CASKE 2000 > Survival > Shelter
The Kekchi Indian technique of Blue Creek (Belize)
PHOTOGRAPHS AND TEXT BY JEAN-PHILIPPE SOULÉ 1999
The Cohune palm (Orbigyna Cohune) is one of the most abundant trees in Belize. It is found in forests from near sea level up to 2000 ft in rich soil. Cohune trees can reach heights of 100 feet, while fronds can reach up to 35 feet long and are commonly used for thatching. Many other species of palm can also be used in thatching, such as Bayleaf palm (Sabal morrisiana) which is a favorite for its durability, and Silver Thatch Palm (Thrinax radiata). To make a shelter in the Belize jungle, the most readily available is the Cohune palm. The fronds are long and linear. The heart Cohune palm is also a delicacy. To see which part is edible and how to prepare it go to our page on Eating Cohune Palm.
Preparation of the palm
After cutting the palm from the tree, it is easy to split the end of the stem and work your way down the center of the stem. The full palm is split in half. This will later allow the palms to be laid with the fronds at opposing angles on opposite sides so that they create a tight cross-hatching.
Making the shelter
You only need 6 sticks of about 6 to 9 feet long to make the structure on which the palms will rest. As you are making a temporary shelter, any type of wood will do. You can even use the trunk of a narrow tree as one of your main poles. Two poles go in the ground (unless you use trees). One crossbar pole should be tied on top with some vines (any kind of vine or various species of wood bark make good ropes). The three remaining stick are fixed at an angle from the ground to the top bar forming a lean-to frame. Then the first layers of palm are ready to be set on the structure. Don't forget to alternate the sides of the palm each time, shiny side of leaf up and shiny side down, to have a good watertight cross-hatching of the fronds. Once a full line of palm as been placed on the downsloping roof frame, tie it to the bars and add the next layers of palm above. Repeat this until you cover your full structure. For the top you should use full palm (not split in half). One half rests on the previous layers while one hangs on top forming a small eave. You can use the remaining palms (still alternated) to make yourself a comfortable sleeping or sitting mat. All this shouldn't take more than 30 minutes.
Tip: Change place each night after making a fire. If you make a fire, the next day the smoke will have attracted too many bugs to the shelter. As long as you didn't make a fire and smoke the shelter, you should be able to re-use it. Enjoy your jungle camp.
Cutting palms ; Splitting palms ; Structure ; layering the palms ; Tying with vines ; Last layer ; Luke under finished shelter
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