"Residence in Bulgaria", St. Clair and Brophy



Taxes on Agriculture - Neglect of Manure - Ploughing - “Why grow more?" - Reaping - Six weeks' feast - Grain carried - Threshing - Vintage - Sheep Farming - Who is the injured party?

THE great mistake committed by most writers who attempt to estimate the position of the Rayah peasant, and especially by the authors of the British Consular Reports from Turkey in 1867, is that he is always looked upon merely in the light of a tax-payer, and not of a farmer of Government lands, although it is this latter condition which more especially affects his politico-economical status.

In some districts the Rayahs rent land from the Beys - the Mussulman landed gentlemen of Turkey - and are taxed at the same rate as those who are tenants of the Government, but it is a financial mistake by which the Beys suffer more than their tenants. In most parts of Turkey and throughout Bulgaria, the Rayah peasants hold lands directly from the Crown. We shall therefore take this case as the rule, and by analysis divide the taxes paid by the Christian subject to the Turkish Government into two distinct classes: -

1st. Taxes paid by him as subject of the Sultan.
2nd. Taxes paid by him as a farmer of Government lands.

In the first category are
A. The Bedel Askerie or tax paid by every adult Christian as exemption from military service; it varies from 20 to 30 piastres; the average may be taken as 
B. The income tax upon the head of the family (Chorbaji), which like that of Russia, varies according to the quantity of land sown, &c., &c., and averages



In the second category are
a. The tithe on produce.
b. The Beylik, which includes the taxes upon sheep, pigs, vineyards, &c.

Thus it will be seen that in reality the Rayah is very lightly taxed; for roughly he pays no more than eighty piastres per house, i. e. fifty piastres for two [Assuming an average of two adult males to the family.] exemption taxes, and thirty piastres of income tax, or in English money at the present rate of exchange about fourteen shillings and sixpence, and even this calculation is a little exaggerated.

He pays nothing for the land he occupies except the tapou, or registration tax of thirty paras per dulum, about four pence an acre. This sum is only once exacted, and is not an annual imposition; upon its payment the Rayah is considered as bona fide proprietor of his lands. Taking this into account, the rent-taxes, as he may term the tithes, Beylik, &c., will be seen to be very small.

To understand this better, let us take the case of any average Bulgarian peasant. He “owns " (that is, he has appropriated and paid for at the rate above mentioned of thirty paras per dulum, which amounts to the gross sum of 2 l 10 s.) 150 acres of land. Of this he cultivates in grain fifty acres yearly, and pays as a rent-tax one-tenth of the produce; potatoes and other vegetables pay no tithe, and are generally grown only by the Bakchavan, or professional market-gardener. Thus for the 150 acres he farms from Government he pays only one-tenth of the produce of fifty acres; the rest is rent free.

Again, he has 1000 acres or more of pasture land, for which he pays at the rate of three piastres (6d.) per sheep, and four piastres (8d.) per pig; cows, horses, and buffaloes paying no tax. This is not a very large sum in itself, and as the Rayah claims and exercises the right of cutting as much wood as he chooses from this land, a few cartloads sold at the nearest town soon pay the tax to which he is liable for his sheep and pigs. Thus he in reality enjoys an almost unlimited amount of grazing land from the Crown gratis.

Surely no farmer in the world is placed in a more favourable position, and if the Rayah is not rich, it is the fault of his own innate laziness and of the 185 feast days of the Greek calendar. Let him and his friends then blame the Patriarch and not the Padischah, for the only really heavy imposition from which he suffers is that laid upon him by the Papas and the Metropolitan.

The Turkish villages are taxed in the same degree, except that they often possess lands as grants for distinguished military services, or by genuine purchase. We shall allude hereafter to their position when speaking of the great revolution effected by Sultan Mahmoud, and of the spoliation of the Osmanli by his own Government for the benefit of the Rayah. But by his military service the Turk is deprived of more than half a year's labour for each year of his adult life. [Vide Chapter XI. on the Military Service of the Turk.] Fortunately for the Mussulmans, and in the Authors, opinion for the world, he works harder and better than the Rayah, or his race would have been long since effaced from the ethnological map of Europe.

The Rayah system of agriculture is perhaps unique. The plough, as has been already mentioned, is of the rudest and simplest kind that can be imagined. The team consists of four or six oxen or buffaloes, according to the quality of the land to be ploughed. In the selection of the fields he intends to till, the Bulgarian farmer appears to trust himself very much to chance, or to be influenced by the convenience of the moment. He will not plough the ground from which he obtained last year's crop, and he will not plough fields which though once put under culture, have remained fallow for ten years; perhaps he has a fancy for a piece of ground yet uncleared, and in such a case he burns down the big trees, and digs up the thorn bushes till he considers the field fit for cultivation. Manure is to be found in great heaps everywhere in his village, merely waiting to be carted, but he disdains such adventitious aids to nature because he never heard that manure did any good, or because he thinks that it "burns the ground;" an idea which we have proved here, on a small scale, to be utterly fallacious, though unfortunately our experiment failed to convince the agriculturists of Derekuoi, who are all content to raise grain as it was raised by their grandfathers, and who look with distrust upon all new-fangled appliances, calling them “marifetler" a word susceptible of many different translations, but in this case most aptly rendered by the slang term "dodges."

At last, however, our farmer determines to plough a field in preference to any other, and he sets out, with his plough, his buffaloes, and four human aides-de-camp. Arrived at the scene of action, the buffaloes start, not without a painful effort. One man guides the devious ploughshare, a second walks at the head of the leaders, a third surveys the wheelers knowingly from a little distance, a fourth pulls out his bagpipes and lightens the labour by playing the air appropriate to the favourite Bulgarian ballad of Deli Marco, whilst the fifth relates in a plaintive falsetto how King Marco kicked in with his feet the iron gates of Adrianople, took the city, and was finally slain by the infidel Mussulmans. Not far off sits an old woman with her distaff, who has come out apparently to see that everything is done properly, or to hear “King Marco," for it would not be easy otherwise to explain the necessity of her presence. She is always busy, however, as indeed are the females of most civilized or semi-civilized countries, and she works with a perseverance and rapidity which the male labourers are far from emulating.

One of the effects of the misgovernment of this country is that every Rayah is the owner of more land than he knows what to do with, and therefore it is not to be expected that he should make the most of every acre. When he has turned one furrow, he ploughs on the other side of the ridge, so that his field is turned with just half the labour which an Englishman would give to the same surface. But even of this work, as of every other, Rayah human nature will not stand more than an hour at a time. King Marco is not yet killed, for the Slavonic ballads are almost endless in the mouth of a chanter gifted with a memory which embraces the whole of their innumerable stanzas, and his tragical death is left unsung, whilst the exhausted musician and tired labourers gather strength for new efforts by repose and application to their wooden flasks of wine.

In an adjoining field is another gang of toilers, who are easily induced to cease from their labour and join our lotus eaters. The females of each party draw near and help to enliven the conversation, but they do not leave off their work.

After half an hour's rest the ploughing is resumed, King Marco is slain, and is resuscitated and again before the walls of Edirna by the time that another interval of dolce far niente is considered necessary.

The amount of grain sown by the Bulgarian per acre is nearly three times that employed for the same purpose by the English farmer, and the amount of produce reaped equals the average of a good year in England: but, besides the smaller surface of land actually ploughed by the former, we must remember that his furrows are mere scratches about four inches deep, that the harrow is an instrument unknown, and that the seed is devoured by a countless flock of crows, pigeons and other birds, which he never takes the trouble to drive off or keep away even by the simple expedient of a scare-crow.

The bounteous crops with which these provinces are blessed are the results of a most fertile soil and a most favourable climate: little is due to the labour of the Rayah: [if it were possible to kill all the pigeons who feed upon an acre of sown land in Bulgaria, to take out the grain from their crops, to throw it out haphazard upon any piece of ground which has once been in cultivation, even if it have lain fallow for years, and to prevent other birds from coming to it, the produce in corn would be at least as great, acre for acre, as that of any land tilled by the Rayahs; this may seem an absurd way of stating a question, but it is very near the truth.] a little  more work and a little more intelligence would treble his produce, but if you try to explain this to a Rayah, he will answer you, “Why should he trouble himself? if he wants to sow more grain he has plenty of land: what he sows is enough for himself, his family, the taxes, and to sell it the town, and if he raised more grain he would have to pay more Beylik!" As you can seldom get beyond this last piece of logic with a Bulgarian it is perhaps best to leave him alone until his calculating powers are developed by some system of education other than that at present in force.

The culture of Indian corn requires rather more trouble and attention than that of wheat, and for this reason it is commonly left by the Rayah to the women: for the same cause and from its being less certain of success but little of it is grown by the Christians, and the Mussulman villagers are by far the larger producers of this cereal.

The cutting of the grain is the occasion of a general picnic of the villagers; the whole family, from the grandparents down to the two-months-old lady, turn out and encamp under the shade of some spreading tree near the cornfields: wine, bread, and sour crout are in abundance, and neither King Marco nor the bag-pipes are absent. After an interval of recreation, the women, girls, and children take up their sickles and begin to work, whilst the men and youths smoke their cigarettes in the shade, with that pleasant feeling enjoyed by a lazy man who sees others perspiring under a hot June sun, whilst he is stretched at full length in some cool place with plenty of tobacco and light wine within reach.

In about a week the corn is reaped and the sheaves bound up, but it would be gunah, a sin, to carry the grain immediately, and so it is left upon the fields for six weeks. These six weeks are employed by the peasants in dancing, feasting, and drinking; and to set about any work, except perhaps that of cutting down the Sultan's forests for the benefit of town or village hearths would be wrong in the eyes of the Papas. In the mean time however the sheaves are not left untouched, for millions, literally millions, of turtle doves, apparently attracted by the unlimited supply of food placed within their reach, conjecrate in every field: what the farmer loses by their meals is not easily calculated, but to gastronomic epicures we can heartily recommend the Bulgarian grain-fed turtle-dove as an excellent though little known dish.

At last the six weeks' feasting is ended, the tax-collectors have taken their tenth, and the grain is brought home from the fields: then begins the work of threshing; the earth of the hurdle-fenced inclosures before each house is beaten and stamped down until it acquires the solidity necessary for a threshing-floor, and the herds of half-wild horses which during the rest of the year roam loose in the forest are driven into the village, which for some ten days is almost unapproachable, the air being filled with flying chaff and dust, and the ears ringing with the guttural cries of the peasants urging their team of twelve or fifteen reeking horses round and round the enclosures.

The sifting of the grain is entirely the work of the unmarried girls, and when this final operation is finished, it is housed in the queer wooden granaries constructed for the purpose. Then comes the calculation of how much is to be kept for household use, how much must go to the merchant who lent 4 l. in November to be repaid 10 l. in July, how much to the Bakal to pay the house-father's account for wine, tobacco, and mastica, during the past year, and finally how much will remain for sale to the corn merchants of the town.

When the Harman is over, the Bulgarian has little to do except to enjoy himself in his manner during another three weeks' feast and to wait until his grapes are ripe, or rather till he supposes they ought to be ripe, for he seldom waits till they are properly matured, not being particular as to the quality of his wine, so that it be sufficiently heady to afford him the luxury of getting drunk upon it.

The vintage occupies only two or three days and is another universal picnic, which takes place in the Baghla or vineyard: this vineyard, which also contains the peaches, melons, and apricots of the village, is generally situated at some little distance, and guarded by a Bekji or watcher. Even in the Rayah villages the Bekji is invariably a Mussulman, as the Christians themselves allow that they could not trust one of their own faith, who would certainly allow himself to be bribed by the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages, and suffer them to come with carts during the night to carry off the grapes and other fruits: the Turk or Arnaout, however, is incorruptible, even in the opinion of the Rayah.

The average pay of a Bekji for his eight or ten weeks' guard is five kiles of grain, in value about 4 l. 5 s., a small proportion of the grapes, and his food gratis: his duty is to stay in the vineyard night and day, to watch the vines and shoot all foxes, village doors, or other thieves and trespassers, who may come into the enclosure. If the vineyard is very large, the Bekji constructs a sort of perch eight or ten feet high from which he looks out for intruders; his sleeping apartment is a lean-to of thatch, in shape like a French tente d'abri.

The process of making wine is simple: the press is the primitive one of men's feet; and in our neighbourhood white and purple grapes are mixed indiscriminately in all stages of greenness, ripeness, or rottenness: excellent wine might be made if the peasants knew anything about the proper method of manufacture, but like all the other resources of Turkey this branch of industry is extremely neglected. As the Rayah is not even aware of any other way to prevent wine turning acid, he puts into it a bitter herb when the fermentation has ceased, and of course thereby utterly destroys any claims to excellence which under other treatment it might have acquired. The Bakal, to suit the taste of his customers, adds another herb which has the effect of making the wine more heady and more rapidly inebriating, for drunkenness is too often the only object of the Rayah who drinks; he might say with the Negro, "Me drinkee for drunkee, me no drinkee for dry."

Sheep farming is carried on extensively in Bulgaria, the system adopted being equally primitive with that of ploughing. The sheep are turned out upon the pasture-land of the village under the superintendence of a herdsman (the Choban) whose duty it is to look after them just as much or as little as he likes. The vocation of a Choban is one much affected by the Rayah youths and men, as he has nothing to do but to saunter lazily after his sheep, leaving to his dogs the care of collecting stragglers, and he has consequently unlimited time at his disposal for the concoction of variations upon the air of Deli Marco; the choban is never to be found without a bagpipe or a flute, with which he solaces his lonely hours and scares away eagles and wolves from his flock.

The male lambs are sold, and the females kept, as the latter pay no tax until they have lambed: the milk of the ewes is mixed with that of goats, and a very indifferent sort of cheese and yaourt (a kind of curds and whey) is made from it. The wool is used for household purposes or sold; in either case it is not cleaned, as the Rayah cleverly argues that the dirt in it will make the weight heavier: he does not however proceed so far with his reasoning as to reflect that the price he receives per oke is much less than that paid for the cleaned wool of the Turkish villages.

The only animal to which the Bulgarian pays any real attention is his buffalo, which in winter occasionally enjoys the luxury of a little straw to eat, a gift denied to his cattle and sheep; but little hay is made, and that little is usually sold in the towns; turnips are utterly unknown, and it is hardly too much to say that if snow were to lie on the ground for two consecutive months there would probably not be 500 cattle or sheep left alive in the whole of Bulgaria.

We have now seen the Rayah “at work" passing the small portion of the year not given up to unmitigated idleness in a lazy imitation of labour; his working days are picnics enlivened by music and wine, and he exerts himself just enough to return to his hut with a good appetite.

Let us compare this Rayah, as we know him to be, with the idealized Eastern Christian for whom Europe is almost ready to enter upon a nineteenth-century crusade.

Everywhere, but above all in this country which is only known to the West by the pictures of Hellene magic lanterns and Russian phantasmagoria, the romantic becomes in the highest degree absurd when viewed as it really is, and not as it appears when seen by the deceptive light of sentiment or of political interest.

Observe the Rayah in his fields, in his cottage built of mud and plastered over with cow-dung or lying drunk at the door of the Bakal; how different is this animal from the pensive Christian, oppressed by the infidel, enduring martyr-torments with a martyr's courage, and secretly brooding over the glorious memories of his obscured nationality, whilst he breathes a patriot prayer, such as that by which the people of Poland made Russia tremble and almost raised a feeling of sympathy in the heart of the Governments of the West, despite the triple shield of indifference which guards them from all pity save for "the sufferings of the Rayah."

Yet such is the light in which the Rayah is presented to the eyes of Europe by travellers who pass through the country as quickly as - as the state of the roads will permit them and whose only remembrance of it is a vague souvenir of picturesque costumes, of songs sung in a language which they did not understand, and some pamphlets written or profound remarks suggested by a Greek or Russian Consul. To those who have studied the Rayah question deeply, seriously, and impartially, a very grave social question presents itself: Is it right to give too much to a man? Too much time, too much liberty, too much land, too much of everything? And especially is this right, when such a man abuses the gift and employs the resources confided to him merely to keep himself in idleness?

Such is the question which in spite of the early prejudices of education and ignorance must strike any one who has conscientiously studied a Rayah village. In our opinion one of the gravest economical faults, or perhaps even crimes, of the Turkish Government is the unbounded license which its mistaken generosity has granted to its Christian subjects. Work is the law of humanity: yet the twelve millions of Christian subjects of the Sultan escape this elsewhere universal necessity by the lenity of a Government which Europe has been taught to consider tyrannical and oppressive.

The English or French labourer must work six days in the week, or 313 days in the year, in order that England and France may “live": the Rayah works one day in three or 120 days in the year; is this fair to the labourer of France and England?

European Turkey occupies perhaps a fifth of the wheat-producing surface of Europe, and is by Nature intended to be the granary of the world: thanks to the idleness of the Rayah it produces less than one-third, or even but one-fourth of the amount of grain which should be grown upon it: thus, 3/4 of 1/5, or that is 15 per cent. of the entire produce of Europe, are lost by the nullity of the Rayah considered as a labourer, and with the consent of the Turkish Government. One of the consequences of this loss is that the French and English labourer pays 15 per cent. more for his loaf of bread than he ought to do.

The non-value of the Rayah as producer affects then the price of bread in Europe to the extent of 15 per cent., but as we see from the last chapter, Oriental Commerce, the plague of Europe, raises this percentage to 20 or even 25. The Eastern grain trade is chiefly dependent upon the Rayah, and we may therefore consider him not only as a social non-value, but as an active instrument of evil to Europe.

If the Rayah worked as he ought to work, England and France would buy their bread 20 per cent. cheaper, which means that the labouring classes in these countries would live one day more in six; and this 20 per cent. might perhaps even do much in checking pauperism; this aspect of the Rayah is probably a novel one, but surely it merits serious consideration. [If the fall of prices were checked at a certain point by diminished prediction in other regions following as its consequence, and if the labourer were prevented from receiving the full benefit of the fall even to this point by a fall in wages also following from it, he would even then, we maintain, be considerably a gainer, and is by comparison at present a sufferer to a very appreciable extent.]

The resume of this chapter is easily made: we say that the Rayah, far from being oppressed by his Government, is in reality the oppressor of Europe. Let those who can not merely deny, but disprove the exactness of our data, draw a different conclusion.

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