first went looking for the furniture man of Toledo in the weekly
Saturday vegetable market on Front Street in the seaside town
of Punta Gorda about a month shy of the annual start of the
Belizean rain season in June. Everyone in PG as well as in Toledo
district wide said that he designed and manufactured some of
the best furniture in all of Belize. My wife and I were interested
in getting a King-size bed built in a real hurry, having us
running about in a mindset most folks will explain won't get
you to far in Belize.
of the local realities, my wife and I were especially in a hurry
in light of the fact that I had unintentionally blackened her
left eye with my right elbow rolling over in our double bed
late one night during a thunderous rainstorm. After enduring
a week or so of people looking at me in sheer disgust and disdain
as though I was a convicted wife beater, I consented, no I insisted,
in seeking out Mr. Derkits, the furniture man of the Toledo District
of Belize who had for close to the last fifty years became the
legendary maker of Belizean furniture.
this day in the market I turned to my friend Pablo Bochub, the
owner and operated of Pablo's Taxi Company as well as Roots
and Herbs Travel & Tours. You can usually find Pablo trolling
the streets for patrons, which each market day brings Pablo
and his taxi to the corner just opposite the vegetable market
there on Front Street in Punta Gorda town.
I discussed my furniture needs with Pablo, my entrepreneur taxi
driving tour guiding friend explained that in the Toledo District
there were really only a handful of places and craftsmen where
one could go to make arrangements to purchase custom designed
and manufactured wood furniture. According to Pablo, there were
the Mennonites in the village of Pine Hill over near Indian
Creek; there was an unnamed local man in the village of Boom
Creek; and then there was "a German man" named Frank
Derkits. As Pablo explained, only Frank used wood glue to hold
his furniture together, the others relied upon the hammer and
nails. Before we separated that day taxi side in the Front Street
market, Pablo promised that since my wife and I did not own
furniture nor a car and since Mr. Derkits lived in the village
of Mafredi some fifteen miles outside of Punta Gorda, he assured
me that he would pass along a word or two on my behalf.
so not a week went by until one day a small framed man about
four foot eleven in his early eighties walked up from the roadside
into our bush camp. Originally not from Germany but from Stegersbach,
a village in eastern Austrian, Frank came to Belize in 1954
after his release from a US Prisoner of War camp in Paris Texas.
According to Mr. Derkits, in the immediate days following his
days during World War II as a former soldier in the Army of
Hitler’s Germany, Mr. Derkits was captured and turned
over to the American coalition forces where he was sent to the
prisoner of war facilities just outside of Paris Texas, USA.
the POW camp in Paris, Frank spent time in Mexico before accepting
a job with a Texas oil exploration company that brought him
further south to then British Honduras. In time Mr. Derkits got
into the logging business and over the years Mr. Derkits readily
admits that he has made as well as loss a lot of money in Belize.
During the last half of the 20th century Mr. Derkits has controlled
and loss control over vast regions of forest from the Cayo to
Toledo. He can relay tales of fortune as well as hardship, from
business partners that took advantage of illness to the ravages
of Hurricane Iris that left a half a million dollar Belgian
milling saw in pieces. Frank will tell you the friend hurt him
more than the hurricane, more so even than the hand that was
closed to severed and now deformed when men under his own supervisions
failed to heed his cries to turn off the power to the saw answer.
Frank will tell you he has all the business he can handle, especially
shipping quality furniture to the high dollar rollers in Placencia
and points around the world. Frank also says he has no one in
line to take up his craft and that it will probably die with
him. The years show plainly upon the facial lines of Frank.
He harbors some hope of returning to his home village in Austria
for his time is up.