Persia/Chapter 40

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Persia, Part 5 by Frederic Shoberl
Chapter I.—Agriculture

PART V.

ARTS AND SCIENCES.


CHAPTER I.

AGRICULTURE.

The extreme dryness of the climate and the groat deficiency of rivers, have obliged the Persian husbandmen to turn all their I ingenuity to the discovery of springs, and to the art of bringing their streams to the surface of the earth. To this end, when a spring has been discovered, they dig a well until they come to water; and if they find that the quantity is sufficient to repay them for proceeding with the work, they dig a second well, at such a distance from the other as to allow a subterranean communication between both. They then ascertain the nearest line of communication with the level of the plain upon which the water is to be brought into use, and dig a succession of wells with a subterraneous communication between the whole series, till the water at length comes to the surface, when it is conducted by embanked channels to the place of its destination.

The extent of country through which such streams are sometimes conducted, is truly astonishing. Mouths of wells are frequently to be seen in lonely valleys, and may be traced in various windings into the plain. Such is the consequence of a new kanaut or aqueduct, that the day when the water is brought to its ultimate destination is a day of rejoicing among the peasants. The astrologers are consulted to name a fortunate hour for the appearance of the stream, and when it comes forth, it is received with songs and music, attended by shouts of joy and exclamations of Mobatrek bashed! "Prosperity attend it!"

The labour and expense of a kanaut, of course depends greatly upon the distance whence the water is to be brought. The mode of making the well is very simple. A shaft is first dug, then a wooden trundle is placed over it, from which is suspended a leather bucket which is filled with the excavated matter by a man below and wound up by another above. Where the soil is soft, the mouth of the well is secured by masonry.

The mode of drawing water from these wells is as follows:—Two posts support a cylinder, which turns on an axis and is placed over the mouth of the well. From this cylinder descends a cord of sufficient length to reach the bottom, having a bucket fastened to one end, and being tied at the other to the collar or yoke of an ox. To ease the labour of the animal as much as possible, he is made to go along a direct path down a slope; and to prevent his deviating from it, the lateral ring of his collar runs upon a rope one end of which is fastened to one of the posts mentioned above, and the other to a stake fixed at the farther end of the path. Thus when the ox draws, the slope naturally hurries him along, and the vessel full of water is raised with much less exertion of strength than would otherwise be required.

The buckets are no other than large skins, the mouth of which is held open by a wooden hoop with two cross-bars. They are used of two shapes: some being formed almost like a funnel, terminating in a curved tube closed by a cock; the others resembling a large tub: but the use of the former requires a second contrivance, consisting of two upright posts and a cylinder on an axis, placed over a reservoir situated near the well. A cord fastened to the end of the tube winds round this small cylinder, passes over the larger, and is tied to the collar of the ox: the purpose of this cord is to draw the skin filled with water out of the well, to be emptied by the tube into the reservoir.

In spots more favoured by nature, situated at the foot of snow-covered mountains, the industry of the Persian is successfully exerted. In the defiles of the mountains, wherever the situation permits, the snow-water and rain-water are detained by walls, and when their quantity is sufficient to form streams, channels are dug by which they may be drawn off.

The ploughing is performed by means of a share drawn by two oxen, harnessed not by the horns, but to a yoke that passes over the chest. This share is very short, and its coulter but slightly cuts the ground.

As the furrows are made, the clods are broken with large wooden beaters, and the surface is smoothed with the spade and a harrow that has very small teeth. Thus prepared, the ground, divided into squares, looks like garden-beds, with borders a foot or more in height, according to the quantity of water required for irrigating it.

The sickle used in Persia is unlike ours, being scarcely bent in the blade. Threshing is performed by a machine composed of a large square wooden frame, which contains two cylinders, placed parallel to each other, and having a rotatory motion. They are stuck full of spikes with sharp square points, but not all of a length. These rollers have the appearance of the barrel of an organ, and their projections, when brought in contact with the corn, break the stalk and disengage the ear. They are put in motion by a couple of cows or oxen yoked to the frame, and guided by a man sitting on the plank that covers the frame which contains the cylinders. He drives this agricultural equipage in a circle round a heap of corn, keeping at a certain distance from its verge, close to which a second peasant stands, holding a long-handled pronged fork, shaped like the spread sticks of a fan; and with which he throws the unbound sheaves forward, to meet the rotatory motion of the machine. He has a shovel also ready, to remove to a distance the corn that has already passed the wheel. Other men are on the spot with the like implement, with which they throw the corn aloft in the air, when the wind blows away the chaff, and the grain falls to the ground. This process is repeated till the corn is completely winnowed; it is then gathered up, and deposited for use in large earthen jars.

Sir R. Porter mentions one district, where he remarked as a singularity a very clumsy sort of cart employed for carrying corn. It moves on two solid wheels, while the body and the pole take the shape of a long triangle; and is drawn by oxen or buffaloes. In no other part of Persia, did he find so useful an assistant to husbandry as even this rude vehicle.

The vale of Khoi, about fifteen miles in length and ten in breadth, is described as equal to any spot of similar extent, either in Persia or in any other country, for richness of cultivation. It produces great quantities of corn, cotton, and rice. The soil is so stiff, that it sometimes requires ten pair of buffaloes to drag the plough-share through it. When the plough is at work, two or three men, according to the length of the team, are seated upon the yokes, exciting their cattle by a loud song, which, in the stillness of the morning, has a very pleasing effect. Their plough is an instrument of more mechanism than that of the south of Persia, and furrows the earth much more effectually. The corn grows thicker and better than in any other parts, owing, doubtless, to the superiority of this implement, and also to the abundance of water with which this plain is blessed.

Pigeon-houses are erected in Persia, at a distance from human habitations, for the sole purpose of collecting pigeon's dung for manure. There are many such in the environs of Ispahan. They are large round towers, rather broader at the bottom than at the top, and crowned by conical spiracles, through which the pigeons descend. Their interior resembles a honeycomb, pierced with a thousand holes, each of which forms a snug retreat for a nest. More care appears to have been bestowed upon their outside, than upon the generality of the dwelling-houses, for they are painted and ornamented. The extraordinary flights of pigeons, and the compactness of their mass, give them the appearance of clouds, and actually obscure the sun in their passage.

The Persians do not eat pigeons, keeping them solely for their dung, which is the dearest manure in this country; and as they employ it entirely in the rearing of melons, it is probably on this account that the melons of Ispahan are so much finer than those of other countries. The revenue of a pigeon-house is about one hundred toomauns per annum; and the great value of this dung, which rears a fruit indispensable to the existence of the natives during the great heats of summer, may probably throw some light upon that passage of Scripture which relates, that during the famine in Samaria, "the fourth part of a cab of dove's dung was sold for five pieces of silver." 2 Kings, vi. 25.

Sir Robert Porter describes a method by which the villagers who keep bees take the honey without destroying the industrious insects. The hives are constructed like long thin barrels thrust through the mud walls of the house; one end opens to the air for the entrance of the bees, and the other, which projects more than a foot into the inhabited rooms, is closed with a cake of clay. When the owner wishes to take the honey, he has only to make a continued noise for some little time at the closed end, which causes all the bees to take flight at the other. During their absence he removes the clay, and clears the hive of honey, leaving, however, sufficient for their winter supply. The inner end is re-closed, and the little labourers soon return to their home to commence their operations anew.