National Geographic : 1934 Aug
REDEMPTION OF THE PONTINE MARSHES goes to the peasant for every one that goes to the landowner; the proceeds from the sale of a calf are divided, and likewise the losses when a cow dies. The owner guides the peasant family economically; he should also do so morally. Officially, he deals with only one respon sible member of the family, the father, or, if the father is too old, with the eldest son. Accounts are noted day by day in special registers called colonial booklets, of which one copy is in the hands of the head of the family and one copy is held by the land owner. The latter, in a way, is the banker of his peasants, trying to save the money from being squandered in years of pros perity and financing the family through hard times. Men are not always perfect, but the system generally works very well. EVERY HOUSEHOLD MEMBER HAS HIS TASK Everybody works; even little children eight years old, when free from school, watch the sheep graze along the ditches. The babies and the farmyard industry pigs, chickens, geese-are the exclusive domain of the womenfolk. The land gives back tenfold what is put into it. At harvest time everybody helps. The women are in the turmoil of straw, dust, and milling machinery, and, with a red bandanna handkerchief tied around their perspiring brows, they handle the sheaves. And they sing-sing with the full joy of life. The Duce shares in this festivity, for the harvest is the great festival of agri cultural life. Last year for two hours he took a hand in the game, feeding the sheaves into the threshing machine, after which he smilingly cashed his pay of 4.50 lire (about 38 cents) for the work he had done. When the wheat has been sacked and the sacks have been divided, the housewife spreads a white cloth on a table under a shady tree and serves the traditional roast lamb, home-made bread, and fiaschi, the sweet local wine. Everybody who has taken part in the work, neighbor helping neighbor, landowner included, partakes of the feast. Such is the association between peasant and landowner on the mezzadria contract. The contract has the duration of only one year, but it is always renewed unless some thing very serious has happened. Peasant families remain on the same tract for gen erations; some claim to have lived there for hundreds of years. The ground is cultivated in a five-year rotation. Wheat, barley, alfalfa, beets, etc., are planted in succession, so that every year each part of the land has a different crop. At the end of the fifth year the cycle begins again. The stables are the index of the farmer's qualities, and the curing of the manure is brought up to a fine art. Usually these peasants are excellent peo ple, docile and hard-working, the backbone of the country. They care more for their fields and their cows than for politics; they go to bed early, get up at sunrise, are sober, and procreate an amazing number of healthy children. These have plenty of fresh air and simple but wholesome food, which gives white teeth. The State takes care of their education. Each child that grows up is an additional worker for the family. When the hive gets full, the swarming takes place, and that is the reason so many families are willing to come from Venice or Siena or Perugia to settle on the Pontine land. The mezzadria is something of a life in common. It is well to find out who are the persons that are going to live on your land. For this reason I always go to pick out in their homes the peasants I need. Upon my arrival the whole family is mustered: the men are called back from the fields, where the oxen remain waiting with the yoke on their necks; the smaller children are gathered from under the table cloth. "How much land do you give us?" they ask. "Does the wheat grow well there and is there a vineyard already? How far is the church, and where are the schools? Is there nothing to fear any more from malaria?" These are the questions. But the peas ants generally know pretty well already, be cause they have a wireless communication among themselves. Friends write to friends, and those who go back to the old home on a visit speak in glowing terms of the prom ised land. 217 ~s~5"