« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
and in Myingyan, the three worst districts. After that, for a year or two matters improved slightly. In 1893 better crops were reaped; in 1894 there was again a slight pinch in places. In 1895, in the early tracts where sessamum was grown, good crops were reaped, but the failure of the late rains caused the jowar and late sessamum to be scanty. Remission of revenue had to be granted in many. places, and the people were not in good heart to face another bad year.
Then came 1896. The early rain failed almost completely. Whereas we usually expect showers in the end of March and in April, to soften the earth for ploughing and preparing for the early crops, no rain fell until the end of May. The hot weather was thus exceptionally long and severe, and the heat was intense. The ground was utterly dried up, wells shrank lower than they had ever done, and it was very hard to find pasture for cattle. At the end of May and early in June we had a great deal of rain-more than enough. And about the middle of that month it ceased, and from then until the middle of October, the whole of the southwest monsoon time, there was no rain of any consequence. The country became baked up, as if it were again the hot weather. The young crops that had been sown and had sprouted fairly, withered up. The lower leaves of the palms turned yellow, the grass died. Even the cotton, which is supposed to revel in dryness, withered and hung its head. On October 14 and 15 we had two days' heavy rain, and that is the last that we have had. The three days' rain which is usually expected at the end of November, and which is of
inestimable value to fill the ears of the jowar, the sessamum, and the rice, never came.
In addition to this want of rain there was another misfortune. Between Mandalay in the north and Minbu on the south there is a great area of land, principally on the west of the river, that is inundated by the Irrawaddy in its floods, and wherein rice is grown, fed by the flood-water. But this year the Irrawaddy never properly rose. It was not until August that there was any good rise, and when this fell there was no other. Much land was never planted at all, and much that was planted withered off as the river fell.
So in this year there has been a complication of misfortunes. Of none of the staple crops of cotton, jowar, sessamum, or beans has more than a third been gathered. In many places the seed has hardly been returned to the cultivators. And there was a promise of rain that made the disappointment all the more bitter. The rain of October 14 and 15 had done great good. The jowar and sessamum and beans had profited by it.
The jowar especially was in good heart, tall and strong, with the promise of a fair crop, enough at least to keep the people from great stringency. What little rice had been planted was looking well, the beans were covering the ground with green tendrils, and the late sessamum was lusty and strong. It wanted but two days' or even one day's good rain to give the growing crops the necessary refreshment,-to start the sap into the ears to fill them.
And in November it promised to come. For two or three days there had been heavy banks of cloud in the south, gathering every evening, shooting lightning.
They came nearer and nearer, until at last one morning we woke up to hear a little dropping on the roofrain at last! As the sun rose the rain ceased, and the clouds lifted, but they did not clear off. On the hill in front the clouds hung in low long mists of vapour well into the forenoon, and the distance was full of mist. The people were delighted. "We are not brother to the rain, and cannot be sure," they said; "but when there are clouds upon that hill in the morning, it is an almost certain sign of rain within twenty-four hours." I was at a village that morninga village whose whole future depended on the crops that were then bursting into ear round about -and as I talked to the people about the season they were full of hope. "We shall be hard up," they said, "and it will be difficult for us to pay taxes, but as to food there will be enough. It will rain to-night, and the ears will fill, and we shall gather enough, eked out with jungle roots and fruits, to take us on till the early crops come."
They spoke cheerfully with that delightful courage and hopefulness of which surely no people have so much as they, and as I rode back to my camp, it seemed to me that the fear of the worst was over. There would be a scarcity, but no more. Yet even as I rode back, the sun was sucking up the mists. The pagoda on the hill top shadowed faintly through the thinning vapours, and far away the sky was clear and blue. By the afternoon the mist was gone, and when the sun set, in all the great sweep of sky there was no sign of cloud.
The people were in despair. "If it had not promised us," they said, "it would have been less
hard to bear. But we thought it was a certainty, and it has failed."
"Thakin," said a headman, "for the last year when we have been asked about our crops we have said 'We hope.' Now we shall never say that again. We shall say 'We fear.""
The districts in which the failure of crops has been most severe are Yamethin, Meiktila, and Myingyan, covering about 10,000 square miles, with a population, according to the census of 1891, of 370,000.
But the neighbouring districts have also suffered more or less. Parts of Magwe, of Minbu, of Pakkoku, and of Sagain, are nearly as badly off, and the districts of Shwebo, Mandalay, and the Lower Chindwin have had great losses. No doubt there will be considerable distress in these districts, and considerable remissions of revenue will have to be made, but the "famine" will most probably be confined to the three districts first named, and the parts of other districts in immediate contact with them. The position now may be simply summarised as follows: Of cotton almost onethird of an average crop was reaped; of rice, except in wellirrigated places, even less. The early and late crops of sessamum failed in most places, and of what is the main food-crop, jowar, perhaps one-third was reaped.
It will be understood that villages vary in the fertility of soil and other particulars. Some villages have done better than this, some have done worse. Of the palms, which are the mainstay of many villages, by the palm-juice which they yield, an average of a third of a crop may be obtained. This is drawn in February and March. Therefore it may be said that, roughly speaking, their fields
have yielded to them but one-third of what they should do in average years, and in some villages less even than this.
But still it will be seen that this is no general and devastating famine, like an Indian famine. The area is nothing like so great, the failure of crops not so complete, and there is abundant food within reach to be bought for money. The distressed districts are so well served by river or rail that hardly any village is thirty miles from some places where food may be obtained from Lower Burma in any quantity. Still
the distress is very real. It must be remembered that this year has followed upon many other years of short crops.
It must be remem
bered, also, that even with a series of fair average years these people would not be well off. The soil is not fertile, and it is fully populated. The people estimate that in an average year it takes the whole of their main crops to give them food and pay their taxes. For clothes, for luxuries of every kind, including the upkeep of their monastery schools, they look to the early crops. These are always very small in places where a good late crop is obtained. Therefore this year the failure of the early crops deprived the people of every hope except for a bare subsistence, and the failure of the late crops has reduced that subsistence to hardly enough to feed them for three or four months.
It was foreseen early in the autumn that there would be some scarcity later on. The early crops having failed, even if a fair later crop were reaped there would be a want of money, and in a population where a certain proportion of the people are habitually little above poverty, it would mean more or less distress. There is a section
of the people, fortunately a small one, on whom any shortness of crop tells at once-namely, the agricultural labourers. The land is all of it in the hands of small peasant proprietors, who cultivate it themselves with their own labour and that of their families. In fair years many of the larger of them will require assistance for ploughing and reaping. But in a bad year the farmer can easily plough and reap all his land himself. There is no need to hire labour. So this year there has been no work at all for the labourers. And there has been no place where they could obtain work. Agriculture and a little carding of cotton are the only industries of these districts. With a scarcity of cheap food like jowar, and the necessity of buying food so expensive as rice, the capacity of the labourers for buying anything at all has almost disappeared.
And some of the smaller peasant owners are in as bad a case. They have been going from bad to worse for years, and this is the final disaster.
Some, of course, have gone to the lower country to reap the big crops there; but it is 200 miles and more away, and it is hard to take old people, women, and children there. A few that had any little article left that they could sell have sold it and gone down by steamer. Some with cattle have started on the long overland march, and some-surely they must have been adventurous souls-made for themselves tiny rafts out of the ruins of their homes and pushed out into the great river, man and wife and children, to seek better fortune in a more fertile country. Some men have left their families behind in the villages, and have gone north and west to where there are cutch
boiling camps. In these camps they can earn fair wages, and meanwhile their families subsist upon loans, and dig in the jungle for roots and other edibles to eke out their scanty supply of grain.
Some small villages are almost abandoned of able-bodied males. The usual watch kept at night on the village gates has had to be abandoned. One gate is closed up completely, and at sunset the other is firmly barricaded with logs and thorn-bushes. As yet there has been but little sale of cattle, not because the owners are too well off to care to sell, but because there is no one to buy. Agricultural work is at a standstill, and the Burmans do not kill cattle for food.
The policy of Government in famine times is laid down in the Famine Code. When it has become clear that a failure of crops has become severe and that relief is required, the distressed area is declared as one within which the Famine Code applies. Works are arranged for, and gratuitous relief is organised.
The work that has been opened here as a famine work is an extension to Myingyan of the branch of the Burma State Railway which now ends at Meiktila. This section is fifty-six miles in length, and was surveyed some years ago, so that all was ready for work to commence. Moreover, as it runs through the very centre of the distressed area, it was peculiarly suitable as a famine work. In the second and third weeks of November four camps under the charge of engineers were opened on this line. Labourers from distant places were collected and drafted into the work; those near by were left to find their own way to it, notices having been freely distributed. The full ration for an able-bodied relief-worker, sufficient
And the wage is the sum which at market rates will buy this ration, with an addition for each man of one halfpenny per day, and for each woman of one farthing and two-thirds. The total money wage at the rates at present ruling is, for a man 24d., and for a woman a trifle over 2 d., taking the rupee as worth 1s. 31d. To children able to work about half these rates are given, and for infants in arms the mothers receive two-thirds of a farthing per day.
It will be seen that these are not exorbitant rates; what is enough to keep a man in good health is much less than we should call a comfortable quantity of food. And for all that a man requires beyond bare food, for clothing and cooking-pots, and the thousand and one wants of daily life, there is one halfpenny a-day.
The usual labour rates in the neighbourhood are 3d. a-day with food and cheroots, but it is not intended that the rates in a famine camp should approximate to normal rates. It is not the desire of Government to attract to its work those who could be more profitably employed in the usual industries of the district. Whoever cannot secure private employment of any kind to give him a subsistence will find in the famine works a certain employment, where, for a not too heavy day's labour, enough to buy food can be earned; and he can thus tide through till better times.
Directly the works were opened thousands of people flocked to them. Notwithstanding the notices which were freely issued stating the rates of pay, the people hoped and expected that they would be paid at the ordinary tariff which coolies have received for working on the roads and elsewhere. When they found how small was the actual
wage that would be earned, there was bitter disappointment. In one camp they even tried to organise a strike, thinking, poor souls, that by so doing they could force the hand of Government. And even now, after much explanation and much trouble, the impression generally is that Government is taking advantage of their distress to get its work done cheap. They do not understand that even at these low rates it costs Government more to work by the unskilled labour of women, of children, and of men, some of whom do not know how to dig, than to pay high rates for skilled labour. They will not believe that Government is not doing a good stroke of business out of the famine.
The numbers on the famine camps rose very rapidly to about 25,000, and have remained fairly stationary at that number. But before long, when the little jowar that was reaped is eaten up, and the jungle fruits and roots are exhausted, there will be a large increase to the number, no doubt. How large it will be no one can tell it depends upon the earliness of the showers, and other matters that no one can foresee. The earthwork of this section is estimated to be completed in May. What will be done afterwards is not yet decided.
Besides the opening of these famine works, which have thus rescued 25,000 people from starvation, and many of them, it may be,
from crime, to which misery so soon leads, there is the distribution of gratuitous relief provided for those who have no relatives to work for them. This relief is paid weekly to the headmen of their villages, and is calculated at a lower scale than that for workers
at the camps. At present it is for a 'man lid., and for a woman 1d. Children receive 1d. if big, and Id. if small. It is enough to buy a bare subsistence, and that is all. There are now on gratuitous relief about 5000 people, but this includes a great number of small children, who are with their mothers on the works, but unable to work.
In a famine such as this it is always the women who suffer first,
widows with large families and divorced women, and all the crew of superfluous femininity which exists even here in Burma. A strong man can always keep himself going. It is the women and the children who come to grief. And yet no one can say that the men are unkind. Consider how a woman with three or four small children joining a gang on the work handicaps that gang. She draws herself 21d. a-day, and for the three children, say, d.—a total of 23d. She and the children cannot live on that, and the rest of the gang must contribute to their support. And they must also do extra work because of it. She cannot do her full task. There are the little ones to be looked after. The baby must be suckled, the eye of the mother must be occasionally on the other two lest they fall into a cutting and get killed. She is herself weak, and cannot work hard. She is 8 burden to the gang that allows her to enter their numbers. And yet there is never any trouble about it. There are very many