salt of the Bergonian earth
over 2500 years.
"The most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of
the oppressed." --Stephen Biko,
you treat people like animals, they become animals" --Tabo
Nasinri, peasant uprising leader, 876 AD
The word for "peasant(s)"
in Nacateca is generally
(pronounced "cure'-ei," rhyming with hey), in Minidun
the ore. (pronounced
Exploitation of the Peasants
Ever since the Neolithic
Revolution, stratification of society into classes, and the exploitation
by one class of all the others, has been the norm of human history.
For over 2,000 years the
majority of the Bergonian people lived as peasants in small, clan-based
villages. For over 2,000 years the Bergonian peasant had to submit a portion of
their production to the Iregemi, who lived either close by in
fine manor houses, or far away in a city. The basic measure of
Iregemi wealth was the number of villages
that a noble house controlled. The rent to the
Iregemi was typically one-third of the crop, though the percentage was
successfully reduced to 25% in Tan times as
a result of sometimes-violent resistance.
The arrangement guaranteed the
farming or herding rights to certain lands. Peasants had
limited rights to the woodlands surrounding their villages.
Peasant men, not being banda, were
prohibited from hunting, but they were allowed limited rights to trap in the surrounding countryside.
In any event
the peasant families gathered herbs, berries, roots, acorns, from the
woodlands, The peasants often did not have the right to gather wood
from the forests.
At most stages of history the peasant was bound by law to
his land, and could not legally leave without permission (though many
did). Fortunately the law (whenever enforced) also protected the peasant from expulsion.
The Iregemi and his family obtained their control of land and peasants by virtue of a grant from the sovereign,
they had not the right to remove peasants. They had the right to
levy three weeks of labor a year from every able-bodied peasant man.
They had the power to
punish the peasants, within limits imposed by law and custom, though in
many places and times the peasants were protected only by the Iregemi's
own sense of decency.
When the banda
warriors organized armies for the Shufrantei
empires and states, they resorted to conscription, dragooning the sons of
peasants to become common soldiers and porters. When a common soldier
or porter retired
from the army, he received a sum of money, and he often returned to his
village. The money he received often went a long way to enrich the
The Iregemi often
organized a personal gang of armed men, or combined with others to form
militias, which often intimidated the peasants.
But more often the Iregemi's armed force stood ready to protect both the
lord and the peasants from bandits, thieves and invaders, other Iregemi
competition and even the controlling military and police.
In many ages and in many places the Iregemi abused their
peasants horribly. The cruelest Iregemi resorted to
beatings, torture and executions. But many Iregemi appreciated, even loved, their
peasants, and managed them with a light, considerate hand. The
peasants call their master often by the name of eriIane,
("er-i-lah'-neh") meaning "grand-cousin," an ancient rank in tradition kinship
accounting. In many
cases the Iregemi and his peasant villages (or some of them) were of the
same clan, generating some solidarity between them, giving the term erilane
a more literal application.
One would think that Iregemi
are crueler when they they are of a different ethnicity (whether defined
by race, religion or nationality) than their peasants. But this is
not true. An example: The Pueoi Iregemi in medieval times had
different physical features from their Faroi peasants, spoke a different
language and had a different religion, but the Pueoi and Faroi got along
famously and rapidly enjoyed mutual prosperity and consideration. In
time they became the same people. A second example: The
Nacateca panitei warriors invaded the Minidun east and displaced many of
the native. Perhaps the cruelest treatment of peasants occurred
among the homogenous early Kuan civilization, and there master and servant
were certainly of the same ethnicity, religion, language and
culture. One clear pattern is that the Iregemi tend to oppress their
peasants most harshly in times of war, with conscription, increased
taxation on the crop, and increased work levies.
Peasants occasionally resisted
their masters by withholding their taxes of grain, produce, wool and other
textile plants, or refusing to perform the levy work. They occasionally
turned on their Iregemi masters with knives, swords and fire. On a
few conspicuous occasions in Bergonian history, peasant revolts have
fueled wholesale revolutions; for example see Churoflia.
The massive peasant revolt in 1854-- called the "Revolt of the
Interior" sparked a nationwide revolution of sorts, resulting in
universal male suffrage.
Peasants living in a village
were usually all of the same clan.
Sometimes two or three clans lived together in a larger village, each
keeping to their own section of houses. Of course the young men and
women of the same clan could not court or marry, so a young man visited other villages, looking for a suitable mate.
The typical way of doing this was with an invitation from his mother's
family or the family of his aunts. Another way was for everyone to
go to a local or regional market or fair, where peasants danced, watched
dramas and feasted, and
where the young men met and courted the maidens from other clans and
In nearly all eras of Berg history, the peasants have endured a
marginal standard of living. The average peasant lived in a village,
more specifically in a small house clustered tightly with the houses of
his clan-mates and relatives. The house usually consisted of two
rooms, a kitchen room with a small hearth, and a room for sleeping and
storage. Of course the size and material of the houses depended upon the
village's degree of wealth. Some were nice buildings of stone, adobe
brick, some of wood, and others were hovels. For most periods of history, peasant homes had thatched roofs. The villages
quite commonly had a common hearth where all the women worked together to
feed the villages.
In the home the women did all the work. The village women cooked
a common meal every night. The men worked in the fields and did
all the repairs. The average peasant enjoyed a bath at least once a
week, and considered bathing a part of Shufrantei ritual. Every
village had a bathhouse for use by all the members. Typically the
bathhouses were clan institutions, and so in villages with more than one
clan there was a bathhouse for each clan. The peasants were content with thin straw mattresses, and slept
under thin wool blankets. They wore rough cotton or wool-- the men
wearing kilt and tunic, the women wearing blouse and skirt, both relying
on a shawl, cape or poncho in cool or wet weather. In most eras
they have liked wide-brimmed straw or leather hats to ward off the sun.
Villagers often sent their sons and daughters to nearby temples
for acolyte service, which concluded with the child's fourteenth birthday,
when the child's initiation rites were held. Many peasants also had
the opportunity to send
their sons to temple for a little education, learning to read some, and
also some arithmetic and religion.
In the village
center they played dice games,
strategy games, and word-games. They enjoyed playing musical instruments. They
recited stories and poetry. They enjoyed their countryside with hikes and picnics.
They visited one another's
villages for parties, picnics, dinners, games and contests. And when they tired
of so much active self-indulgence, they could
always find peaceful repose under a favorite shade tree on the edge of the
Several times a year the peasant families went on foot to a nearby town
or city to attend
a fair. They camped at the fairgrounds right
outside of town, sometimes in "clan-houses," but usually in
simple canvas tents.
The fair was always accompanied by a large market, and the peasant men
used the occasion to buy new tools If nothing
else they desired contact with fellow clansmen from other villages.
Their wives loved the diversions of the market--shopping of course, and also
relaxing in the commons with female relatives living on other villages. Their sons and
daughters of courting age took advantage of the festivities and the
all-night dancing. This was where romances, affairs and marriages
Lunra -- the traditional form
of collective ownership
Traditionally the property of a village,
and the attendant rights to use different parcels of land for different
purposes, was all held collectively by the residents of the village.
The legal entity was called the lunra, an association that acquired
legal life not by any legal act of
incorporation but by the traditions and practices of the villagers in fact. It was an
association whereby each family received a home and a share at the
communal table in exchange for labor. The individual lunra member
did not have a
divisible interest or entitlement. If a man moved from the village, he was entitled only to receive a liquidated
settlement of an amount of cash equal to one bushel of wheat, but he was
nearly always welcome to come back if things didn't work out.
It should be noted that before the collapse
of atrei civilization and the European colonization it was virtually
compulsory for all lunra members to be of the same clan,
a feature greatly enhancing group cohesiveness.
Peasant/Farmer class in Modern Times
The plagues and the European onslaught
destroyed many Bergonian institutions, such as the clans. But enough
peasants remained to insure the survival of the atrei people.
In the 1800s most peasants were still atrei, but a few
sherei (the mixed blood). The reforms of the 1850s
gave the peasants title to their land (at least most of it), thus
eliminating the Iregemi's legal right to a share of the harvest. But
the reforms plunged the peasants into a market economy in which those with
money have an advantage. The iregemi still controlled the
mills. The peasants had to go to the iregemi for credit because the
banks would not lend them money. Many
peasants lost their land to new corporate owners who established
plantations for export crops (cotton, citrus fruit, coffee, tea).
After the Revolution the peasants formed and
lived in cooperatives.
This is the class with no history, the class that the
history of rulers, generals and literati ignores. The peasants are
immutable in their intimate relationship with the immutable land.
This is a class upon whom history acts upon, in terms of war and changing
patterns of oppression, like the unchanging blackboard on which the heroes
write their self-congratulatory messages. History decorates the walls
of the upper classes, but history eats and shits out the laboring classes. For their immutability, the peasants
have best proved capable of absorbing the shocks of change, well-conditioned for change by their
relationship with the ever-changing weather.
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