Party in Olancho and was persecuted by the President Triburcio Carías Andino government, for his political reasons.

President Carías headed Honduras in 1924, and then again from 1933 to 1949. Mr. Basilio risked his life by staying in Olancho and in 1924 he preferred to start his life anew on the then very remote island of Roatan. Even here he decided to settle in an area that was remote and visited by few people. His Olanchano friend and fellow political activist Matilde Santos followed him and eventually Encarnación Sevilla joined them as well.

Juticalpa was home to Santos Moradel who had three daughters: Viviana, Pasquala and Ingimia. Soon Basilio married Pasquala, his friend Matilde Santos married Viviana and Encarnación married Ingimia.

While US and Europe were going through the Great Depression, Honduras went through the crisis much less affected. Thousands of Hondurans lost work as US consumers demand for bananas fell. In 1935 Black Sigatoka epidemic damaged many banana plantations. Extensive banana areas around Trujillo were abandoned.

In 1935 Black Sigatoka epidemic damaged many banana plantations.

In 1937 the Triburcio Carías Andino unleashed another wave of political repression imprisoning left leaning political activists. Communists were gaining influence all over Latin America. While Carías declared the Communist Party (PCH) of Honduras illegal, the Liberal Party of Honduras (PLH) was active for a few more years.

When Filomena was nine years old, in 1937, her father decided the political climate in Honduras made it no longer safe to live on the island. With the two other Olanchanos of Juticalpa he decided to leave for Belize. They sailed from Punta Gorda on a cayuco with a small sail. They sent some letters to their wives and family. They even sent some money through Jim Gaugh in Oak Ridge. They were afraid to return and died in exile in Belize.

Mrs. Filomena had received only two years of public school in Oak Ridge, and remembers her two colleagues drowning when their cayuco flipped as they paddled to school in Oak Ridge Cay.

At 17 Mrs. Filomena married Domingo Ramos, an accordion player. Her husband was in demand to play music at Saturday evening dances in Oak Ridge and Milton Bight. He could play the accordion, banjo and cimbalom. Being a musician didn’t create enough income and Mr. Domingo worked in the fields, looked after cattle and worked as a security guard.

Mrs. Filomena stayed at home looking after the couple’s eight children. Back in the 1940s there were four houses in First Bight. “We were poor, but we gave our childrens love”, says Mrs. Filomena. “That is something I am most proud off.”

We were poor, but we gave our childrens Love.

Mrs. Filomena is catholic and in 1940s and 50s she attended Catholic Masses and services whenever she had a chance to. There would be a priest visiting the Punta Gorda Garifuna community every so often and celebrating mass at the church there. There was also a small chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows in a Catholic home in Brick Bay.

Mrs. Filomena is nimble, and moves around her blue painted cement home with agility and purpose. While Alzheimer’s has made her forget many things from recent past, her memory from her youth remains vivid.

Today, one of Mrs. Filomena’s most prized possessions as a photo of her, her husband and her oldest daughter Aida in front of their home in First Bight. It was taken in 1948 by Luis Chirinos, a photographer based in Oak Ridge that for 50 cents would take and print a photograph for local people.