Bergonian History:

The Peasantry

the salt of the Bergonian earth

for over 2500 years.

"The most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed."  --Stephen Biko

"When you treat people like animals, they become animals"  --Tabo Nasinri, peasant uprising leader, 876 AD

The word for "peasant(s)" in Nacateca is generally curei; (pronounced "cure'-ei," rhyming with hey), in Minidun the ore. (pronounced "or'-eh").

Iregemi 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 peasants exclusive 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 village. 

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.

The Peasants' Lives

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 villages.  

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 or 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 village.    

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 started.  

The 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.

The 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 were 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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