In Dangriga, Belize, the virtuous cultural activist Pablo Lambey gave this adopted son several spades to dig deep into the soil of learning. He also taught how you must look out to the sea to increase the horizon. I now reminisce on his wisdom that encouraged me to leave my books at times to walk in the neighborhood and make friends. “Go out, make friends and stop cloaking yourself in dem books,” he would say. Perhaps he should never have started. Two houses east, I found a long-winded Benjamin Nicholas; and about five houses south, I stumbled on a contemplative Rudolph “Pen” Cayetano. All this occurred in the mid 1970s. I had lived at 33 Oak Street almost five years before meeting the two noble gentlemen. In the mirror of my eyes, Benji and Pen reflected a truth that we can represent life through art. The splash of bright colorful still-life paintings of Benji and the moving shadows and deep varied colors of Pen’s work, created an addictive tension within me. I kept going back, from one to the other.
When I discovered the genius of Benji and Pen, I almost decided to give up academic studies and — if I was not careful — become a painter. I was amazed at their mastery and mesmerized by their knowledge and advancement with so little formal schooling in this art.
Artistic talents abounded in Dangriga. Some played musical instruments like Corro, Cookie and the now world famous Junior Aranda. I remember Cookie and Junior Aranda visiting my home and trying to teach me to play the guitar and sing Paranda songs. For me, these honorable gentlemen created a peaceful world from their own image and likeness. They brought comfort and hope in our lives through their creations. I wanted to be like them yet carry on with my studies; but how could I merge studies with artistry? The best I could do is to hold their art in worship.
As much as these artist loved their work I loved them more. Of course, I got on their nerves several times, especially Benji and Pen. They must have considered me a smart high school student against whose curiosity one must guard. To teach me or distract me, I don’t know which, they loaned me books. Benji shared Gaugin’s collection; and Pen shared mostly about Dali.
– By Egbert R. Higinio
To be continued…