"Cu di speranza campa disparatu mori" (those with hope live, those in despair die)
Prophetic Proverb in a land where "non ci sunnu occhji pe ciangiri" (there are no eyes to cry).
A land where, in the early 1940’s, roads did not exist, only mule tracks, reaching it depended on the weather, which determined whether it could open itself up to the outside world, or remain isolated for long periods of time.
The wind, snow, rivers hindered the evolution of an area like ours. "'Mbasciti juncu ca a fiumara passa" (Bend over, the river flows here).
The people, and in particular the women, were the last ones to succumb to the various impositions of nature, the wealthy bosses, 'ndrangheta (Calabria Mafia) etc.
"Na fimmana e na sumera fannu na fera" (a woman and a donkey make a party).
Poor, unfortunate and always submissive. "Cu ndavi fimmani no ndavi unuri" (he who does not have a woman has no honor).
The winners always write history, the losers have always been relegated to a minor role.
"I fimmini sbajiunu e i masculi trascuranu" (women make mistakes and men neglect).
The lives of our women have always been relegated to minor roles, the patriarchal system has prevailed. Beyond the daily duties, they had to submit to sexual desires.
To submit, a frequent significant term in our poor population.
To submit in games, to the wealthy, the strong, the more delinquent etc.
A life of submission. A life governed by the pack, were the weakest succumb.
I read Schidon’s chronicles and customs of 1870-1930, describing the lifestyle of our area. In my experience it did not stop in 1930, instead up until the 80’s not much had changed. "A great part of women’s work was in the fields, gathering olives, chestnuts and acorns. They helped men in the fields, plowing, watering and planting, even transporting sticks and branches of wood, on their heads (these were stuffed in a basket made from twisted cane rods)". It seems like a romantic and fascinating story.
"U cani du patrons muzzica sempre u sciancatu" (The boss’s dog always bites the poor man).
The women who picked the olives were slaves, without rights, but many duties. They awoke at dawn and traveled to where they were to pick the olives. In modern times automobiles or trucks would allow them the luxury of sleeping in their own houses. Instead, in the past, they slept in small dormitory rooms close to the grounds, crowded together with their children, like animals.
With there damp or worse wet aprons. They always began their day in the same position, their backs bent forward, heads lowered, facing the ground, legs spread apart.
Because of the nature of the work, their nails did not grow, due to the fact that they were constantly in contact with, and scraping, the earth. But, not only did they not grow during the gathering period, not even years after this infamous job.
The gathering periods was from November to April and for those who know the climate also know how clement it is.
They began at 7:00 – 7:30am and continued until 12:00, when they had their lunch. Each one would take out what little they had, wrapped in a napkin, eggplants in oil, dried tomatoes, bacon and bread. It was their moment of rest when they could chat. They were given only one hour by the owners, so as not to waste time, because "a cira squajia e a processione no camina" (the wax is melting and the procession is not moving).
They resumed at around 1:00pm and worked until 5:00pm. But it did not end then; they had to transport the sacks filled with olives which weighed approximately 3 kg., on their heads to the awaiting trucks, which would take them to the olive press.
"U citrolo va sempre 'nculo all’ortolanu" (the cucumber is always in the gardener’s ass). They then returned home to resume the job of mother and wife.
The gathering of the chestnuts was a similar job. They would carry, for kilometers, up to 50 kilograms of wood on their head, it was not amusing. When it came to the fields, men would do the plowing, but then the women would take over. Even during the Holidays there was no rest.
I hope only one thing, that this story should give credit to these women who in the end always have been and always will be the back of humanity. I think their wisdom would have helped many of us avoid searching, in other places our future and freedom.