Life of a Farmer, How they Plough in Syria

by Unknown

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. 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 time.