THE MAGIC OF
THE BREADFRUIT TREE
As a kid in the 40's I
learned how to trap parakeets from a native who lived in the jungle behind my hometown
(Pedro Miguel). His name was simply "Frenchy" and on weekends he would
come to town to do odd-job work like washing cars etc. One day he spotted me attempting to
trap birds with an awkward shoebox, stick, and string contraption and clearly indicated
via his laughter and headshake in the negative that I was not soon to have a feathered
creature in hand. Just then a huge flock of parakeets circled overhead and with much
screeching settled into a nearby mango tree to feed. We paused and I had the feeling we
both were impressed with this colorful event. He asked if I would like to trap the elusive
parakeet ... and he asked if I had any chewing gum. The answers were YES and NO
respectively. In broken English he said "good... meet next week by Lodge House
breadfruit tree...bring gum...juicy fruit kind".
I was there the next Saturday, same time, with four packages of "Juicy Fruit" chewing gum. Frenchy showed up grinning from ear to ear. "You got de gum?" Yessiree I replied and gave him all four packages at which point he laughed and said "We don kech all de Panama bird ... only bag or two." At this point he removed one stick of gum which he gave to me and said " chew it up good". He then returned the rest of the gum pulled out a knife and walked around the trunk of the breadfruit tree scrutinizing the bark.
Finding a smooth patch facing the ground he handed me the knife and indicated I was to cut a slit about six inches long. I did so and almost immediately a white milky sap began to flow. Frenchy then took my hand and placed it so the sap collected in my palm pooling to the size of a fifty cent piece. He then placed the three middle fingers of my other hand in the sap and said "Rub aroun circle mon ... aroun, aroun till it sticky dry" Well I did just that and to my astonishment, after a few minutes the sap began to thicken and dry to form an extremely sticky gray ball in my palm. Frenchy then said "Pop in mout an chew wit de juicy fruit" It tasted not too bad and after a bit the combined gum wad magically transformed into a manageable adhesive.
Out of his pack Frenchy produced a ripe mango and a smooth stick about 8 inches long and some twine and beckoned me to follow him to the tree the parakeets settled into the previous week. He then impaled the mango positioning it in the center of the stick. "OK mon spit de gum out" ... then rolling the sticky gum wad lightly with his finger tips he wound a layer of adhesive on the stick which extended from each side of the mango. At that time I knew what he was doing and we were both grinning ear to ear. We both scrambled up the tree and he positioned the stick-mango-adhesive between two branches and tied the ends. We then climbed down and waited...
The parakeets came like a green cloud that circled, screeched and finally swooped down into the tree. The first bird that landed on our stick found that feet were stuck firm. It then bit at stick and beak was stuck. I was so excited I practically flew up the tree to get my prize ignoring Frenchy's warning and as I grabbed the bird its beak transferred from gum to finger ...into my finger. Blood flowed I yelled and in the process of disengaging bird damn near fell out of tree. The bird flew away... From his pack Frenchy produced a burlap bag and one old work glove. Within the next hour or two we caught about a dozen parakeets. In the weeks that followed I cornered the parakeet market selling them at two-bits apiece. Every kid in town had one. Frenchy showed me how to tame them by gently holding them in "gloved" hand and snapping their beaks if they tried to bite. They would get the idea soon that bite was bad.
Frenchy was a good friend to me and soon to my family. My father had great respect for him. As an object lesson Dad would say (all too often) "Frenchy showed you how to be a success ... use knowledge no one else has and then using the right tools be efficient and fast in producing a product and selling it at a profit." Well Dad was right of course and so was Frenchy and I'll never forget them ... and the magic of the breadfruit tree.
Created: February 3, 1998