“We carried those smoke pans anywhere we go, keep the mosquitoes from biting you. Those mosquitoes were terrible on Cayman.”
– Nell Connor (interview with Richard Westmacott)
You don’t need to talk to an older Caymanian or read archival interviews to know how troublesome Cayman’s mosquitoes are. Despite 55 years of research and work by the Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU), everyone can relate to the experience of being chased inside by mosquitoes and no-see-ums.
Which is not to say significant progress hasn’t been made in the fight against these buzzing bloodsuckers – those older Caymanians and archival interviews will tell you just how much worse it used to be! Captain Paul Hurlston recalled being able to grab mosquitoes by the handful, and there were reports of livestock being smothered at night by the unrelenting swarms.
In the days before MRCU, residents’ chief weapon against the hoards of mosquitoes was a humble apparatus known as a ‘smoke pan’ or ‘smoke pot’: A metal pan or pot with a handle, filled with kindling and wood that produced thick smoke when burned.
Smoke pots were an essential companion to any kind of work in the yard, porch or provision ground – particularly in the early or twilight hours, and following rains.
The wood fuel used in smoke pots included:
- Smokewood | Erythroxylum areolatum
- Black mangrove | Avicennia germinans
- White mangrove | Laguncularia racemosa
- Buttonwood | Conocarpus erectus (also a popular wood fuel for traditional cooking)
- Logwood | Haematoxylum campechianum
- Coconut husks | Cocos nucifera
While much of what went in to smoke pots likely depended on whatever plant debris was on hand, I suspect a number of other plants would have also been favoured, particularly those which gave off pleasant-smelling smoke such as Rosemary (Croton linearis), Candlewood (Amyris elemifera) which burns even when green, or Black Candlewood (Erithalis fruticosa).
Burton, F. Clifford P. (2007) Wild Trees in the Cayman Islands. The International Reptile Conservation Foundation.
Westmacott, R. (1999) Gardens, Yards, Pieces, and Grounds. University of Georgia.