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The Presence of the Past in a Spanish Village

The Presence of the Past in a Spanish Village: (Published in cloth as Santa Maria del Monte)

Ruth Behar
Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 466
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  • Book Info
    The Presence of the Past in a Spanish Village
    Book Description:

    This study of a northern Spanish community shows how the residents of Santa MarÃa del Monte have acted together at critical times to ensure the survival of their traditional forms of social organization. The survival of these forms has allowed the villagers, in turn, to weather demographic, political, and economic crises over the centuries.

    Originally published in 1991.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6239-9
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-18)

    LIKE all ethnographies, this book is a product of a particular historical moment. I carried out my fieldwork in a small village in the foothills of the Cantabrian Mountains of northern Spain at a time when its people were coming to terms with the fact that the way of life they and their ancestors had known was slipping from the present and becoming part of an all too well-defined past. The search for an understanding of the dialectic of past and present had taken on a certain urgency, for suddenly there was a historical paradox to solve: how could the...

  7. Part One

    • Chapter 1 A Portrait of a Landscape and of a People
      (pp. 21-40)

      IT WAS late June and I was riding in a cart with a village man, his team of cows pulling us slowly along the rocky, winding path. We were on our way to a meadow in that part of Santa María’s landscape known as San Pelayo, where his brother and sister-in-law, having left earlier by donkey, were haymaking. As the cart jolted us up and down, my companion spoke to me of how his world had started to change forty years ago, “when petroleum came.” Reflecting on the longevity of certain features of the local economy, he went on: “How...

  8. Part Two

    • Chapter 2 The Village House
      (pp. 43-53)

      TRAVELING through central León at the close of the eighteenth century, Joseph Townsend described the adobe houses of its towns and villages as being “equally of mud wall, and mouldering away.”¹ He was clearly not impressed. The contemporary view is more appreciative, tending to celebrate the remarkable fluidity of mud-wall houses. For example, Carlos Flores, the scholar of popular house forms, remarks that architectural “structures made of mud, with their bulges, deformations, tiny cracks and wrinkles, seem to attain an intermediate state between inert matter and living organic being, a quality which is lacking in other building materials often considered...

    • Chapter 3 An Archaeology of the House
      (pp. 54-67)

      IN CENTRAL LEÓN one finds that it is not the house which gives its name to the family, as is true in Galicia and Cataluña where the house of stone outlives the generations of families that pass through it.¹ In the Leonese context, the relationship between house and family is reversed: it is the generations of families—the lineage and all its ramifications—that outlive the house, which is constantly passing through various hands, in the process changing its shape and dimensions. Through equal inheritance what constitutes the house in each generation is an altogether different thing. The house in...

    • Chapter 4 The Idiom of Equal Inheritance
      (pp. 68-88)

      AT WHATEVER POINT in the family life cycle the inheritance was divided, one main principle prevailed: each offspring ought to receive a share in every category of property the parents possessed. With respect to land, therefore, it was expected that each child should get a couple of dry cereal lands, at least one meadow, and if the parents were lucky enough to have it, a portion, however miniscule, of the all-too-scarce irrigated terrain. Household property, such as the yoke, the cart, or cooking utensils and, if there were many offspring, even the few cows, sheep, and goats in the house,...

    • Chapter 5 Parents and Children
      (pp. 89-103)

      WE HAVE been concerned up to now with the mechanics of partible inheritance in León, that is, with the related questions of what is inherited and how an equality of inheritance is achieved. It is time now to consider the broader social and cultural implications of the equal inheritance system and the problems and contradictions posed by it. For the inheritance system is profoundly affected by and in turn has profound effects upon the relationship between parents and children, on family structure and residence patterns, on the social structure, and on cultural conceptions of what kinship ought ideally to be...

    • Chapter 6 Setting Up House
      (pp. 104-122)

      THERE IS a popular saying that parents-in-law (or, less frequently, parents) are like potatoes, for they do not bear fruit until they are underground (los suegros son como las patatas, no dan fruto hasta que estan bajo tierra). This is a reference to the timing of the devolution of inheritance, which in León generally did not take place until at least one parent or even both had died. By this time the offspring were usually married and had formed families of their own, without the benefit of a share of the inheritance to support their fledgling houses. For, in fact,...

  9. Part Three

    • Chapter 7 The Concejo as an Assembly
      (pp. 125-146)

      SINCE THE TIME of the early Reconquest (tenth century), local government in León has been based in the assembly of village citizens known as theconcejo, or council. According to past and present Leonese usage, it is theconcejoas aconcejo abierto, an “open” assembly of all village citizens, every head of a house, representing themselves to themselves, and governing as a single body, that has served as the primary definition.

      Theconcejo abiertoquickly declined by the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in the larger towns and market centers of the kingdoms of León and Castile, giving way to...

    • Chapter 8 The Concejo as a Polity
      (pp. 147-159)

      TO A VERY GREAT EXTENT theconcejowas an acephalous political system. It was theconcejoandvecinosas a single body that ruled in most matters, and especially so in those of some importance to the whole community. And truly no one stood above theconcejo: it was the pinnacle of local power and authority, as it still is even today in many Leonese villages. All this is true to the tradition of the “open” assembly.

      Although an assembly, and as such ultimately acephalous, theconcejohas long had leaders and officers of various sorts, so many, in fact,...

    • Chapter 9 The Concejo as a Moral Presence
      (pp. 160-186)

      DESPITE all the disorder of meeting inconcejo, there was more government there than could meet the eye of a bishop, or an anthropologist, at first glance. There was almost, surprising as this may seem, too much government, though this was not by any means a permanent state of affairs. Too often assumed as a matter of course, the solidarity of the village community was in the worst of times absent, in the best of times, enforced.

      In the historical record for Santa María and many other Leonese villages, broken though it is by gaps, one sees a consistent pattern:...

  10. Part Four

    • Chapter 10 The Web of Use-Rights
      (pp. 189-202)

      WE TURN now to the subject of communal property and its attendant forms of cooperation and reciprocity. Here, without a shadow of a doubt, lies the crux of village life in León and in numerous other parts of Spain and Europe. A vast literature bears witness to the scholarly interest that this subject, as complex as it is intriguing, has aroused in the last hundred years.¹ But only infrequently do those pages offer us a glimpse of the local meaning, the sense that peasant villagers themselves gave to this symbolic language of communal rights and usages, in which so many...

    • Chapter 11 The Common Herds
      (pp. 203-225)

      IT WAS NOT just the land that was entangled in the web of use-rights but also the animals belonging to every family. In Santa María, as in other Leonese villages, the various classes of animals—the oxen, the young cows and calves, the mares and donkeys, the sheep and goats, even the pigs—went to pasture on the common stubble and fallow, on the common meadows and woods, in common herds. Each house sent its animals to graze with all the others and each house took turns playing the part of herder. This system of communal herding is thevecera....

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • Chapter 12 The Common Lands
      (pp. 226-241)

      “FROM YOU I have learned that equality is a necessary result of the common lands,” wrote Juan Antonio Posse of Llánaves, the village in the northwestern mountains of León where he was parish priest at the end of the eighteenth century. “For you live in a land men can scarcely inhabit,” he continued, casting a dire prophecy, “do not forget that your fate is writ in keeping the lands communal, and that as soon as you lose this community you will be reduced to a desert in which only vultures and wild beasts will dwell.”¹ It would be difficult to...

    • Chapter 13 The Common Woods
      (pp. 242-251)

      THE LAST of the clearances was carried out in 1955 and 1956 in a final effort to make the land produce enough bread for all—and not only in Santa María but throughout central León.¹ Though much land was cleared and the arable area considerably expanded in what was almost a century-long crisis of subsistence, the woods of Santa María, as of other wooded villages to the north of it, were never fully conquered by the plow. It was in the woods, after all, that the calves and untamed cows, the sheep and goats, the mules and donkeys, found grazing...

    • Chapter 14 The State and the Commons
      (pp. 252-264)

      SO FAR we have been focusing on the purely local view of the clearings and cuttings in the common woods in nineteenth-century León, and on the local awareness of the laws of the state regarding the commons. Yet, at the same time, the state was carrying out reforms that were invading all aspects of local life ever more effectively. One such reform was disentailment, a phenomenon that in Spain is still ideologically tinted and subjectively understood. There is a continuing scholarly debate on the subject, which boils down to the question of whether disentailment was responsible for major transformations in...

  11. Part Five

    • Chapter 15 The Presence of the Past
      (pp. 267-285)

      IN 1725 Miguel de Salas Celis, parish priest of Trobajo del Cerecedo and native of Santa María del Monte, had notarized his intention to endow the tomb of his parents, “and on it place a memorial stone with their coat of arms in order that in said tomb shall be buried all the descendents of his parents only through the line of Salas and Celis.”¹ Offering an endowment to the parish church fund of sixreales“a year perpetually and forever and ever,” which he founded on a meadow and a rye land, he seems to have expected that the...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 286-304)

    AFTER a three-year absence, I returned to Santa María in August of 1984. As we approached the village by highway I fell into the kind of reverie one experiences when returning to a landscape one has known well, and remembered and forgotten at the same time. I looked out at the familiar valleys and heather bushes, the yellow fields brimming with stalks of rye, the burnt-red soil, the fallows overgrown with wild flowers and weeds, the strange wavelike patterns sewn into the hillsides by erosion, water, time. Coming closer, I began to notice the unfamiliar, to see things that tested...

  13. Appendix A. Two Life Histories from Santa María
    (pp. 305-315)
    María Rivero
  14. Appendix B. Population and Economy
    (pp. 316-321)
  15. Appendix C. Distribution of Responses to the Ateneo Questionnaire of 1901-1902 in the Province of León
    (pp. 322-324)
  16. Afterword
    (pp. 325-338)

    A LATE Midwestern spring—yellows and reds at last, the forsythia in tangles, tulips raising their heads. I am tweezing the dried branches around the green vines. As I work I worry because I really don’t know what I am doing. I never expected to have a garden of my own. I grew up on an undistinguished edge of New York City in a series of noisy apartments smelling of onions and green peppers frying in olive oil. I don’t recall my parents having any houseplants until I was a teenager, when they went out and got two tall lanky,...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 339-386)
  18. Weights, Measures, and Monetary Units
    (pp. 387-390)
  19. Glossary
    (pp. 391-396)
  20. Principal Archival Sources
    (pp. 397-402)
  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 403-418)
  22. Index
    (pp. 419-427)