The first furrow,a rut painfully curved out of the soil.One after another,more furrows, welded together in parallel lines, increasing in number to blend with those of my neighbours.Bent double, moving jerkily forward,I had my first experience of wrestling with nature.
One hour later a few dozen square yards of ploughed land lay behind me; in front,a vast denuded expanse,mercilessly branded by the bush fire which seemed to have killed off all life from the area we were going to sow.
the sun beat down,white hot,burning our bodies,subjecting us to its relentless persecution.Panting, I measured my progress,yard by yard, calculating the sun’s position. taking stock of the painful blisters on my bloodstained palms. My hands were plastered with a filthy mixture of sweat and soil; my fingers were knotted and stiff from the effort of grasping the plough.Dripping with perspiration that rapidly turned to slime, I dreamed of the cool waters of the river. And yet I never paused in my ploughing which had to be finished before the first heavy rains. Not a minute to waste, even if we dropped dead from exhaustion as soon as the crops were brought in….
The rainy season set in, with its continuous, devastating downpours. We had to work fast. As soon as the ploughing were finished ,we had only a few days for the sowing and then we had to build huts on stilts at different points in the huge filed. During the germination period a group of us youngsters had to be on guard all day. We got to the field before daybreak and only returned to the village well after dark.
When the seeds sprouted the field took on a quite different appearance: a green carpet spread over the whole cultivated surface.the cereals brought us our first hopes of a good harvest.We still had months of struggle against the birds and the monkeys. Real pests they were. Our first job was to stop them getting a foothold. Our troubles began at sunrise, and we were then engaged in a desperate life or death struggle.first of all we made our presence known by setting up a deafening din, beating our tom-toms at different places in the field. This had the desired effect; birds flew off while the monkeys reacted with cries of distress. to keep our enemies in continual fear of the human menace we spent the rest of the day aiming stones at them with our catapults…
At last it was time to harvest our crops. Neighbouring farmers joined forces with our local community. We turned out in our hundreds and laboured from dawn to dusk to complete the last stage of the rural work. In a few days the whole job was finished; crops of rice and millet were stored away in the canaries. From now on the women took over.Taros,yams,sweet-potatoes and casava had to be planted before the end of the rainy season.
Once the crops had been got in we set about allocating the various shares. But we soon had to modify our original portions. The fayct is, we suddenly started receiving a stream of visitors; town-dwellers, country-folk,adventurers,distant acquaintances, holy men,local big wigs, native officials, quacks, crooks, pedlars, fortune-tellers, a host of uninvited guests who suddenly remembered our existence. Our visitors spent a night with us, enjoying free board, lodging and laundry,then the next day expounded on their little troubles and submitted the material and moral assets that they be prepared to turn to cash. As we hadn a brass farthing to offer when the time came for their departure we had to part with some rice and millet. These profiteers called down Godś blessing on us and all our descendants.It was understood that they would be back at the same time, next harvest season.
Only two-thirds now remained of the total proceeds of all our efforts, the rest had vanished in gifts. We set about sharing all over again. The next day we made our way to the nearest village,a sizable flourishing centre called Fronguiabi, with a railway station. I felt that I was moving from one world to another. The way the inhabitants of htis place behaved was quite different from anything that I had known before. Most of them wore trousers, shirts and plastic sandals bought with « money » instead of the caftans, ,flowing robes and baggy trousers I was used to. You could just go into a shop and choose anything . If anyone had told me this, I’d never have believed it.
We made our way to the market to meet the local merchants.As soon as we arrived, one of the dealers called us into his store and told us to empty our sacks. His employees crushed a few grains of rice with a pestle and mortar to see how white they were. They had to find something wrong at all costs. They weighed and pinched the hulled grains between their fingers, trying to discover some defect.The dealer somewhat contemptuously added his bit : » This rice isn very white; it’s a poor crop ! »
the leading elder of our community looked crestfallen; he tugged at his goatee-beard and countered, half to himself, »Yet it’s a good harvest, the earth gave freely this year. »
The merchant tipped the rice from one hand to the other and then said rather grudgingly as if acting against his better judgment, « I’ll take it, just to do you a favour, but on my terms. » the price he offered was mere nothing.
…………… We sat down under a tree. I watched the grown-ups counting our earnings over and over again.A wretched return for a year’s labour. We couldn’t even afford to buy a meal. We weighed up the price of our efforts that the corpulent merchant had been good enough to pay « on his own terms « .