Life of a Farmer, How they Plough in
HE life of a farmer in Syria and Palestine is very different from the
life of a farmer in England. He does not live in an isolated farmhouse,
in the midst of a number of enclosed fields, which he owns or rents, and
which he cultivates at his own cost and for his own profit alone. The
country is much too unsettled to permit families to dwell alone, and so
they cluster in little villages for their common safety and defence. The
cultivated lands of the villagers lie outside the village, and the most
fertile ground is sometimes a mile or two away from the houses. The
villagers are too poor to enclose each a farm for himself, and the farms
are simply cultivated plots lying unenclosed in a great waste, which
belongs, perhaps, to the Government, or to some great feudal lord.
Because each man is poor and defenceless, the villagers combine to
cultivate these plots together, and they divide among themselves the
produce which is raised by their labours. The Government, or the lord of
the land, is paid with a certain share of all that is grown upon the
land, and this share is collected from the villagers by an officer who
is appointed for the purpose, or has bought the right to collect these
corn-rents for himself. He is often guilty of great extortion, and even
cruelty, in taking his share, or his master's share, of the produce.
How these Syrian villagers perform their farm labours in common we shall
see best if we watch them ploughing the land, and sowing corn. They go
forth in a band from the village, and make their way to the plot which
is to be tilled. Every man is armed, for beyond the cultivated land
there is a great waste, or desert, over which bands of robbers roam at
will, or there are rocky mountains in which they may hide, and set all
good government at defiance.
The ploughs used by these Syrian cultivators are little more than a bent
wooden stock, having a long bar, by which it may be drawn. The lend of
the stock is in shape somewhat like that which is formed by a human foot
and leg, the foot being the 'share,' which scratches up the soil. That
part which corresponds to the leg is prolonged upwards into a long
handle, with the help of which the ploughman guides the plough. The bar
by which the plough is drawn is attached to the inner or fore side of
the bend, at the ankle, as it were. Two oxen of a small kind are, as a
rule, attached to each plough.
With such a light kind of plough as this it is impossible to cut and
turn over the soil as an English plough, drawn by two or three powerful
horses, would do it. The ground is, in fact merely scratched, and, in
order that the scratching may be a little more complete, a number of
ploughs follow each other in single file over the ground. As many as
from six to twelve, or more, ploughs will thus work together upon one
plot, the ploughmen chatting with each other all the time. A sower
sprinkles the seed before them, and the ploughs loosen and scatter the
soil about it.
Ploughing in Syria.
Where the soil is too rocky for the ploughs to work, men with mattocks
break it up. The Syrian plough does not turn over the soil always upon
one side, as the English plough does, and so the Eastern ploughman can
return along the same line, or close to it, without spoiling the
regularity of his furrows.
In exceptionally dry seasons, when the ground is very hard, the English
plough cannot be used to good effect. The Syrian plough, however, is
worse; for it is so small and ill-planned that it will only do its work
when the ground is thoroughly wet and soft. The ploughing has,
therefore, to be done in the winter season: not, of course, in that
clime a winter of frost and snow, but a time of cold winds and heavy
rains, most trying to the poor labourers in the fields. If they had
better ploughs they might break up the ground before the winter set in,
and leave the ploughed land ready for the sower at the proper season.
The Syrian plough, too, only does its work slowly, and the whole set of
men working together will plough scarcely more than one-third as much as
an English ploughman, with a pair of good horses, would do in the same