Their father worked in agriculture "trimming cocoa and making garden" on his estate while "mom was home." Their father was born in Trinidad (his parents having come from Caracas) and their mother was "African and mixed" heritage. As children they lived in a carat house made from the leaves of the carat palm. On evenings, children were not allowed to play outside but if they heard the familiar greeting "bonsoir" as a visitor came calling they would seize the opportunity to sneak outdoors. At the sound of "Ayo", however, they would be sure to get back inside as the visitor left. They spoke Spanish and Patois but were taught English in school. School was very close to the church (Maracas Valley Roman Catholic Church), which "was made from stone and sand from river" and still stands in Maracas Valley today.
English was the language of the educated. There were 12 children in a class. Their teachers were Trinidadian "from all over." Mr. Barnes was their headmaster. Corporal punishment was part of the lesson plan: "if you get two right and one wrong you get lash" and the amount of strokes you received increased exponentially. Discipline was strictly enforced from the start of the day when students were made to "line up" at the bell to present their hair and fingernails. If the latter were dirty there would be strokes, and if the former did not allow for the passage of a pencil additional punishment would be meted out.
Shoes were worn at school but nowhere else. The Alpa Gat cost 8c a pair. The Zapat was a cedar wood shoe worn mainly by older people with tyre canvas nailed to the gap between the index and big toe. When life needed to be sweeter the children would spend their meagre allowance on sweets: “a penny was like $200” and for that price you could get sugar cake, Kaza ball- that you would suck, long sticks of peppermint, toulumb-molasses, Flannel pants cake- a yellow spongy cake and Belly-full cake. ‘Sweet drinks’ cost more; about 6c and so did Crystal- a bottle whose pouring was made difficult by a marble in the neck, you would squeeze the bottle to get at the liquid.
At lunch the children were allowed to eat at home. Lunch was usually soup: "[we] grow up on soup." If the soup contained yam it would be one of several varieties, among them: Yama Tuta- a yellow yam which was the most abundant, Yam Diab- Devil yam and Yam Cotta (both very common) and Cush Cush yam- a silky variety.
Before school they would sweep the yard and carry water from the river to ensure that all three barrels in the home were kept full. Each homemade barrel had a different use: one was for bathing, one for clothes and the other for cleaning. On weekends they gathered wood for the fireside; eight bundles were needed for each weekday. Since only a certain amount could be carried at a time, multiple trips had to be made deep into the Maracas forest by the boys no older than 12. "Markee, Iron Wood, and Serret or sour cherry wood" were just a few of the preferred wood types. When the boys were not at work fetching wood or water they would trap animals for sport as well as for food. Animals considered pests, such as squirrels and mongooses, were trapped for monetary rewards which were given for each tail brought in.
Meals were made in the Fireside and dirt oven within. To make a dirt oven you used a metal ring to which three suspension springs were attached at the top. This was then covered in "Sapatay"...red stone-less dirt (the best being from Rio Claro). "Warrantable" stone was used at the side- it was like glass, or obsidian.
The Palet would be used to shovel items in and out of the oven. Black sage bush would be used to clean the oven; it had a nice smell and was also used for tea and to ward off mosquitoes. Different wood types like the "Mamay, Shandel, Lacre, Sea Red" would be used to make coal. The inside of the oven would turn red and you would leave the wood to burn right down to cinder. The rear had a door which was blocked by a stick and wet cloth (that kept the heat in).
Corn in Maracas Valley was harvested and left to dry for four months before the Christmas season. During that time they would be grated for "Catchap", roti- like bread made from grated corn which was a staple in their diet. Corn was also used to make "Boy" (boyo) for pastels.
Fish was another important part of the Maracas diet and would be bought at Las Cuevas or Maracas beach. To get to either of these seemingly inaccessible places, where both English and Patois were spoken, one had to go by foot, along dirt roads- the only routes that existed then. Cocoa estates were the life blood of the Maracas Valley and in the early 1900's the area was completely covered by the cocoa estates. These were managed by large owners or run by independent farmers.
To prepare for a cocoa crop one would first use a broom to clear the moss from the trees before they could flower. Upon ripening, the cocoa, of varying colours, would be cut down by the men, and the pulp extracted by the women and accumulated in big piles on banana leaves. The heaps of cocoa pulp would be covered and left to sweat for seven days. The heaps would then be moved to the cocoa house and danced by four or five people singing in French. The roofs of the cocoa house would be drawn back so the beans could be exposed to the sun. Hence the saying: "when you have cocoa in the sun you have to look for rain." Big bags of dried, pulp-free cocoa beans would then be bagged, weighed and stitched with long cocoa needles. Independent farmers used a “fig bus” to take the cocoa into Port of Spain where the “Cocoa Scorpion” would approach you to inform, for a fee, was the best person to buy your cocoa. Aqui’s, William H. Scott and Huggins all paid in notes at 4.80 lbs a pound. Tonka beans became another cash crop which was shipped away and fetched good prices. These three siblings still live in Maracas Valley across from the church. The Church celebrates its 150th year in September of 2012. Though they have moved on from their carat house beginnings, they still walk quite effortlessly to each other's concrete abodes to chat and to bond with family. Canute Montano injured himself while working on his house and sadly succumbed to his injuries in August 2012. He will be missed.