Pasiegos - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Cattle herding is the basis of the Pasiego economy. Trade has focused on breeding stock as much as on dairy products. Sheep and goats are less important than in the past, while the herds of Holstein-Friesian cattle have increased since their adoption (at the expense of the native "Pasiego" breed) beginning about 1870. The transhumance system revolves around the cattle meadow. Whole families move between different meadows at single altitudes and between different altitudes. A family might move as many as twenty times a year, between six or seven meadows, ascending the slopes sequentially three times in succession (and once more to harvest grass). Lambs and male calves are sold for meat. Cows are reared for breeding and dairying and sold after their third calving. The hardy, mountain-bred milk cattle are appreciated nationwide. Stock fairs were once local but now are regional. They are the chief public social events of Pasiego secular life. The traditional, labor-intensive manufacture and peddling of butter and cheese have ceded almost entirely to the direct marketing of fresh milk, made possible by improved transport and the industrialization of dairy processing in Cantabria. There is practically no cultivation in the Montes de Pas, as most land is used as meadow or pasture. Hoe culture is confined to occasional cabbage patches. Land once planted in maize (the former bread grain) and beans is now turned to meadow. Wheat bread, potatoes, beans, and other foods are purchased from local storekeepers. The Pasiego economy has had a commercial thrust for a long time. Dairy products and meat (probably lamb and goat) were long marketed in northern regional markets to supplement a subsistence economy. Especially since the adoption of Holstein cattle, Pasiego-bred cattle have supplied the dairy farms of the nation. Pasiegos are also largely responsible for the retail milk supply to the cities and towns of northern Spain. Temporary migrants established urban vaquerías (a cow or two stalled in urban neighborhoods providing milk for sale there twice daily). Male calves of urban milk cows were sold for meat and females returned to the Montes de Pas for eventual breeding and sale or service in a vaquería. Urban milk retailing thus existed in symbiotic relation with the stock-breeding economy of the home zone.

Industrial Arts. The chief industrial products of the Montes de Pas are those associated with the transhumant herding life: the combined house/stable called the cabaña, made of hewn stone and oak and roofed in slabs of mica schist, and the rudimentary furniture and implements of herding life—the scythes, sleds, pitchforks, rakes, and carrying baskets ( cuévanos ). The carved wooden shoes ( almadreñas ) used in stable and meadow are the principal costume element produced today; the daily and festival dress and handmade leather footgear documented in earlier centuries have long been in disuse.

Trade. Within the community of Pasiegos, trade focuses on the rental or sale of meadows and sometimes of male calves for breeding. These are cash exchanges. There is also some free lending of breeding bulls among friends. Most trade of cattle or other products is with outsiders. However, well-off landlords lend money at favorable rates to poorer members of the community. In the past, community members also entered sharecropping agreements with respect to meadows or herds.

Division of Labor. The division of labor by sex and age is weak among herders. The chief tasks are milking; grazing cattle or other animals (they are never left alone) ; taking milk to collection points; spreading manure; and cutting, drying, and storing grass at harvest time. All of these are done equally by men, women, and children. Laundering and sewing are the only exclusively female activities. Division of labor by age and sex is more marked among settled, nonherder Pasiegos, and these divisions adhere to general Spanish rural patterns.

Land Tenure. Pasiegos are independent smallholders of their meadowland. Most nonresident owners are emigrants from the zone. The remoteness of the Montes discouraged extensive entry and ownership by feudal powers or the church. Land is a freely circulating commodity; richer families acquire more and poorer ones are forced to rent. Families that are able to live from rental income usually cease active herding. Landownership is the basis of wealth in the community; poorer families measure the number of cattle they can raise against the meadow they own and the rental costs of additional meadow. The poorest herders have raised sheep and goats on common lands without access to cattle meadow.


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