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The cyclical nature of village life


Fri, Aug 7. 2012

by Oswald Fereira
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The cycles of agricultural production dominated village life. In the days when there was no electricity, no TV, village life revolved around agriculture. As the year ended and a new year began, there was the arrowroot harvest and the arrowroot mills were in full production. Village artisans were busy making the bamboo baskets in which the crop would be measured;{{more}} preparing the mill and the wire meshing in the drying houses; and trucks would be readied to take the rhizomes to the mill. The mill operators would be busy getting his workers lined up and farmers would be arranging to schedule workers to harvest the fields.

Once the arrowroot harvest was over and the dry season set in, it was time for the sugar cane harvest to begin. Workers would move from the arrowroot field to the sugar cane field and the trucks would haul cane instead of arrowroot. Arrowroot bitty would be available so new wattle-and-daub kitchens could be built.

To coincide with the hot, dry season and the Easter school holidays many farmers would harvest their coconuts and it was time for making copra. The nuts were split and set out in the sun then the meat would be dug out and further dried. It was not just a family affair. In many cases neighbours and other villagers would turn up unasked with their knives to help as they were allowed to keep the shells they handled, which they could use for firewood – it was part of the cooperative spirit of village life.

As July approached and the rainy season set in, it was time to get other crops such as sweet potato, tannia, dasheen, eddoes and pigeon peas started. This ensured a crop of sweet potatoes (and corn) before Christmas, pigeon peas at Christmas, and peas and corn to be dried for use in the dry season. The kitchen gardens were also tended.

Even though many families were poor and relied on subsistence agriculture, there was always plenty food all year. When breadfruit was available, it became a staple and very little bread was bought. It was nearly always roasted breadfruit at suppertime and the leftovers fried or toasted for breakfast, usually eaten with saltfish, smoked or wet herring, calaloo, or roasted salt pork. For us children, there was a constant turnover of fruits – mangoes, golden apples, sugar apples, sour sop, marmie apples, hog plums, Spanish ash, sea side grapes, fat pork, bananas and figs. Most importantly, whenever supplies were low, everyone shared whatever they had. As a child I often saw other villagers bringing us supplies of yams, tannias, dasheen, breadfruit, dasheen leaves, egg plant, chi chi ra, plantain, maugh faugh baugh, sugar apples. On the other hand, I also saw my mother handing out food to any one who passed by asking for something to cook, very often it was a recycling of produce she just received. We were often allowed to pick produce from the neighbours’ kitchen gardens. This is how we lived. If you needed something and did not have it, you merely asked someone who had and it was generally shared – we looked after each other. If you had no pigeon peas you merely had to help someone pick their peas and they shared with you.

Alas, those days have passed. There appears to be fewer and fewer kitchen gardens and many fruits appear to be less abundant. Given the stocks on supermarket shelves, there appears to be more reliance on imported food. Arrowroot is now a fringe crop and sugar is no more. Agriculture has changed and so has village life.