Rural Society

Rural Society

Most small rural neighborhoods and villages were settled originally by one or two families. Extensive ties of kinship, intermarriage, and compadrazgo (coparenthood) developed among the descendants of the original settlers. Most villagers married their near neighbors. First cousins frequently married, despite the formal legal prohibitions against this practice. The social life of the countryside likewise focused on near neighbors, who were frequently direct blood relations. The bonds of trust and cooperation among these relatives formed at an early age. Children wandered among the households of extended kin at will. Peasants distrusted those from beyond their own neighborhoods, and they were therefore leery of economic relations with outsiders. The development of community-wide activities and organizations was handicapped by this widespread distrust. People commonly assumed deceit in others, in the absence of strong, incontrovertible proof to the contrary.

Until the latter twentieth century, most joint activities were kin-based: a few related extended families joined together for whatever needed attention. The junta was the traditional cooperative work group. Friends, neighbors, and relatives gathered at a farmer's house for a day's work. There was no strict accounting of days given and received. As wage labor became more common, the junta gave way to smaller cooperative work groups, or it fell into disuse entirely.

In small towns, social life focused on the central park, or the plaza; in rural neighborhoods most social interaction among non-kin took place in the stores, the bars, and the pool rooms where men gathered to gossip. Six-day workweeks left little time for recreation or socializing. Many farm families came to town on Sundays to shop and to attend Mass. The women and children generally returned home earlier than the men to prepare Sunday dinner; the men stayed to visit, or to enjoy an afternoon cockfight or an important baseball or volleyball game.

Landholding in the late 1980s was both concentrated among large holders and fragmented at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. All but the largest producers faced some constraints in terms of land and money. Indeed, a national survey conducted in 1985 found extensive rural poverty. More than 40 percent of the households surveyed owned no land; another 25 percent had less than half a hectare. Roughly 70 percent of all families relied on wage labor.

Land reform legislation had had little overall impact on landholding both because the reforms contained few provisions for land redistribution and because they were poorly enforced. Redistribution began in the 1960s with land accumulated by Trujillo and acquired by the state after his death. By the early 1980s, irrigated rice farms, which had been left intact and had been farmed collectively, were slated for division into small, privately owned plots. All told, by 1980 the Dominican Agrarian Institute (Instituto Agrario Dominicano--IAD) had distributed state land to approximately 67,000 families--less than 15 percent of the rural population.

Population growth over the past century had virtually eliminated the land reserves. Parents usually gave children plots of land as they reached maturity, so that they could marry and begin their own families.Over the generations, the process had led to extreme land fragmentation. Contemporary practices adapted to these constraints. Educating children, setting them up in business, or bankrolling their emigration limited the number of heirs competing for the family holdings and assured that the next generation would be able to maintain its standard of living. One or two siblings (usually the oldest and the youngest) remained with the parents and inherited the farm. In other cases, siblings and their spouses stayed on the parental lands; each couple farmed its own plot of land, but they pooled their labor for many agricultural and domestic tasks.

Migration served as a safety valve. Migrants' remittances represented an essential component in many household budgets. These timely infusions of cash permitted medium-sized landholders to meet expenses during the months before harvest; they also allowed families to purchase more land. In communities with a history of fifteen to twenty years of high levels of emigration, such emigration had an inflationary impact on the local land market. For those relying on wage labor to earn a living, the impact was more ambiguous. In some communities, the increase in migration meant more casual work was available as more family members migrated. In other instances, migrants' families switched to livestock raising to limit labor requirements, or they hired an overseer to handle the agricultural work. Both these practices limited the overall demand for casual labor.

The vast majority (84 percent) of farm women contributed to the family's earnings. Women devised means of earning income that meshed with their domestic tasks: they cultivated garden plots, raised small livestock, and/or helped to tend the family's fields. In addition, many rural women worked at diverse cottage industries and vending. They sold everything from lottery tickets to home-made sweets.

In the mid-1980s, approximately 20 percent of rural households were headed by women. The lack of services in rural areas increased women's working days with physically demanding and time-consuming domestic tasks. Single women were further handicapped by the traditional exclusion of women from mechanized or skilled agricultural work. Women worked during the laborintensive phases of harvesting and processed crops like cotton, coffee, tobacco, and tomatoes. They usually earned piece rates rather than daily wages, and their earnings lagged behind those of male agricultural laborers.

Sugar Plantations
Mixed Farming

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