Page:A Study of Mexico.djvu/39

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29
SERVITUDE THROUGH DEBT.

labors of the fields on all days except feast-days. The proprietor agrees to pay the salary, supply the stipulated allowances, and make necessary advances in money, clothing, and tools. This contract is not always made with the above formalities. Sometimes the account is simply receipted as paid by the new master, the laborer being subject to the customs of the country, and at liberty to leave when he shall wish to and can obtain a new master to pay him out The wife of the laborer, except when otherwise stipulated, is obliged to give her services in work suitable to her sex. . . .

"This system is very inconvenient for the proprietors. There is an immediate necessity of spending at least eight thousand dollars to obtain a supply of forty laborers, and it is often impossible to immediately obtain this number. Hence the custom, only agreeable to those born in the locality, to go on gathering one by one, until, after many years, they have sufficient hands to work a first-class property, which is enlarged as the number of laborers is increased. By this means a large sum has been invested in persons who offer no other security than their personal labor, and the proprietor finds himself obliged to exercise great vigilance, organizing the holding in such way as to make the servant feel that his liberty of action is restrained* The only way he has to get out of such a condition is to flee, leaving everything dear to him, including his family. . . .

"Another inconvenience experienced, not less grave, is caused by death of the laborers.

"And in spite of all this, no proprietor of this locality will accept any laborer born here who does not have a debt against him. What are the causes which have created this custom or necessity? The most important causes are the scarcity of laborers, the natural indolence of the indigenous Indian race, and, most important of all, the fertility of the soiL Whether from the excessive heat of the sun or from other causes, there exists among inhabitants of intertropical America a marked disposition to inaction. This is aided by the fertility of the soil and the ease with which sufficient may be obtained to satisfy the few necessities of those who are happy if they have enough for the day. It is therefore natural that man should live thus here; that there should be no spirit of enterprise: and that agriculture, the source of riches, should remain stationary for want of labor.

"Many proprietors work vainly trying to increase their holdings, but the great scarcity of hands prevents; and this, too, in spite of the nearness of populous towns. The poor people in these refuse to work