Sunday, November 28, 2010

Gente de la caña

Cane in flower is a beautiful sight, and at this time of year the graceful cane stalks topped by their white banners are everywhere in the lowlands of El Salvador. Cane and coffee are the two main cash crops in El Salvador, both harvested at the beginning of the dry season, from November through January.

Workers burn the cane fields before harvesting to burn away the dry leaves, leaving the stalk easy to harvest and the roots ready to push up next year's crop. The harvesting is said to be the hardest work in this country filled with hard-working people. A planted field will produce cane for 4-6 years, and then must be replanted.

Burned cane leaves drift into everyone's house throughout the season, leaving little piles of soot in courtyards. Getting stuck behind a huge and very slow truck carrying cane stalks to the refinery where they are processed into table sugar (and molasses and rum) is another predictable misery of these months. Still, the cane is almost emblematic of El Salvador - a current advertising campaign - perhaps produced by the government (though I'm not sure about that) talks about Salvadorans as the gente de la caña, the people of the cane.

Between coffee and cane, and with the added help of yearly bonuses that most employers pay out in December, this is the rich time for Salvadorans, the time of fiestas and firecrackers, dances and gifts and parties.

1 comment:

  1. Alex and I were talking with David today (A's campo brother), as well as a couple neighbors coming from the cañales in El Barío. They were talking about the burning pre-harvest and saying that some people burn before the proper time, so that they can get started early. (Apparently this is illegal, though.) None of them were impressed by the idea of doing that.