Sunday, January 27, 2013

El Maíz Cabanita: El Arado (The Art of the Plough)

Previous posts on Cabanaconde and maíz cabanita: first, second, third, fourth

Once the land is irrigated, it is time for the barbecho, which refers to the process of turning over and resting the soil before the next planting begins.  This post describes el arado (ploughing), which is an important part of both this stage and the planting season.

The traditional way to plough is with a yunta (a team of two bulls joined by a wooden yoke). However, over the previous decade, tractors have increasingly been used, particularly for this step of the cycle. Ploughing with bulls is more technically precise, and for this reason they are still used by the majority for planting, but the barbecho just requires the earth to be turned over.  Hiring a tractor costs about S/. 60 per hour, which is enough  time to plough a medium-sized chacra. By contrast, a team of bulls costs S/. 30 per day, they also require feed, and if their owner works at ploughing he needs to be paid as well. So the costs come out about the same, and using a tractor is significantly quicker. Some chacras are too steep or inaccessible to use a tractor, so even the barbecho is done with a yunta; also, for those who have their own bulls the relative costs may be different.

Ploughing with bulls is an activity steeped in tradition and surrounded by a fair amount of machismo. Objects and practices have special names: some of them are neither Spanish nor standard Quechua, and some of them may be unique to Cabanaconde. For example, the long wooden pole which is dragged by the bulls is called la pero (note, not perro) and the stick of dense wood which the person steering the plough uses to poke the bulls and keep them straight is called el allejón.

The bulls used in work in the chacras are mostly serrano cattle, small and lean, curious like all cattle, and easily spooked or distracted by their peers, but mostly tame and obedient. This is fortunate, because the first step involves them standing still while they are tied by the horns to the yunta (and thus to each other).

The plough consists of a long pole of dense wood (la pero) which is placed in a loop of rope hanging from the yunta. At the end of the pole is a roughly v-shaped piece of wood (see photo below). At one end is a sort of tiller which is held by the person ploughing. To the other end a steel furrow is attached with an extremely strong and supple leather tie (what is being done in the photo).

To begin ploughing, one person walks in front of the bulls, who obediently follow. This is known as to guide or guiar. There's some skill involved, as you need to need to make sure the bulls follow the line the furrow needs to enter. This has been described to me as 'like driving a car', but it's a rather skittish and mechanically unpredictable car. It's particularly tricky when the chacra is oddly shaped  or the terrain is uneven around the edges. Sometimes in order to ensure that the furrow gets all the way to the end of the chacra you need to jump up on the wall or terrace at the end of the chacra so the bulls will follow you. To make tight turns you may need to tap one of the bulls on the nose with a small stick, or even grab it by the horn and physically drag it around. I acted as guia quite a lot during the planting season, and became reasonably adept at the task.

Doing the ploughing itself requires real skill. It doesn't look so hard but there is strength and dexterity required to hold the plough straight, ensure the furrow is deep and true, make the turns accurately and encourage the bulls while poking them with the allejón to keep them in line.  I had several attempts but never mastered it.

When the earth has been ploughed, it has to be smoothed over. This process is to majonear, named for the majona, a flat wooden board that is tied to a horse, mule or donkey. Someone leads the animal around the chacra while another person stands on the board, effectively skiing along and closing over the furrows (as in the picture below). Quite often a child will be used to majonear, since a donkey (the easiest animal to get hold of) finds it difficult to drag a full-grown adult, and the weight of a child may be sufficient to smooth over the earth. In other cases, someone will stand on the board with only one foot, more like skating than skiing, and quite quite physically challenging. Where the earth is heavier, an adult standing with both feet on the board towed by horse or mule will be required.

After the barbecho, there is one more irrigation cycle, and then in August the planting season begins. This is the centrepiece of the agricultural cycle in Cabanaconde.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cabanaconde: A Day in the Life

A typical day during my time in Cabanaconde as an example of the mixture of things I was doing and the routines of village life.  This is from the 2nd of July.

After breakfast, at around 8:30, I went to look for Ruth, as we had agreed to go together to see the mayor to show him the brochure for the experiential tourism project. The municipality had funded the brochure and the mayor - a keen amateur photographer - had provided photographs and helped design it. Ruth wasn't in her store so I went alone to the municipal building. Outside, I ran into Ruth, who had been buying potatoes from a neighbour. She told me cheerily that she'd found out that the mayor wasn't in town so we were wasting our time.

As we walked back across the plaza, I was hailed by Patricio, and then Edison ('Chiqui') also appeared. Both of them have worked as local tourist guides. I showed both of them the brochure and we talked for a while about the tourism project. We went through a list of names of other local guides who could work with the project. I headed back to my side of the village and when I went past Lili's shop she asked me if I wanted to accompany her to the chacra. She had to take food to the guys who were ploughing in one of the family's fields, and then to her mother who was down with the sheep that were sleeping on the chacras in the Ccollcca sector.

While Lili was cooking, I used the time to wash my clothes. All washing in Cabanaconde is done by hand: I used a bucket and a concrete laundry fixture with a tap. I normally do one soak-and-wash with detergent and then two rinses. It's tricky to balance getting the dirt out and being able to rinse away the detergent. I've got better, but it's not ideal, and whenever I'm in Arequipa it's good to get a machine wash done.

I went with Lili to Lihuay to take lunch to the two men who had already finished ploughing the small chacra. From there, we walked down the main pathway towards CCollcca and while we walked we discussed the new urban development in San Miguel (20 minutes walk uphill on the main road out of Cabanaconde), where the Peasant Community has subdivided the land and is allocating lots to those who register fo a fee. Some see it as a necessary development to give more living space to the community, where many extended families share very restricted space in the small properties within the main village.

Lili hadn't registered for a lot in San Miguel and wasn't in agreement with the process. There were two main reasons why. First, she doubted that it would actually go ahead. The National Cultural Institute has registered the San Miguel pampa as a site of archeological interest (although they've never investigated anything there) and has indicated it will take legal action against any development. This seems perverse, given that Cabanaconde already built a small football stadium on the same land and now the Province of Caylloma is financing a new museum, supposedly to evenutally house the Mummy Juanita. I can't see the building in San Miguel being stopped, but Lili was dubious. She and Ruth had supported an "invasion" there last year, but the president of Peasant Community opposed it and ordered the rudimentary structures that people had built to be torn down. The president had then done an about-face and thrown his weight behind the development, which Ruth and Lili thought was suspicious.

The other reason was that Lili didn't agree with how the land was being divided up. She thought that new land should be reserved for younger people who didn't necessarily have their own families -  partly because there's little space to raise a family. And she didn't think it was fair that multiple people from the same family - many of whom don't live in Cabanaconde - should each be allocated a lot. Instead, the system was based on differential fees: S/. 500 to register if you didn't already have land in the ampliaciones (the formerly dry areas that received irrigation water from the Majes project in the 1990s), S/. 1,000 if you already had a lot, and S/. 1,500 if you weren't originally from Cabanaconde.

We were not far from the chacra and could see Lili's mother, Señora Prudencia, down with the sheep and goats, but we couldn't spot the shepherd. Lili called out to a woman who was working on the left side of the path, "Hey, have you seen [name redacted]". "Oh, I think he's dead already" was the reply. When we got down to meet Lili's mother, she explained that the shepherd was not actually dead, but was lying immobile by a bush, two chacras away. He had refused any food and wouldn't even move the short distance to the shade to be out of the burning sun. He simply groaned occasionally and asked for water.

Apparently the shepherd was meant to look after the animals all night, but had returned to the village around 8:00 pm and started drinking aguardiente with some friends. The drinking session had gone on all night, and he had stumbled back towards his post in the early morning, only to fall a couple of fields short. In his absence, the animals he was supposed to be watching had taken the opportunity to go their own way. The docile sheep hadn't gone far, but the goats had dispersed themselves through the countryside. Señora Prudencia had taken a couple of hours to round them all up.

I helped Lili and her mother muster up the sheep and the goats from where they had been grazing back to their enclosure in the chacra, where their nightly droppings and urine would provide organic fertiliser. An amusing thing in Cabanaconde is that, although gringos are considered to be ignorant about a lot of things, no one considers the possibility that anyone would not know how to herd animals. So it is that on a number of occasions I've been the closest person to, say, someone's escaping bull, and have had to respond to urgent waves and shouts of "arrea, arrea!!".

Among the sheep were a number of very young lambs, which struggled to cross a couple of canals on the way back to their enclosure. On several occasions I had to grab hold of a nervous lamb and carry it gently across the canal while its mother watched warily from the opposite bank. I found this rather touching, but it's a normal part of everyday life in the countryside.

Lili had finally convinced the shepherd to have a little soup and he was on his feet, stumbling back to where his blankets and provisions where, just before a hot afternoon turned into a feezing night - which would have been truly dangerous. Lili , Señora Prudencia and I began to 30 minute walk back to Cabanaconde, arriving there just as it got dark.