ALTHOUGH most of the people of Peru live on the high tableland beyond the coast range of the Andes, the country, as we know it, is chiefly confined to the coast.
It is made up almost wholly of little irrigated valleys, fed by the snow-water rivers on their way from the mountains through the desert to the sea. At the mouths of such rivers are the chief ports, and in the interior are numerous villages and towns. Lima, the capital, lies in the valley of the Rimac river. Paita, at the north, is the port for the valley of the Piura river, while Pacasmayo, where I am now writing, is at the mouth of the Jequetepec.
At the different ports of northern Peru our steamer took on thousands of bags of rice, boxes of tobacco, and quantities of skins and hides. At Paita we received a number of bales of red cotton, which came from the Piura valley, the chief cotton-raising section of Peru. Indeed, the irrigated lands of the desert seem to be the natural home of the cotton plant, which grows wild here, and often reaches the size of a small tree. Some of these trees, from fifteen to twenty feet high, have produced cot-ton from ten to twenty years. There is in Pacasmayo an hotel in the back-yard of which is a cotton tree from which, so the landlord says, cornes enough cotton annually to pay for all the eggs consumed in the hotel.
The native Peruvian cotton is not white, like ours. It is of different shades of brown, some being almost red in colour. The finest quality is raised in the Piura valley, the best yields coming after the seventh year’s rain. At such times the rivers flood the -country, bringing down rich slime from the mountains, and when the rains have ceased everyone starts to plant cotton. The demand for labour is such that many people go there for work, the wages paid being from twenty-five to thirty cents for a day of ten hours.
Raising cotton in Peru may be called the luxury of agriculture. The soil is so rich that the plants do not need manure or tillage. The ground is not ploughed; holes for the cotton-seeds .are simply dug with a spade, and the seeds are covered up. They soon sprout, and from one planting the farmers are sure of three good crops within the next year or so, the first crop maturing in nine months. After these three crops, there are irregular crops from the same plant or tree for a number of years. All that is necessary is to keep them trimmed, and to pick the cotton. In the lands along the river, which can be irrigated, the crops are regular, and from two to three crops a year are common. The cotton ripens, in fact, throughout most of the year, and you see buds, blossoms, and cotton-wool on the same tree at the same time. In the irrigated lands the yield is from 300 to 400 pounds to the acre. It is estimated that the growing and baling cost about a dollar in gold (4 shillings sterling) per bale.
Peruvian cotton is very valuable. It brings thirteen cents a pound at present, and has brought as high as twenty-three cents. It is especially valuable because it can be used as wool. Its fibre is so much more like that of wool than cotton, that when ginned it would easily pass for wool. It is used by the manufacturers of hats, hosiery, and underwear, to mix with wool, giving the articles into which it goes a finer lustre and a better finish, and rendering them less liable to shrink. The fibre is longer than that of any other cotton except the Sea Island and the. Egyptian; but the area in which it will grow is comparatively small.
The country scenes of Peru are unlike those of any other part of the world. Let us look at some of them, as we ride through the valley of the Jequetepec to the foothills of the Andes. We go on a railroad built by an American a few decades ago, but now owned by an English syndicate, the Peruvian corporation. The cars came from the Eastern States, the ties from Oregon. The telegraph -poles are discarded rails, to which supports have been bolted to bear the wires; iron is used on account of the ants. Our conductor is a little Peruvian in a linen suit, and we have another official on board in the travelling postmaster, who sells stamps, takes up the letters from the various small villages and estates as we stop, and hands out mail to the people who come to the train.
Notice the little farms we are passing. The fields are fenced in with thick walls of mud as high as your waist, and irrigating ditches carry sparkling water here and there through them. The water comes from the river, but the irrigating is carelessly done, and much water goes to waste. There is a rice field, rice being one of the best-paying crops in this part of Peru; and there are mills at Pacasmayo where the rice is hulled, polished, and prepared for shipment.
We go through large sugar plantations. These are owned by foreigners, and many of them are managed on a magnificent scale. We pass one factory which makes 5,000 tons of sugar annually. The buildings on it have cost over $1,000,000; its machinery was imported from Philadelphia. We see steam ploughs, harrows, and cultivators at work in the fields, and notice that the cane is hauled to the factories by steam-engines, over a port-able railroad. More than 100,000 tons of sugar are now annually produced in Peru. There are, moreover, more than sixty factories scattered through the irrigated valleys of the coast desert, and upwards of $20,000,000 is employed in the business.
The labour comes from the native Peruvian Indian, who receives from twenty-five to forty cents a day for his work. He is given a house on his master’s plantation, and is furnished with a pound of meat and two pounds of rice as his daily rations. He is also allowed to run up bills at the plantation stores, and his habits and temperament are such that he is always in debt.
I wish I could show our American farm-hands how the Peruvian workmen are housed. I visited one of their homes to-day, a sample of thousands all over Peru. It was merely a hut made of canes so put together that you could see out of the cracks on all sides. The floor was mother earth, the roof was of reeds, being needed only to keep out the sun. The house had but one room about eighteen feet square. A wooden platform about as high as one’s knees in one corner of the room furnished a sleeping-place for the heads of the family, while the children slept on the floor. In another corner was the family cook-stove two stones just wide enough apart to allow an earthen cooking-pot to rest upon them. There was no window, no chimney, and, except a soap box, no furniture. In the house a family of six were living, and I doubt not they deemed themselves happy. Their chickens and goats lived with them; and all they wanted was enough to eat and drink, and a chance to get drunk now and then. Like all of their kind, they have no ambition whatever, and are perfectly satisfied with their lot.
I asked some questions as to food and hours of work. On rising they take a glass of pisco, or native whiskey, and go to work without breakfast. This is at five o’clock in the morning. The whiskey serves them until eleven A. M., when they knock off for lunch, or breakfast. This usually consists of a stew of goat’s meat and rice. At one o’clock they go back to work, and at five they stop for the day. When they get home they have another stew of meat and rice, and perhaps a piece or more of bread. After dinner they sit about and talk, and at eight or nine o’clock lie down in the clothes which they have worn all day, and go to sleep.
The working classes of Peru have no education, and not one in a hundred of them can read. Their clothes cost them almost nothing. The men wear a pair of cotton trousers, a cotton shirt, a pair of leather sandals, and a straw hat. The women wear cotton dresses and straw hats, with black woollen shawls for Sun-days and feast days. The men have also ponchosthe blankets and overcoats of South America. These are merely blankets with a short slit in the middle large enough to slip the head through. They are worn by the better classes as well as by the poor, and are costly or otherwise according to the purse of the owner.
The fine farm machinery of which I have written is to be found only on the large estates. The native Peruvians do their work in the rudest way. They use ploughs of wood, tipped with iron, with oxen as the motive power. The Indian holds the plough with one hand and drives with a goad, as the Palestine farmers did in the days of Abraham.