1 May 2018

50. Roast Chicken Wings

The two villages, San Andrés on the right and Isora on the left, where Ramón Barbuzano spent much of his life, appear to be resisting the ominous shaddows cast by encroaching cloud.
“The Herreño is someone who expects you to turn the pages so that he can read the newspaper.” At first I thought my friend’s judgment harsh but I later came to understand there was more than a little truth in it. The islander shows very little initiative: he will let others innovate and, if the experiment works, only then will he adopt the idea. He is wily and manipulative, looking only after his own interests, even at the expense of friends and relatives. The Herreño is not lazy, but to be employed is a last resort: the emigrant islander was almost invariably a market stall-holder, taxi-driver, shopkeeper or taverner.

The only explanation I can find for this is that it is a response to centuries of abject misery.  Earlier posts in this blog suggest the historical hostility of the environment, the droughts and famines. It stands to reason that if your family is on the verge of starvation you are unlikely to invest your last seeds in experiments into new methods of cultivation. Solidarity has its limits if sharing the little food you have means your children will go without. And if there’s a chance windfall going for nothing, you’re not going to let someone else get there first. But what I have hardly mentioned before is the pitiless exploitation of the humble people by landowners, traders, money-lenders and ‘authorities’. Not, of course, that in this respect El Hierro is different from anywhere else - it just lasted longer.

I recently read a book by Ramón Barbuzano Morales, “El Precio del Silencio” (The Price of Silence) which relates the author’s life from 1916 to his death in 2014. The book shatters the romantic, harmonious, Rousseaulian picture of life in El Hierro that many would have us believe. Despite a certain understandable repetitiveness and victimization, Barbuzano describes in brutally clear language the penurious life of a peasant family in the cruel, hypocritical, oppressive social structure throughout much of the twentieth century. Curiously, the ancestral strategies and values that had made existence possible, though not always livable, still linger on, even among younger generations, despite the collective memory of the islanders going back no further than the 1970’s, or at the very most to the emigration of the 1940’s.

Curiously, reading between the lines, it is clear that Ramón was no different from those he so bitterly criticizes. He was a man of his circumstances and, like others, he created a better life for himself and his wife by emigrating and astute management during more recent years of bonanza. Of his quotes, the pearl must be: “Si te dan las alas de su pollo, quieren la pechuga del tuyo.” (If they give you the wings of their roast chicken, it’s because they want the breast of yours.)

El Precio del Silencio, Ramón Barbuzano Morales, 2017, Ibukku – available in paperback and Kindle editions

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