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Weekly Edition 050: Saturday 9th February 2002

<< Island Ecology by José P Ribas

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An Anthropological View
by Kirk W Huffman

Thinking About Money - Part Four

As briefly outlined in my previous article, the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath dealt harshly with the local population, although actual fighting lasted only five weeks. The years of repression following the fighting of 1936 are remembered with horror by many elderly Ibicencos. Right wing Nationalist troops occupied the island, most of them quartered in the Vila (Ibiza Town) area. The local supply of money became even more restricted than before. This had a rather interesting inverse effect on the population of the island: Ibicenco peasants, who had extremely limited access to money beforehand were, in general, less affected than the inhabitants of Ibiza Town. Inhabitants of the town were not almost completely self-sufficient as the majority of rural peasants were - money, in various forms, had ruled in 'the Town' since ancient Phoenician times. Town dwellers were at a disadvantage at a time like this: very few people were buying anything produced by the town's tradespeople. Starvation stalked many of the narrow streets of D'Alt Vila and the lower town.

The Nationalist forces had brought in hundreds of horses for its occupying troops - modern motor vehicles on the island could almost be counted on the fingers of two hands in those days. The horses consumed large quantities of 'garroves', the large brown carob beans that are still grown widely on the island as animal fodder. These are usually harvested around September/October and a common soothing country sound at that time of the year is the gentle rattle of the long cane poles used by the rural population as they persuade the trees to drop these precious beans to the ground. Some town dwellers had their own carob trees on family land near the town, but most of this food for the horses had to come from country areas. If lucky, carob bean suppliers were paid by the Nationalists, but stories also circulate of periodic 'forced appropriations' of commodities such as these. The troops also needed food.

And this is where the rural inhabitants of the island won out. They had an alternative to money - food - which most of the town dwellers did not. It was a classic example of how useless money can often be in times of crisis: you cannot eat it. Ibicenco peasants visiting the town returned home with stories of having seen starving town dwellers raiding the large heaps of 'garroves' stored for the horses. Most 'pagesos' (rural peasants) outside of the town had their own land, which provided the basics of life and enabled them to survive rather well. Traditional self-sufficiency comes in to its own at times like these and I suspect that certain town dwellers rather envied - for the first time ever, probably - the Ibicenco peasants' lifestyle. For a few short years certain aspects of social roles became slightly reversed. Some of the 'Masters of the Town', renowned for so long as looking down upon and deriding the peasants as worthless, stubborn, independent, traditionalists, suddenly had to become extremely polite and friendly with them to gain access to the kind of riches without which one cannot survive. Admittedly, these changed attitudes did not necessarily survive the ending of the years of hardship!

For certain peasant families who had large areas of land and lots of produce, things actually worked out rather well. More important families who needed extra labour (to plant and look after more crops) paid the labourers in food, all being provided with healthy rural fare in return for their work. Many people in the town were absolutely desperate for food and some peasants with food stocks in abundance to spare found that they were actually in a position - for some, for the first time ever - to obtain goods in exchange from the townsfolk that they may never have been able to afford before in the days when only money was accepted. Producers of cloth in the town were willing to exchange larger amounts of cloth in exchange for food than would ever have been possible if the rural peasants only had money to offer. Olive oil, an essential in this part of the world, became a 'luxury item' of great value. Ibicencos with their own ancient olive presses were able to exchange olive oil for all sorts of commodities and a few even became briefly what might lightly be called 'olive oil millionaires' if money had been involved. Trading and bartering of agricultural produce had always been part of the rural economy, and this now expanded in a big way into Ibiza town. To a certain extent, money itself lost its value. Rural peasants from all over the island began to make more than normal regular trips to the town, albeit rather warily because of the tense situation and a fear that soldiers might arrest them on a whim or technicality, to supply food. Many had relatives too in the town and wanted to make sure they were well supplied.

One small example, to set the style. A large land-owning family (with olive oil press) in the isolated 'Sa Coruna' (Sant AgnŔs/Santa Ines) area in the NNW of the island paying extra labourers with food began sending a cartload of agricultural produces per week to the town. 'Sa Coruna' was (and until very recently was still) a complete world away from the town, and it was an early start. There were no paved roads anywhere on the island except in the town and these only reached a few hundred yards out from the Vara de Rey to Can Ventosa ('sa fabrica de calcetines'), the present Casa de Cultura. But with a healthy horse and a sturdy cart at a relatively fast clip one could make it along the rocky caminos from 'Sa Coruna' to 'Vila' in approximately three hours. To avoid the heat of the sun as much as possible one had to make an early start: an early quick breakfast snack crouched around the 's'arrejol' (the small round fireplace set in the middle of the floor of 'es porxo', the entrance hall/room), the loading and tightening of the produce into the cart, strapping an 'ofabis' (amphora pot) with drinking water to one of the cart's inner sides andůone was off, hopefully before the sun broke the eastern horizon. Some say a fee (usually paid then in food stock) was paid at a military checkpoint as one entered the town. One old 'pages' told me that he still had to pay this entry 'fee' as late as 1962 when he was still bringing agricultural produce to town. He thought it was still the fee dating from the Civil War times, but he may have been confusing it with a market produce tax. Another told me he though it was a 'peasant tax' imposed by 'The Masters of the Town'. Maybe it was all three, at different levels of analysis. Once our friends from 'Sa Coruna' had finally gotten into the town, they could then trot the cart to relatives, friends, or contacts to begin the trading of their land's produce for what they wanted - cloth, knives, nails, soap and a few other items - maybe some medicines, etc. Interestingly enough, though, although we might class a large range of items as essentials, most of these 'purchased' (or traded) things (except for certain iron objects) were in reality 'luxuries'. Life could continue without most of them. And this is something that our 'modern' societies have actually forgotten - most of our 'essentials' are exactly that, 'luxuries'. It does actually seem rather sad that the recent worldwide trends to try and - sometimes almost forcefully - 'modernize' isolated, self-sufficient, traditionally oriented societies around the world has often been a process in which our world robs them of their identity and independence and basically persuades them that their essentials should be the same as ours. But often what we are really doing is forcing them to turn luxuries into essentials. Traditional peasant life was hard on Eivissa/Ibiza, and when the possibility of change came in the 1960s with the arrival of tourism, many Ibicencos needed little persuasion to abandon their independent lifestyles and 'head for the coast' And who can really blame them? Some could say they were fed up with scratching the ground for a pittance and getting arthritis. But if another crisis such as the Civil War should affect the island in the future, almost everyone will be in the same boat, or, maybe one should say almost everyone would be down stealing the 'garroves' due to be fed to the Nationalists' horses! Everyone else would be trekking through the hills trying to find the last smart self-sufficient peasants to steal their food. Most governments in the so-called 'developed' world seem almost to act as if the remaining self-sufficient populations within their boundaries (and elsewhere) are to be suppressed and then squeezed in to the rather ridiculous '9 to 5 mold' which so many of us think is normal. It is not. It just happens to be a norm for our rather stressed-out populations at this particular time in history and it may only be a brief phase at that - it may just burn itself out. These isolated, independent cultures are the real survivors in terms of long-term history. Our 'modern' cultures haven't really been around long enough for anyone to say the same about them.

And why don't modern governments like self-sufficient, independent, population sub-groups? Well, it's almost as if they were looked upon as some sort of potentially contagious disease (rather like the US looked upon 'Communism'): 'If our population sees them getting away with it then everyone will want to do it'. It should also be pointed out though that it is very difficult for any modern government to tax such a population - and therein may lie the critical factor. Governments do not like being paid in carob beans. Think about it.

Kirk W Huffman

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