Exchange relationships in a community on the north coast of Colombia with special reference to cannabis


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Exchange relationships in a community on the north coast of Colombia with special reference to cannabis
Physical Description:
xii, 279 leaves. : ; 28 cm.
Partridge, William Lee, 1944-
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Subjects / Keywords:
Colombia -- Social life and customs   ( lcsh )
Cannabis   ( lcsh )
Anthropology thesis Ph. D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Anthropology -- UF   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis -- University of Florida.
Bibliography: leaves 264-278.
Statement of Responsibility:
by William L. Partridge.
General Note:
General Note:

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University of Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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aleph - 000580863
oclc - 14092475
notis - ADA8968
sobekcm - AA00004926_00001
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Full Text



William L. Partridge





Many people have assisted me during my graduate career

through their teaching, counseling, and research activities.

Among these are members of my dissertation committee who

have contributed to the research reported here. -Professor

Solon T. Kimball, committee chairman, provided through his

classes, seminars, and conversations my training in the

methodological and analytical techniques of the natural

history tradition in social anthropology. My views on

the nature of socialization and the replication of social

structures were greatly influenced by Professors Kimball

and G. Alexander Moore. My interests in ritual and symbolic

behavior were stimulated and influenced by Professors

William E. Carter, Richard H. Hiers, Solon Kimball, and

Charles Wagley.

My interest in cannabis and social structure grew

directly out of my Masters essay (Partridge 1973a) and the

discovery that the scientific literature on the social

implications of cannabis was deficient. Through my exper-
iences during the summer of 1971 in Bogota, Cali, and

Popayan, Colombia, interviewing professionals regarding

cannabis use, I became interested in the north coast of

Colombia as a research setting.
The research was supported by the National Institute

of Mental Health Predoctoral Research Fellowship number

1F01MH54512-01 CUAN and the supplementary grant number

3FO1DA54512-01S1 CUAN. I am indebted to Dr. Bela Maday

and Miss Eleanor Carroll for their encouragement.

Shortly after arriving in Colombia, with the assis-

tance of letters of introduction from William E. Carter,

I met several Colombian anthropologists who assisted me

throughout my stay in Colombia. I was granted sponsor-

ship for my research in Colombia by the Instituto Colom-

biana de Antropologia in Bogota. In Barranquilla I was

generously given office space at the Museo de Antropologia

of the Universidad del Atlantico. The Colombian anthro-

pologists who assisted me devoted considerable time to

acquainting me with the culture in which I planned to

work, the geography and history of the north coast of

Colombia, and the range of human populations which give

the north coast its exciting variety. The profound know-

ledge shared by these professionals was an invaluable aid

in my adjustment to and eventual study of one particular

community located in the region. The Colombian anthro-

pologists who assisted me must be unnamed here due to the

sensitive nature of the topic.
Both in Bogota and in Barranquilla I was informed that

the former banana zone of Colombia was an area of intensive
cultivation and traditional consumption of cannabis. The

community chosen for the research setting, called here

Majagua, was selected for two compelling reasons: (1) par-

ticularly excellent personal contacts existed between

several Colombian anthropologists and several people living

in the community who were willing to assist me; and (2)

the entire cycle of activities relating to cannabis, culti-

vation, distribution, and consumption, could be studied in

this single location. The proposal originally called for

a community study of a population in which cannabis was

consumed. The situation encountered in the banana zone of

Colombia encouraged me to expand the focus of my investi-

gation to the entire cycle of activities related to canna-

bis. The community was chosen only after several weeks

of extensive study of the varieties of human settlements

on the north coast.

Through the generous assistance of a Colombian news-

paper reporter, who will remain anonymous, I came to know

the town called here IMjagua. Spending several weeks in
the company of this quite skilled and engaging professional

journalist I came to understand the broad outlines of commu-

nity life, the neighborhoods of the town and countryside,

the miles upon miles of dusty dirt roads running among the

cattle and rice estates, the legends of the United Fruit

Company days, the stores, bars, poolrooms, and brothels,

the old families of the community, the cockfights and fes-

tival cycle, the church and government offices, the

influential and the powerless, the landowners, the govern-

ment employees, the shopkeepers, the beggars, the town

drunks, the peasants, and the contraband runners. My

friend the journalist and I spent hours discussing these

and many more elements of the tremendous range of human

life to which I had been exposed. It was only many months

later that I was able to abstract conclusions about the

nature of this community, for through my experience with

this journalist I was immersed immediately in the full

round of local life. I was not permitted the luxury of

interest in only one element of the community. Instead

I was made aware of the complexity which is Majagua and

its rich texture of human conditions, aspirations, and


The contacts mentioned above evolved into further

introductions, hundreds of hours of conversations, and

numerous interviews all of which led to other contacts

and other arenas of community life. I carried a pocket

notebook and pen and wrote notes when possible. At the end

of a day the contents of the notebook were typed up and

copies were sent to Professors Solon Kimball and William

Carter. Each of these generously reviewed my hazy and

incomplete summations of what I was observing and offered

me the benefit of their own insights and experiences.

Out of this dialogue, which continued throughout the period

of study, I came to understand the range and depth of

community life.

Since the work of Malinowski participant observation

has been a proven method of field research in anthropology,

and my particular use of the techniques needs only brief

explication here. Initially I purchased a horse and

traveled throughout the community and to several neighboring

communities, secured housing with a family, obtained a cook,

laundress, and several guides. Friendships developed with

many townspeople and countrymen as I went about learning to

ride, to enjoy the local food and drink, and in the course

of participating in the normal round of social life of the

community. Out of such friendships I requested and was

given personal interviews with those who could provide de-

tailed information of special interest (e.g. the process

of rice agriculture, subsistence horticulture, festivals

and rituals). Participant observation continued throughout

such situations since interviews were often conducted while

other kinds of activity were in progress. Successive inter-

views and wide travel throughout the municipality enabled

me to form certain conclusions and test them in a variety

of settings and through numerous personnel.

After many interviews and several months in the commu-

nity three sample settlement patterns were chosen for inten-

sive study. These were a neighborhood of the town, a rural

hamlet, and a highland peasant neighborhood. Demographic

information such as age, sex, social status, education,

occupation, household composition, mtc. was collected in

each sample. From these sample surveys evolved invitations

to make other, less formal visits to certain households.

Intensive observations proceeded throughout the remainder

of my stay in the community in these three samples.

The collection of data regarding cannabis was diffi-

cult from the beginning, for the topic was a sensitive one

and few individuals in the community did not consider me

an agent of the FBI or CIA. It was not until January of

1973 that I was able to obtain my first concrete informa-
tion regarding cannabis. Since I chose not to join cannabis

user groups in the community, my first contacts were with

cannabis cultivators. These perceived me to be a wealthy

buyer who intended to transport tons of cannabis to the

United States. After repeated denials, lengthy interviews

on other subjects, months of study of all varieties of

community life, and continuous observation and travel

throughout the municipality, I managed to convince several

informants that I was indeed a scientist and not a cannabis

buyer. One successful interview led to others and soon I

developed good working relationships with commercial growers,

petty growers, petty vendors, consumers, and petty cultiva-

tors. Once the identities of these individuals ere known

to me, and more importantly their roles in the life of the

community and the full range of activities in which they

engaged themselves, the patterns of the systems of social

relationships governing cannabis became clear. Soon it

became apparent that everyone in the town and municipality

but the anthropologist had known all along who were the
consumers, distributors, and cultivators of cannabis.

Their initial efforts to hide such knowledge had been a

natural reaction to a foreigner poking his nose into local

affairs. Once the ice was broken and my informants under-

stood that I understood the local situation, then the data

flowed quite easily, and most tension surrounding my in-

quiries was mitigated. Still, upon leaving the community

in October of 1973 one of my best informants and friends,

an extremely intelligent and able man, expressed his amaze-

ment at the fact that I had been able to keep secret from

everyone how it was that I was going to make a profit

through cannabis sales. He informed me that I must be

extremely intelligent to have hidden so successfully my

contracts with his fellows.

Upon nearing completion of my period of study, several

weeks were devoted to research in the National Library in

Bogota where documentary evidence was obtained relating to

certain historical and geographical conditions which obtain

on the north coast of Colombia. Census materials were col-

lected from the offices of the Departamento Administrativo

Nacional de Estadistica in Bogota and Barranquilla.

During the writing of the dissertation I have benefitted

from the close cooperation of my committee, especially from

repeated reviews of the manuscript and constructive sugges-

tions offered by Dr. Kimball and Dr. Carter. Dr. Charles

Wagley brought to my attention several theoretical issues

in the area of economics and development in the Third

World to which the data are relevant. While I have not

adequately responded to all of the many suggestions and

insights offered by members of the committee, many of these

have been incorporated in the pages that follow. The
intellectual atmosphere generated through my interaction
with members of the committee provided the challenges which

led to the completion of the dissertation. Their thoughtful
help is very much appreciated.
A great debt is owed to the people of the community

in which I studied. I was graciously hosted by numerous
families of the town and countryside who must remain unnamed
here and in the text. Many informants devoted time they would
normally have spent engaged in other activities in order
to answer my questions and grant lengthy interviews. Names
which occur in the text are fictitious. The notes written
at the time of interviews with cannabis users, merchandisers,

and growers were coded and edited in such a way as to make
impossible the identification of informants. Only a single
copy of each interview was made and these were kept locked

in a trunk, so it is unlikely that the data gathered will
serve any other purpose than that of scientific investigation.
The translations of Spanish documents which are quoted
in the text are my own.



Acknowledgements .. i
Table of Contents .. .. ix
List of Figures ..... * x
Abstract ... ........ # xi

Introduction .. .* 1
Chapter I Cannabis and Social Relationships 4
The Problem . 4
The Setting ......... ..... 15

Chapter II Cultural Origins of the Community 39
Diffusion of Cannabis .. 39
The Region ... 45
The Estate System .. .. 49
The Subsistence Horticulture System 52
Labor Recruitment ....... 56
Forms of Human Organization 60
The United Fruit Company . 68
The Highlander Migration . 86

Chapter III Production, Distribution, Consumption 90
Production Systems ... .. 90
Production of Cannabis . 132
Systems of Distribution . 138
Distribution of Cannabis 148
Systems of Consumption .. 154
Consumption of Cannabis. .. 163
Cannabis and Social Structure .. 174

Chapter IV Life Cycles and the Replication of
Structure 187
The Coastal Lower Sector . 189
The Highland Lower Sector 219
Cannabis and Profane Ritual. .. 235

Chapter V Comparisons and Conclusions .. 243
A Controlled Comparison . 243
Conclusions . 255
Sanctions and Policy Governing Cannabis. 257

References Cited . . 264

Biographical Sketch . . 279


Figure 1 Population Changes ... 18

Figure 2 Population Changes . 18
Figure 3 Map of the Magdalena Region 20
Figure 4 Schematic Drawing of the Town of Majagua 27
Figure 5 Size of Land Holding in Orejones 34
Figure 6 Production Schedule of the Rice Estate 106

Figure 7 Daily Meal Schedule of Consumption Units
with No Patterned Variability 156
Figure 8 Daily Meal Schedule of Consumption Units
with Seasonal Variability .. 158
Figure 9 Daily Meal Schedule of Consumption Units
with Production Schedule Variability 161
Figure 10 Retail Prices of Items Consumed Daily 162
Figure 11 Reciprocal Relations Between Town, Estate
Hamlet, and Vereda .. 178
Figure 12 Cannabis Networks in the Traditional and
Market-Induced Systems . 184

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy


William L. Partridge

June, 1974

Chairman: Solon T. Kimball
Major Department: Anthropology

Social group structures and social relationships which

power systems of production, distribution, and consumption

in a community on the north coast of Colombia were studied

between July of 1972 and October of 1973. The origins of

the community are traced and certain subcultural social

traditions are found to be adaptations to the ecological,

historical, and geographical conditions of the north coast

region. These subcultures are found to be interdependent
through certain exchange relationships, yet also are found

to have clearly identifiable and distinct structures, forms

of productive activity, distributive systems, and systems

of consumption. Social group structures and social relation-

ships characteristic of each subculture are examined with

special reference to systems of cultivation, distribution

and consumption of cannabis. Two systems of cultivation

and two systems of distribution are described which corres-

pond to the distinctive subcultural traditions present in

the community. Cannabis consumption is found to be charac-

teristic of only one of these subcultures. The analysis

of cannabis consumption is focused upon the profane sphere

of everyday work habits, secular patterns of interaction,

and life cycles typical of the coastal subculture. A con-

trolled comparison is made between the coastal and the high-

land subcultures and cannabis is found to be instrumentally

and expressively related to certain social groupings and

social relationships present only in the coastal subcultural

tradition. It is concluded that cannabis is one of several

items of reciprocal exchange which functions to symbolize

interdependency relationships among laborers, peasants,

and artisans of the coastal subculture. In contrast, canna-

bis consumption does not diffuse to the highland subculture

where different kinds of social group structures and social

relationships are found. It is suggested that cannabis

diffuses only to those social groups structurally predisposed

to accept and value the ritual which surrounds it.


The research reported here concerns cannabis and human
social groupings. It is not concerned with cannabis qua

cannabis, but with the locus of cannabis in society. As
Hollister (1971:28) points out, increasing numbers of re-
searchers have turned to questions involving cannabis but
this has increased our understanding of the social impli-

cations of cannabis very little. The reason is that
scientists continue to focus upon the psychological and

physiological effects of the drug and to ignore the social
dimensions. The observations of Wallace (1959), Becker

(1963), and others that the significance of the drug varies
with cultural and social contexts have in general stimulated
only lip service from scientists interested in cannabis.
With some exceptions (Comitas 1973) the locus of canna-
bis in the natural human grouping is neglected in favor of
soporific concepts such as "the lower class" or the "cul-
ture" of a people (Khalifa 1973, Li 1973). My intent in

the pages that follow is to bring a measure of conceptual
rigor to the area of cannabis and social relationships.
This objective is achieved through the use of the methodology
of community studies in the natural history tradition of
social anthropology.
The central concern of the method is with the obser-
vation in vivo of the varieties of social and cultural
elements in the context of ongoing human activity. The

central problem facing the observer is the reduction of the

multiplicity of social facts into a system of priorities of

relevance. These priorities are established by examining

relationships which obtain between social units who live

out their developmental cycles at particular times and in

particular places in customary fashion. The concern of

the method, most simply put, is with the regular and recur-

rent structures of human organization. For the community is

the minimal unit of cultural transmission, and it is the

transmission of organizational structures which in turn

provides for successive transmissions and the persistence

of the culture.

Community consists in systems comprising interaction

regularities and cultural behavior in an environmental con-

text (Arensberg and Kimball 1965:4). The definition is

minimal for it generalizes several points of technical

refinement that will be developed below.
The emphasis upon interactional regularity calls

attention to the biological basis of human organization.
The law of incest prohibition requiring exogamous groupings

of persons interacting in some predictable manner is the

key and primal survival technique of the species. The
implications of prolonged infancy and late puberty compel

us to view society not as based upon the family unit but

as consisting in organizational structures which relate

several family units. Three generations and two sexes,

then, are fundamental elements of community.

The emphasis upon cultural behavior stems directly

from the above. Organizational structures vary and stem

from learning experiences of preceding generations.

Patterns of mate choice, settlement, subsistence, con-

sumption, belief, and the like result from the canaliza-

tion of choices made by individuals.

The emphasis upon environmental context adds to the

definition the importance of territory and the functional

interdependencies which exist among men and among social

groups by virtue of their shared relationship to a natural

world. Community is a storehouse of adaptive responses to

specific conditions of the natural world, responses which

have temporal and spatial aspects. Community is therefore

the succession of lives through time and over space.

Community provides patterned social relationships which

constitute "conditioning influences from the organization of

one's fellows about the individual" (Arensberg and Kimball

1965:45 ), and canalize choice. The cultivation, distribu-

tion, and consumption of cannabis is understood only in

relation to the structure of social relationships which
canalize choice for members of the community. In the chapters

that follow cannabis will be seen to be intimately related

to certain social relationships characteristic of certain

group structures.



The Problem

It has been known for some time that cannabis is one

of the most widely used and most ancient hallucinogenic

plants consumed by man (Subcommittee on Alcoholism and
Narcotics 1971:52-53). (There is some debate over whether

cannabis is indeed an hallucinogen but for now we will

accept Schultes 1969 classification which considers the

plant hallucinogenic.) Considerable scientific data has

accumulated since the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report

of 1896, but the report's essential finding that cannabis

is of little danger to the individual consumer or his

society remains unchanged to the present time. As Snyder

(1971:16-17) points out, a comparison of the lethal and
effective doses of two commonly used drugs mass produced

and marketed in the United States and many other countries,
secobarbital (Seconal) and alcohol, with the lethal and
effective doses of cannabis is revealing. This ratio, the
so-called "safety factor" of any drug, is about 10 for both

secobarbital and alcohol and about 40,000 for tetrahydro-
cannabinol (THC) or the chemically active intoxicant con-

tained in cannabis. While a lethal dose of secobarbital

or alcohol can be produced with 10 times the effective dose,

a lethal dose of cannabis is quite literally beyond the

range of human experience or imagination.

It would seem, then, that the current controversy

surrounding cannabis is not related to lethal dangers to

an individual resulting from use of the drug. Perfectly

lethal drugs are consumed daily by people who are frightened
of the effects of the relatively harmless cannabis.

The controversy centers instead upon the real, per-

ceived or suspected effects of cannabis for the society in

which it is used. The sociologist Eric Goode (1969) has
argued that scientific data regarding cannabis in society

are irrelevant since the controversy is largely a political
and ideological one. But science is often used to alter

political and ideological persuasions. Howard Becker (1963)
demonstrated some time ago that official and popular atti-

tudes toward cannabis were changed quite readily by a

massive campaign waged against the drug by the Bureau of

Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs of the United States Govern-

ment. The campaign was based on evidence which was pre-
sented to the Congress and public wearing the mantle of

"science." For scientists to fail to recognize their roles

in the maintenance of official and popular mythology is
not only irresponsible but an admission that scientists

fail to perceive the manner in which their society functions.
The generation of official and popular mythology is a de
fact condition of modern science.

Since the cannabis controversy centers upon the effects

of cannabis for society the work of sociologists, social

psychologists, and anthropologists is particularly relevant.
Anthropologists have had wide experience in the study of
many cultures where different hallucinogenic plants are
consumed. But much of this investigation is not directly
useful in addressing the problem of the effects of such
substances on society.
Hallucinogens have played and continue to play major
roles in religious ritual in all parts of the world. They
form integral parts of curing, divining, and votive acti-
vities from central Siberia to northern India to the coast
of China, from southern Europe to the Turkish plains, from
the Arctic to the tip of South America, from the Mediterra-
nean Sea to Cape Horn, from Newfoundland to Vancouver
Island to the mountains of Oaxaca. In some cases the plant
itself is perceived to be a diety: the Soma of the ancient
Aryans or Amanita muscaria, the fly agaric mushroom (Wasson

1968, 1972); the peyote cactus of the Huichol Indians or
Lophophora Williamsii (La Barre 1938, Aberle 1966, Furst

1972, Meyerhoff, 1972, 1973). In other cases the plant is
an instrument of ritualized communication with dieties:
the eboka of the Bwiti cults among the Fang people or
Tabernanthe iboga (Fernandez 1972); the yajg of the Tukano
Indians of Colombia or Banisteriopsis caapi (Reichel-Dolma-
toff 1968, 1972); and the deadly nightshade or Atropa
belladonna, Mandrake or Mandrabora, Henbane of Hyoscyamus,
and thorn apple or Datura of the witches of medieval Europe
(Harner 1973). In still other cases the hallucinogen takes

on curative powers and serves the related purposes of diag-
nosis and treatment: the black tobacco of the Warao of
Venezuela (Wilbert 1972, 1973) and the Tenetehara of Brazil
(Wagley and Galvao 1949) or Nicotiana spp.; the morning-
glory seeds of the Zapotec, Mixtec, Chinanatecs, and Masatecs
of the Oaxaca valley of Mexico or Rivea corymbosa (Schultes

1972, 1969); and the San Pedro cactus or Trichocereus
pachanoi among the mestizo farmers of the coast of Peru
(Sharon 1972). This list could continue until some 80
hallucinogenic plants of the New World and some six of
the Old World were included (La Barre 1972:271).

Yet as Furst (1972:xi) observes, "what is new is not
the discovery of natural substances that act powerfully
on the mind, but their fascination for Western man and the
medical, legal, and social consequences." This fascination
and its consequences are indeed new to the West since
hallucinogenic plants have not traditionally been used in
either religious curing, divining, or votive activities
since paleolithic times. Exceptions exist to be sure (Harner

1973). But in general altered states of consciousness in
the West are achieved without the aid of hallucinogens.
One is reminded of the shamanistic trance states of
Moses, Aaron, Ezekiel, Samuel, Peter, Paul and others of
the Hebrew tribes; likewise, the astonishing visions of
the initiates into the Eleusis cults of Greece were probably
unaided by hallucinogens. The raptures suffered by St.
Bernard and later St. Francis and others of the Mendicant

Orders of the 12th and 13th centuries are traditionally

interpreted as communication with a diety. The hallucina-

tions and voices experienced by Joan of Arc, the 14th cen-

tury "Saint Vitus Dance" mania and its accompanying visions,

and the mystical savagery of the Flagellants of the Middle

Ages of Europe and in some parts of Latin America and

Europe today were not induced by hallucinogenic substances.

The prophetic trances and miracles proclaimed by George

Fox and others of the Quakers in the 17th century, the

violent convulsions and trance performances of the "French

prophets" of 18th century England, and the hysterical fits

and spirit-possessions which afflicted those who heard

Wesley preach in England at the same time were similarly

unaided by hallucinogens. Similarly, the gift of "tongues"

which characterized the Shakers of New York, the frenzied

spasms called the "barks," the "jerks," and the "rolls"

which marked the Kentucky revival of 1800, the millenial

dreams of the Adventists of New England in 1843, the Beek-

manites of Illinois in 1875, the Wilderness Worshipers of

Georgia and South Carolina in 1889 and 1890, and the hys-
terical praying of our contemporary pentecostal sects of

the Southern United States, Southern California, New York

and the Midwest are each altered states of consciousness

achieved without the use of hallucinogenic plants. Mooney

(1896) called attention to many of these Western parallels

to the trances of the Ghost Dance Religion in his classic


Clearly what is new to Western man is not the ritualized,
sacred, or divine state of consciousness. Westerners have

witnessed continuing streams of possession, quaking, jerking,

dreaming, and all manner of related trance states for over

two millenia. Moreover, many of these have been incorporated

into Western religious tradition. Westerners seek out and

discover such altered states of consciousness.

That which is sacred has easily been explained in

terms of belief systems, cognitive mappings, and culturally

patterned perception. But here anthropologists usually

have stopped, recognizing along with Fernandez (1972:237-238)

that reality is a construct which is consensual and not

virtual. Few anthropologists have considered the altered

states of consciousness or hallucinogenic substances that

seem to produce them in the context of what Durkheim (1947:

38-42) called the profane or secular institutions of society.
Freud and his followers were fascinated with one such

profane altered state of consciousness which is universal to

the species: the dream. Recent research has resulted in

the exciting discovery of the "rapid eye movement" dream

state in which the subject is insensitive to external stim-

ulation and in a state of inward concentration, yet not in

a state of normal unconsciousness. This is a purely bio-

logical phenomenon with important implications for theories

of schizophrenia, sensory deprivation, and the nature of

perception. Furthermore, it introduces the possibility

that the distinction between the sacred and the profane is


really the difference between sensory deprivation and sen-

sory experience, and as such is a panhuman phenomenon that

may lead us to postulate a panhuman subconsciousness (La Barre


But that intuitive leap cannot be made just yet. For

the sacred experience, whether this be rooted in sensory

deprivation or not, is universally structured by a cultural

tradition and a defined social grouping. Since Emile Durkheim

(1947), George Herbert Mead (1913, 1962) and the more recent
simplifications of Erving Goffman (1961, 1967, 1969), we can

hardly accept the idea that the sacred or the profane states

are either noncommunicable nor unlearned. That is, even

though the biologically determined state of subjectivity

(e.g., the REM state) is universal to all individuals, the

activity which occurs during that state is quite specific to

the canalization of one's expectations and behaviors. Such

states may be natural to all individuals, but they are never

individual experiences.

The Tukano Indian, for example, perceives his hallucin-
ogenic. experiences to be the products of his ingestion of

Banisteriopsis caapi, hence, in his symbol system, intense,

subjective, and personal contact with the dieties. But his

activities are in fact quite stereotypic, common to all his

fellows, and not shared with other cultures. So stereotypic

are these that the vivid hallucinatory phenomena which he

sees conform readily in terms of color, form, structure,

and meaning to ancient petroglyphs chiseled on the river


rocks, to house and ceramic paintings, to traditional designs

painted on barkcloth, and to the hallucinations of his

fellows. Similarly, the Warao Indian who smokes the leaves

of Nicotiana is indeed induced into a trance state, but he

has previously learned the stereotypic journey he will make,

the events which will occur along the way, the tests and pit-

falls he must overcome, and the myth of origin which provides

the meanings for such events from his shaman-initiator.

This journey and its events he reports faithfully after his

long period of fasting (almost to the point of death) and

after the ingestion of huge amounts of Nicotiana. The out-

sider or anthropologist who ingests such substances generally

perceives their effects to be only nausea, excitation or

anxiety, and extreme diarrhea (Schultes 1960:70, Reichel-

Dolmatoff 1972:89-90, Fernandez 1972:238).

Anthropologists have demonstrated convincingly that

altered states of consciousness are structured by learned

ritual and myth in the sacred realm. The use of hallucinogens

is controlled and restricted to certain individuals, certain

periods of the life cycle, and certain institutionalized

situations or contexts. Hallucinogens qua hallucinogens

do not produce undesirable states of consciousness which

disrupt normal social life, but in fact contribute to the

continued functioning of sacred symbol systems. But what

of the profane? Anthropologists have not generally investi-

gated either the role of altered states of consciousness

or the manner in which these are structured in the realm

of the profane.

Durkheim (1947:38-42) conceived of the difference

between the sacred and profane to consist in ritualized

"interdictions" which protect and isolate the sacred from

the profane. Certain beliefs which designate certain ele-

ments as sacred are expressed in ritual behavior which has

as its context a certain social grouping. The belief, the

ritual behavior, and the social group constitute the sacred.

All else is profane. But as Warner (1962:5-34) demonstrated,

sacred functions are not limited to the purely religious

institutions. A political event such as Memorial Day in

the United States is also a sacred event. It involves a

sacred symbol system, ritual behaviors, and certain social

groupings which can together be interpreted as a "cult of

the dead" of the nation-state. Therefore, anthropologists

speak of sacred and profane functions of belief systems,

rituals, and social groupings. These may occur in the

political, religious, economic, or familial institutions

of a society.

My interest is in the nature of the altered state of
consciousness produced by smoking of the plant materials

of cannabis in the secular realm of human activity. For

the cannabis controversy centers upon the use of cannabis
in the secular sphere of social life. Yet the functions

of cannabis and the ways in which it is structured in

profane life will not be discovered by investigating merely

the customs surrounding the use of cannabis. After ini-

tiating field work in the community described below, I

soon learned that cannabis was part of, and a minor part

at that, larger and more complex systems of human relation-

ships. In attempting to understand cannabis I found myself

studying social group composition, economic dynamics, acti-

vities, and beliefs, and exchange relationships which knit

individuals into groups and groups into social structures.

Only when the structure of social life in all its complexity

was understood could the role and function of cannabis be


In order to examine cannabis in the profane realm,

therefore, the analysis is focused upon human relationships

in a community where cannabis is used by certain groups,

not used by certain other groups, and cultivated and sold

by still other groups. Social relationships in these groups

vary in relation to subcultural traditions which are the

products of adaptations to ecological, geographical, and

historical conditions of the region in which the community

is located. These origins of these social relationships,

the ways in which they are interrelated through systems of

exchange, and their functioning in the full round of local
life and the yearly cycle are the subjects discussed here.

Levi-Strauss has said:

as soon as the various aspects of social
life--economic, linguistic, etc.-are expressed
as relationships, anthropology will become a
general theory of relationships. Then it will
be possible to analyze societies in terms of
differential features characteristic of the
systems of relationships which define them

Such systems of relationships can be studied most readily

in minimal social units. As Levi-Strauss (1960, 1969)

argues, we can no longer view the family units as minimal,

but rather the minimal unit of society is composed of rela-

tionships which obtain among families. Arensberg and Kimball

(1965:4) and Wagley (1968:127) have likewise argued that the
community is the minimal unit of cultural transmission, for
it is in community that the structure of interindividual
relationships characteristic of a society is to be found.
Barth has added:
What we observe is not "customs," but
"cases" of human behavior. Our
central problem becomes what are the
constraints and incentives that canalize
choice (1966:1).

Phrased another way, the anthropologist must answer the
question: "What is the net of conditioning influences from
the organization of one's fellows about the individual?"
(Arensberg and Kimball 1965:45). The answer to this question
regarding cannabis is the'problem addressed in the following

chapters. The constraints and incentives surrounding canna-
bis, the net of conditioning influences resulting from social
organization, is the proper focus for anthropological inves-
Perhaps when such data are collected and analyzed in

similar fashion by more anthropologists the "marihuana con-
troversy" in the United States can be seen for what it
probably is: a clear example of a scapegoat phenomenon

which serves the purpose of obscuring the fundamental social

problems of which marihuana use or any other kind of behavior

is a mere expression.

The Setting

The community chosen for investigation of the problem
is located at the base of the western slopes of the Sierra

Nevada de Santa Marta in the department of Magdalena, Colom-
bia. In the tradition of natural history (Arensberg and
Kimball 1965:8-12) this community is viewed as a sample or
field in which to examine empirically the relationship be-
tween cannabis and human social behavior. The form of
settlement, the distribution of people through space, the

major features of town and countryside, the use of land
and other factors discussed below are each broad expressions

of the kind of community chosen. It is a community which
is representative of other communities by virtue of these
shared features and can therefore be considered a sample.
The setting is the former banana zone of Colombia lo-
cated to the south of the city of Santa Marta. While Santa
Marta is Colombia's oldest colonial settlement, the hinter-
lands south and west of the city were sparsely populated
until the present century. The United Fruit Company opera-
tions in this region sparked the migration of numerous
Colombians and foreign nationals into the zone. Hamlets of
only a score of families were transformed into bustling
centers of primary production and commerce. The town chosen
as the base of operations is one of these, a town that

is located close to Macondo of the internationally famous

novel by Gabriel Garcfa Marquez (1970).1
Majagua is located about 90 kilometers south of Santa
Marta, the capital city of Magdalena. Majagua first appears

in the historical record between 1874 and 1886 when the
English geographer F. A. Simonds explored the region and
listed it together with several other hamlets (Vergara y
Velasca 1901:82-85). In 1885 the town was transferred into
a new municipality in one of the numerous territorial divi-
sions which marked the 19th century history of Magdalena
(Alarc6n 1963:374-375).
The municipio or county in which Majagua is located
will be called here Orejones, a name given to the indigenous
people of the area by the Spanish. The only information we
have about these indigenous inhabitants is the fact that
they wore large earrings "as big as plates" which were put
on their children at an early age (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1951:99).
The municipality of Orejones was not created until the 20th

lGarcia Marquez was born in the banana zone and writes
about the people as an insider and participant in their
culture. The town of Majagua is identical in most respects
to Macondo as Garcia Marquez, yet the perspective
of the social scientist contrasts significantly with that of
the native novelist. For Garcia Marquez was born the son of
a merchant family and his particular perspective on the
historical events which form the structure of the novel is
quite selective. One Hundred Years of Solitude traces the
lives of the Buendla-family in th fTltitious town of
Macondo from its founding through the United Fruit Company
period, and into the period of decline which represents the
contemporary state of the numerous banana towns of the zone.
The conflict between the merchants of the banana zone and
the United Fruit Company, discussed in Chapter II below,
colors Garcla Marquez's interpretation of events and process
and makes his otherwise brilliant novel less useful in the
present context.

century when the banana boom had begun. Majagua became the

seat of the municipality of Orejones in 1915 (Rigoletto 1962).

While the first church was built in 1910 the municipality was

not designated a parish until 1928 (Angarita 1928). Changes

in the census data over the past century reflect the fact that

the town achieved a fairly stable population immediately after

the banana boom and has grown very little since. In contrast,

the rural areas of the municipality have grown steadily due

to the processes of rural colonization of the foothills of

the Sierra and the invasion of the large estates (see Figures

1 and 2).

Majagua was the second largest of the banana-railroad

towns which made up the urban nodes of the zone. Each of

these towns was built along the railroad which connected the

United Fruit Company docks in Santa Marta and the town of

Fundaci6n at the southern limit of the banana zone. The paved

highway which lies about one kilometer away from each of these

towns was built during the mid-1960's. Formerly, there was

only the railroad and a camino de herradura or mule path

connecting the series of towns and Santa Marta.

The municipality of Orejones contains a number of other

settlements besides those studied. At its western end lie

small fishing villages standing on stilts out of the water of

the Cignaga Grande or Great Swamp, and at its eastern end in

the high reaches of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta live the

Ijca, known locally as the Awawak Indians. Neither of these

populations is part of the community studied in that contacts



Town of Majagua


Town of Majagua


Population Changes

Number of Buildings

Total municipality


Population Changes

These figures include the corregimiento or satellite
town of Fundaci6n which in the census of this year was
still part of the municipality of Orejones. By the
next census period Fundaci6n had become the seat of
a separate municipality
** Source: Contraloria General de la Republica 1941,
Departamento Administrativo Nacional de
Estadistica 1959, 1970.

Total municipality




among them are rare and no interdependency exists among them

(see Figure 3).

The total land area of the municipality is 2,263 square

kilometers (Comisi6n de Planificaci6n 1964:91). Of this

total 1,077 are classified as tierra calida or hot lands at
0 to 1000 meters altitude. It is in this region that the

bulk of the population lives, that part of the population

identified later as the coastal subculture. About 309 square

kilometers are classified as tierra media or warm lands at

1000 to 2000 meters altitude. It is in this region that

the colonization efforts of the highland subculture of the

community are taking place. Around 287 square kilometers are

tierra frfa or cold lands at 2000 to 3000 meters altitude.
This is the region of the Ijca Indians, where they located

their dispersed farms and the ceremonial center called Ser-

ancua after fleeing the missionaries who came to their original

homelands at the turn of the century. The remaining 590

square kilometers are classified as paramo or lands of the

high plateau just beneath the snow line and including a small

area permanently covered with snow. In these reaches the
Indians graze sheep, cattle, and goats.

The community studied is located, then, in the altitude
range of from sea level to 2000 meters. Toward the lower
altitudes the land is flat and devoted mainly to large estates

and a few nodal population centers. The large estates dominate

the landscape. Towards the upper reaches of the zone the land

is devoted to the dispersed individual family farms of the







Flood areas
nm Savanas

Map of the Magdalena Region

Source: Comisi6n de Planificaci6n, 1964.

highland colonists. Both of these geographical and cultural

areas are divided into units called veredas. These are rural

neighborhoods which in the lowlands are named for older es-

tates nearby or for administrative divisions made by the

United Fruit Company. In the highlands veredas are named for

certain physical features of the land such as a stream or a

hill. The vereda is a natural unit of classification only

in the highlands where it conforms to the contour of the land,

such as the area between two roads or two streams. In the

lowlands these units are useful only for census surveys and

tax records, for they reflect neither the physical features

of the land nor the human groupings which inhabit it.

The town of Majagua is the governmental, religious,

political, and commercial center of life for many members of

the community. But for some the cities of Barranquilla and

Santa Marta are the important nodal centers which are the

focus of their lives. The products of the estates as well

as the owners of the estates and many workers invariably end

up in the urban centers of the coast. Majagua is a nodal

center for certain groups, but not for all.

In the town are found the following governmental facili-

ties: a municipal "palace" in which are the mayor's office

and the treasurer's office, a telephone and telegraph commu-

nication center, a jail and its accompanying police station

and barracks, a market building, a town notary, an electric

plant, a water system office, three elementary level schools,

one high school level school, a cotton gin operated by the

Institute de Mercadeo Agropecuario (IDEMA), several experi-

mental farms of the Instituto Colombiano de Agricultura (ICA),
a public clinic with 10 beds, a railroad station which has
been closed for 15 years, a personero or municipal officer in
charge of road maintenance, a municipal slaughter house, and

a post office. Many of the government offices occupy build-
ings abandoned by the United Fruit Company (warehouses,
clinics, commissaries, etc.) as do some residents of the town.
The town's notary is licensed by the departmental govern-

ment. He is descended from one of the founding families of
the town, as are most professionals and government personnel,

worked for the United Fruit Company for 20 years, and today
is a major and powerful figure in the community. He keeps
all official records and thereby knows everything going on

in the municipality. Everyone expects he will hold the post
for life, and that one of his offspring will occupy it after
One of his adult sons is to be found daily in the com-

pany of the mayor either in his office, at the home of the
mayor's wife, at the home of the mayor's mistress, or in the
stores and bars of the town drinking with the mayor. This
son has no official government position but is essential to
the functioning of the mayor's office. For he acts as a
buffer and informer between the mayor and the people of the
municipality. His friends live in towns and cities through-
out the coastal region. He knows where and through whom to

get something done, and he can handle many of the small daily

problems brought to the mayor. He is known locally and
regionally as un hombre de la parranda or a man who enjoys
drinking, singing, telling stories, and dancing. He counts
among his friends several famous song writers of the coast,
several popular bands and orchestras of the coast, and the
famous Colombian novelist Garcfa Mfrquez. Through his wide
ranging contacts he keeps abreast of many things of interest
to the mayor, such as how the problem of squatters is being
handled in another town of the zone, the political ups and
downs of friends, and the way in which the mayor's actions
are received and judged throughout the department of Magda-
lena. But most importantly, he is from one of the powerful
Liberal families of the municipality, while the mayor is a
Conservative appointed by a Conservative government in Santa
Marta. The notary's son acts as a mediator between these
old families and the mayor of the opposite political party.
The municipality of Orejones has a single Catholic
priest in the town of Majagua. A smaller satellite town
nearby has a church but no priest is assigned. The priest
in Majagua gives services on Sunday in the satellite town,
but most residents of that town journey to Majagua for
weddings, special masses, baptisms, funerals, confirmations,
and to obtain copies of records kept by the priest which are
needed for other purposes. The priest is a cachaco or high-
lander and came to this community only 10 years ago. He is
also a landowner of a small highland finca or farm which is
worked by an employee of his, a good sized herd of cattle,

and several milch cows scattered among peasants with land near

to the town who bring a portion of this milk into town each

day for sale to the tiendas or small stores. In addition the

priest is a petty lender of small amounts of cash to the high-

land peasants. He charges from 10 to 20% interest on these

loans. Aside from these activities his major functions in-

clude record keeping, collection of fees for services rendered,

and the enactment of his role as leader of sacred ritual

Every seven years the bishop from Santa Marta comes to

town during his round of visiting his constituents. The

bishop is given lavish dinners by the town's only religious

cofadia, a religious sodality, drinks with the priest from

the parish house wine closet, and learns of the needs of the

parishoners. Such visits result in improvements in the

Church's property in the town, such as painting the church

and parish house, purchasing new ritual paraphernalia, or

purchasing new vestments for the priest. During the evening

of his last day in town the bishop is given a traditional

serenade by the young people of the town, mostly from the

upper sector families, and he blesses them from his bedroom

window before departing the following day.

The commercial specialists in the community provide a

variety of services for the municipal population. Several

general stores, a drug store, a hardware store, a dry goods

store, several barber shops, two poolrooms, numerous bars,

several garages and gas stations, several houses of prosti-

tution, and numerous tiendas or small shops draw the town

and rural populace into the central business district (see

Figure 4). At the center ofthis district is the intersection

knw as the four corners or las cuatro esquinas. In the

evening men of the town gather here to chat and visit with

male friends, to buy refreshments from street vendors and

storekeepers, and to shop. During the day the same area is

occupied by steady streams of females carrying out their

daily shopping. One block away is the market building and

the fresh fruits and vegetables, beef, salted fish, and

cheese available are generally purchased in the morning.

On weekend nights the market area and the four corners are

occupied by males from the countryside who come into town

to shop, drink, and visit with friends.

The services of professionals such as the two physicians,

the dentist, and the town lawyer are available also in the

central business district. In addition, artisans and crafts-

men such as tailors, potters, carpenters, bakers, saddle

makers, and appliance repairmen can be found in this busi-

ness district and on the side streets nearby. The town's

only bank is located here also, as well as the movie theater,

two large dance salons, and the bottled gas outlet.

The plaza is a block away to the west of the business

area. Here is the Catholic church and the large parish
house. The mayor's house is on the other side of the plaza

together with the homes of many of the upper sector families.

Only a few of these compare with the siza ard furnishings

of the parish house. To the west of the plaza is a corn

grinding mill where peasants can sell their corn or have it

ground for a fee. A site called Placita Vieja, the old

plaza, is located a block away from the corn grinding mill.

This is the site of the original town of Macondo, the small

hamlet which preceded the present town, originally consisting

of about 20 houses on a small park. A cement monument marks

the spot, although no commemorative plaque is to be found.

The houses are of wood and palm thatch. Here the elite

founding families first settled, and many contemporary upper

sector families trace their origins to one of these run-down

houses. Today Placita Vieja is surrounded by the poor neigh-

borhood called 20 de Julio, named for the Independence Day

of July 20th. Upper sector families moved to the new plaza

and the neighborhood called Loma Fresca during the boom days

of the banana industry.

Directly behind the church stands the building housing

the offices of the municipal government. On any given day one

can find several groups of men gathered in the street below

the two story structure. They are negotiating sales, pur-
chases, or transfers of properties, seeking the mayor's

signature on a document, or resolving various problems in-

volving land invaders, stolen property, or the normal con-

flicts and altercations which mark life in the community.

The small tienda nearby draws these men throughout the day

as they purchase drinks for one another and discuss their

negotiations. Here lawyer and peasant, day laborer and

El Carmen

I__ I Market

Business Center

Loma Linda

Majagua River

Schematic Drawing of the Town of Majagua




San Jose

estate manager, landowner and beggar meet. Everyone knows

everyone else, but interaction occurs only in the compact

little groupings of individuals of similar status. One

finds representatives of the full range of the community's

social groupings reflected in the small interacting groups

at this particular tienda.

The neighborhoods of the town reflect social groupings

through space. Each is laid out in the well known grid

plan of the Spanish nodal center. Only Placita Vieja has

irregularly placed houses, with winding streets, for at this

site houses once stood on extensive garden plots which in

later years were broken up and sold in pieces to the flood

of immigrants into the newly created banana zone. The rest

of the town is arranged in a series of streets running at

right angles to one another. Each of the neighborhoods can

be contrasted in terms of the kinds of dwelling structures


The house in this part of Colombia is not confined

to the dwelling structure. The houses of the town consist

of two areas that a stranger might interpret as two distinct

spaces. These are the dwelling proper and its patio. Among

the wealthier families kitchens are enclosed within the

dwelling in a room, and cooking is done on a bottle gas

stove. But for most of the residents of the town the kit-

chen is a table, a ceramic water jug, and a wood or charcoal

cooking fire, all covered by a thatched roof. This is always

located behind or to the side of the dwelling in the patio,

and is the scene of a great proportion of familial inter-

action. The kitchen, dwelling, garden, fruit trees, herb

pots, flowers, and an outhouse are all surrounded by a fence.

The fenced-in area is the household compound in its entirety.

The fence may be of brick, cement block, bamboo poles, or

scrap tin, but a fence is always present.

It is not the case that certain house types are invar-

iably associated with cannabis use, but it is certain that

cannabis users generally live in certain kinds of houses.

Of course nonusers also live in such structures. These are

the-bareque or the palm thatched mud and bamboo houses, the

most common house form in the town and the traditional house

form of the Magdalena region. It has a high pitched thatch

palm roof, a dirt floor, few windows if any, and generally

includes a living area, a bedroom for children, and a bedroom

for parents. It sits on a patio surrounded by a bamboo or

hardwood stick fence. This is the house of the lower social

sector of the coastal subculture and is to be found most fre-

quently in the neighborhoods 8 de Agost Las Nuevos, El

Prado, La Marujita, San Josg, and El Carmen.

Interspersed among the bareques are others of wood with
palm thatched roofs and dirt floors, rowhouses of wood with

tin roofs constructed by the United Fruit Company, and houses

of material. The house of material is built of a mixture of

brick and cement block, often in a way which forms geometrical

patterns that are considered decorative. These houses are

evolutionary products of particularly successful lower sector

families. They are built in stages around old houses of bareque

the walls going up while the older house stands within them

and the roof being built alongside the new structure to re-

place the thatched roof of the bareque when the moment comes

to demolish the old house. Roofs are preferably of corrugated

zinc. To have such a house is the ambition of many lower

sector families. Cannabis users are just as likely to

achieve that ambition as are nonusers.

The most elegant and desirable type of house by Western

standards is that occupied by the upper social sector fami-

lies. It is concrete block. The design includes embellish-

ment with an iron grill work over the large windows, a tile

floor, an indoor bathroom, an indoor kitchen, several bed-

rooms, a living room, a front porch, and a tile roof. The

patio is still an essential feature, with its flowers, fruit

trees, herb cans, and perhaps a few chairs. In these patios

one may also find a jeep parked, or a truck, a tractor, a

rice harvester, or some combination of these. A tall wall

of cement block studded on the top with bits of broken

bottles and window panes surrounds this kind of dwelling

unit. Few if any cannabis users live in such houses. But

all of those who deal commercially in cannabis and other

contraband merchandise live in such dwellings.

The elegant houses of the upper sector families, with

their Spanish-Moorish flare, their patio full of modern

machinery, and their walls studded with broken glass, are

uniformly located in the barrios El Carmen and Loma Linda

These were the two neighborhoods which first developed during

the banana boom, each located on the western side of the

railroad tracks and separated from each other by the central

business district. El Carmen was originally the poorer of

the two, since it was the neighborhood of the working people.

Loma Linda has always been the neighborhood of the elite.

But with the upward mobility induced by the banana boom and

the subsequent departure of the United Fruit Company the neigh-

borhood of El Carmen came to be a center of upper sector res-

idences as well. In contrast, 8 de Agosto, Los Nuevas, El

Prado La Marujita, San Jos., and some scattered dwelling

areas that have not yet coalesced into neighborhoods have

developed during the period from 1930 to the present. Las

Nuevas in particular is a recent addition to the town,

located on the new paved road, and occupied by many prosper-

ous highland merchants. The highlanders are the most recent

migrants to the community. While their dwellings are no

different from those of members of the coastal lower social

sector highlanders do possess a distinct subculture. They

neither use cannabis nor distribute it commercially; rather

they constitute the commercial growers of the community.

The distribution of the populace through space, then,

mirrors the growth pattern of the town: the older, wealthier

neighborhoods located on the west side of the railroad tracks,

the new poorer neighborhoods located farther to the west

of these and to the east of the railroad tracks, and the

most recent neighborhoods fronting the new paved road. The

spatial distribution also reflects the social sectors which

compose the community: the coastal day laborers, peasants,

artisans, and small shop owners living in the poorer barrios,

the estate managers, estate employees, government employees,

professionals, and landowners in the wealthier neighborhoods,
and the highland peasants in the most recently settled areas.

In a general sense cannabis is related to these divisions.

One finds consumers most often in the newer, poorer town

neighborhoods, commercial distributors in the older, wealthier

neighborhoods, and the commercial cultivators in the newest

areas of colonization in the foothills of the Sierra.

Surrounding the town and stretching formiles to the

west is a system of dirt roads and trails together with an
elaborate irrigation system, each of which links together

the various cattle and rice estates and scattered peasant
hamlets of the lowlands. The tree lined dirt roads and

trails are traversed daily by most of the town's working

occupants as they commute to and from the large estates or

their own small holdings. Scattered peasant farms can be

found, but they are few in number. A migratory rural agri-

cultural working class is a distinctive trait of the commu-
nity. The migratory laborer is a marked feature of modern
Colombia (Cardona 1971). Recently a study of the coastal

city of Barranquilla revealed that 69% of the residents in

three tugurios or squatter settlements were migrants to the
city (Usandisaga y Havens 1966:34). And Foster (1971:3-4)

indicates that the proportion is about the same at present

(67%), of which about 23.5% are from the Magdalena region.

Urban migration is thus a prominent feature of community
life, but rural migration is even more characteristic of the
coast (Bernal 1971:83). In Magdalena the majority of in-
migrants are agricultural laborers with their families (Bernal

1971:83). The pattern is a regional one with migrants coming
most often from Bolivar, Santander, Atlantico, and the Guajira
in that order (Bernal 1971:72-75). Such a migratory agricul-
tural laboring class is a marked feature of Orejones.
The small peasant holding is, therefore, not typical of
this community form. The size of land holdings in Orejones
has been tabulated by the Departamento Administrativo Nacional
de Estadfstica (1971:12). Figure 5 shows the range of the
size of land holdings, based upon the concept of a "unit
of exploitation." Such a unit is defined as all land exploited
by a single producer. When I attempted to check these figures
with the records of the catastro municipal or municipal land
register in the town a difference of a little under 500 units
of exploitation (about half of the official total) was en-
countered. This is due to the fact that most large land
owners do not pay taxes to local governments, hence their
holdings are not registered in the land register of the
municipality. Likewise, numerous squatters on United Fruit
Company lands prior to the 1960's, land which is now the
property of the government, have neither requested nor
been granted title to the land. The records of the National
Department of Statistics are more accurate than local records
and will be used here.

Size of holding Number of units
in hectareas of exploitation

Less than 1 20
1 to 2 40
2 to 3 70
3 to 4 83
4 to 5 50
5 to 10 105
10 to 20 98
20 to 30 79
30 to 40 59
40 to 50 79
50 to 100 253
100 to 200 165
200 to 500 71

500 to 1000 16
1000 to 2500 11
over 2500 0

Total 1,199

Size of Land Holding in Orejones

A comparison between the number of holdings of between
1 and 50 hectareas or hectares (2.47 acres), a total of 783,

and holdings of between 50 and 2,500 hectares, a total of

455, reveals that a small part of the population controls
the vast majority of the land. This is a community form

characterized by the latifundia or the large tract of land

rather than the minifundia or the small plot of land. The

average size land holding is 80 hectares, but clearly the

large estate dominates and is considered here the charac-

teristic land use pattern.

Above the town in the foothills live the highland immi-
grants known as cachacos who utilize the land in quite a

different manner. The highlanders colonized this region

only 18 to 20 years ago, and as yet only minimal kinship

ties link them to the population of the lowlands, yet they

are dependent upon the lowland town for a market through

which they sell the produce of their gardens. They live on

dispersed individual family farms of from 50 to 200 hectares.

They form an endogamous, homogeneous, ethnocentric, and suc-

cessful element of the community.

The setting of the community, then, is a complex one.
Large estates, lowland towns, and highland peasants constitute

the broad features of Orejones. In order to narrow the

focus, sample surveys were taken of three kinds of settlement

forms. Basic data having to do with household composition,

education, occupation of household head, places of birth,

work histories, age at marriage or mating, age at birth of

first child, years of residence in the municipality, etc.,

were collected. One town neighborhood, El Carmen, of mixed

social composition, consisting of 76 households was surveyed.

One rural hamlet of 25 households composed of lowland squatters,

peasants, estate employees, artisans, and day laborers was

surveyed. And one highland vereda of 10 households was

surveyed. These three samples constitute the range of

settlement forms which compose the community.

At a general level, certain similarities and differences

can be observed between the samples. First, the rural coastal

hamlet and the town barrio parallel one another in all impor-

tant aspects. The family is generally a nuclear one, or in

some stage of the development of a stem-family. More than

half of the adult aged persons of both sexes live in free

unions rather than married unions. The majority of house-

hold heads were born in other departments, other municipalities,

and other towns of the coast. Slightly more female mates of

household heads were born in Orejones or Majagua, but the

majority were born elsewhere. The great majority of families

report filial and affinal relations with families located

all over the north coast of Colombia, an area composed of

five departments. Most household heads have worked solely

in agriculture all of their lives, but about 20% have worked

in cities of the coast. The majority have worked in more

than one municipality sometime during their lives, and most

have worked in several different departments on the eastern

side of the Magdalena river. The vast majority have never

completed primary schooling, most having from one to three

years of formal education. High school diplomas are rare.

In the highland sample the household is an extended

one. About half of the adult aged persons live in free

rather than married unions. All household heads were born

in other departments, since they are all colonists from

the interior. Few of these have ever been migratory workers.

Some were sharecroppers in their home municipalities, others

were owners of quite small land holdings. All directly cite

the violencia or the armed peasant uprising which lasted

from 1948 until the mid 1960's as their reason for abandoning

the interior and colonizing the rugged mountains. All but

one of the female mates of household heads were born in the

interior. All households report relatives in their home

municipalities, but only two report relatives on the coast.

Only two family heads have been to primary school, whereas

the majority have no formal schooling. One female mate has

been to primary school. There are no high school diplomas

here and none of the children attends any of the lowland


The differences between these two subcultural groups
are not restricted to place of origin, household form,

education, occupational status, place of residence, and

kinship ties to nearby settlements. The day laborers,

peasants, and artisans of the coastal hamlets and towns are

petty cultivators, petty distributors, and consumers of

cannabis. The professionals, landowners, and government


employees of the town are commercial distributors for the
urban markets of the coast. And the highland peasants are

commercial cultivators of cannabis.
Since a clearly defined using population exists side
by side with a nonusing population, a controlled comparison
of the significant structural differences which obtain
between the two is possible. This comparison is especially

significant when it is recognized that the nonusing popula-
tion produces tons of cannabis for the market each year.
This comparison can discriminate with precision those social
relationships with which cannabis use is associated, the

functions which cannabis use serves, and the explanation

why cannabis use has not diffused to the group which produces
cannabis commercially.

Diffusion of Cannabis

The introduction of cannabis into Spanish South America
is not well known. PatiFo (1967, 1969) indicates that hemp
was introduced not once but several times by the Spanish:
experiments were attempted in Peru, Mexico, Chile, and
Colombia, but only Chile developed the capacity to export
hemp fiber to Spain (Patio, 1969:395). In Colombia reports
from 1607, 1610, 1632, and 1789 indicate that repeated intro-
ductions failed to produce a hemp industry for the rigging
of the Spanish fleet (Patino 1969:394-395). Silvestre (Ver-
gara y Velasca 1901:LX-LXI) in his 1789 description of the
viceroyalty of Santaf4 (sic) de Bogota indicates that hemp
was introduced in the savana of Bogota, but it failed so
completely that no seed was available for further experimen-
tation. He urges the reintroduction of hemp near Santa Marta
or Cartegena and urges that seed be shipped from Spain
(Vergara y Velasca 1901:LII). In Silvestre's opinion hemp
could replace cabuya or the fiber of Fourcroya foetida
(Patifo 1967:30) in Colombia, indicating the most telling
reason for the former's failure in South America. Fique,
pita, or cabuya was collected in tribute from the indigenous
peoples of Colombia by the first Spanish colonists (Reichel-
Dolmatoff 1951:111). As late as the early 1800's cabuya
was a Colombian export (Vergara y Velasca 1901:822). Cabuya

replaced hemp in such items as sandals, rope and cordage,
sacks, harnesses, and fish nets (Patiio 1967:45-48). And
another native fiber, cotton, replaced hemp in even such a
basic item as candle wick, used in huge quantities in the
minds of South America (Patifo 1967:109). It appears that
native fiber producing plants acted as a barrier to the
diffusion of hemp. As late as the present century experi-
ments continue in Colombia (Patifo 1969:395), but no hemp
industry has ever existed in Colombia compared to that which
existed in North America (Seale, et al. 1952:14).
The use of cannabis as an intoxicant or hallucinogen is
still another question. Linguistic evidence points to West
African slaves brought to Brazil as one possible route of
diffusion of cannabis smoking to the New World (Patifo 1969:
405, Walton 1938:24, Aranugo 1959:313). The adoption of
cannabis smoking by indigenous people of Brazil seems to
confirm the antiquity of this diffusion (Wagley and Galvao
1949:41). Linguistic evidence from Jamaica, as well as a
complex of cultural elements present, indicate East Indian
indentured laborers as another route of diffusion to English
speaking areas of the Caribbean (Rubin and Comitas n.d. page

13). Yet a third diffusion route is the Spanish colonist.
Ardila Rodriguez (1965:48) notes that the plant was cultivated
in Mexico immediately after the first trip of Cortes, and
attributes introduction to one Pedro Cuadrado who accompanied
the conqueror. By 1550 an ordinance was passed in Mexico
which prohibited the cultivation of cannabis, presumably due

to its use as an hallucinogen (Ardila Rodriguez 1965:48).
As late as 1886 and 1898 cannabis mixed with tobacco, sugar,
chili, and mescale was drunk in Mexico (Walton 1938:25).
Early reports from Mexico indicate that cannabis was smoked
by some indigenous peoples but this is unverifiable (Ardila
Rodriguez 1965:48). And recently Williams Garcfa (1963)
has reported on the ritual use of cannabis among a contem-
porary indigenous people.
Several sources of diffusion, therefore, appear likely
points of origin of cannabis on the north coast of Colombia.
Of these the West'African slaves of Brazil appear an unlikely
choice, for there has been little historical contact among
the peoples of northern Brazil and coastal Colombia either
by sea or overland. The Mesoamerican source of diffusion
is also unlikely, since there has been no historical contact
among the peoples of Mexico and coastal Colombia. The cul-
tivation of hemp for fiber does not correlate with cannabis
smoking, since cannabis has been exported to Spain since 1545
from Chile and the use of the plant as an hallucinogen is not
reported (Ardila Rodriguez 1965:49). The Brazilian or Meso-
american sources seem unlikely also because the complex of
cultural traits associated with cannabis smoking in these
areas, such as linguistic usage, ritual sequences, and ritual
beliefs, are not replicated in Colombia.
Cannabis use in Colombia appears to be a recent innova-
tion, dating from the beginning decades of the 20th century.
Cannabis smoking is reported in Central America, both Costa

Rica and Panama, in the 1920's and 1930's (Walton 1938:24,
Siler et al. 1933:269). In each case cannabis use is des-
cribed as an innovation introduced by migratory sailors and
workers. Walton (1938:24) discovered that East Indian terms
were applied to cannabis in Costa Rica, indicating the
Antilles as the source of the recent diffusion (Rubin and
Comitas n.d.). Ardila Rodriguez (1965:82) suggests that
the diffusion of cannabis smoking dates from the work on the
Panama Canal and the "intense human interchange" which re-
sulted among the circumcaribbean countries. Cannabis smoking
probably came to the coast of Colombia with workers and
sailors from the Antilles where cannabis smoking is relatively
older (Rubin and Comitas n.d.). This suggestion is given
weight by the fact that both Costa Rican and Colombian laws
concerning marihuana date from 1927 and 1928 respectively
(Patifo 1969:405, Ardila Rodriguez 1965:67-68). Still it
was not until around 1945 that the Colombian press began
reporting clandestine cannabis plantations on the Atlantic
coast and in the Cauca valley (Patifo 1969:405).
It should be noted parenthetically that cannabis has
always competed with indigenous hallucinogens, narcotics,
and intoxicants used by native peoples of Colombia and
adopted in part by the Spanish colonist. These include
Erythoxylon coca, Banisteriopsis sp., Phyllanthus mexiae,
Opuntia spp., Datura arborea, Methysticodendron amesianum,
Nicotiana tabacum, and Clibadium surinamense. Of these
only Nicotiana in its various species was adopted by the

Spanish, which with coca had the widest distribution and

popularity in the New World. Tobacco was snuffed for head-

ache, chewed for toothache, smoked for "cold humors," and
mixed with rum and aguardiente and applied to insect bites
(Patino 1967:290-291). Negro slaves and Spanish masters
are reported to use tobacco for working because it reduced
fatigue (Patino 1967:295-297). Tobacco was allotted as
part of the rations of workers on a Jesuit hacienda due to
this property of reducing fatigue (Patifo 1967:296). Per-
haps we have here another barrier to diffusion of cannabis
in South America, namely, native plants which served simi-

lar functions in the culture of the conquerors and subject

peoples. The claims made for tobacco in the 16th century
are identical to those made for cannabis in the 20th century.
Since both are smoked in cigarette form it is likely that
here we find the vehicle through which cannbis diffused from

the Antilles to South America. But this was not a case of

stimulus diffusion. It appears that diffusion did not take
place until migratory workers from the Antilles settled on

the coast of South America. Only then did substitution occur.
In Orejones one finds the West Indian houses which are
so distinctive when contrasted with Colombian houses. There
was a considerable influx of West Indian labor when the
United Fruit Company began operations on the coast of Colom-
bia in 1896. While it cannot be proven, it seems likely

that migratory workers from the West Indies were the source
of diffusion for cannabis smoking in Colombia. These origins

will remain obscure, however, for the West Indians melted into

coastal subculture several generations back. An intensive

search for the origins of cannabis smoking in Colombia, how-

ever, is not the objective of this research; rather it is

the group structures and social relationships through which

cannabis diffused, and those through which it did not.

The nature of social relations and group structures on

the north coast of Colombia can be traced back to adaptive
responses of specific social traditions to certain ecological,

geographical, and historical conditions. Changes in these

conditions and social traditions, as well as the in-migration

of distinct social traditions, make the origins of the commu-

nity on the north coast complex. They lie in several sep-

arate adaptive responses, several social traditions, and the

various distinctive forms of social groupings which perpetuate


The first is the Spanish derived urban oriented hato
and the Indian derived urban oriented roza, the cattle estate

and the subsistence plot, each of which feeds the populace

of urban and rural areas alike. The second lies in the

industrially organized agricultural exploitation under the

monopoly of the United Fruit Company. The third is repre-

sented by Andean peasants living on dispersed individual

family farms.

The Region
Patio (1965:384) notes that the nature of agro-pas-

toralism in Colombia has changed little over the colonial,

republican, and contemporary periods. It was not until the

arrival of mechanized agriculture during the 20th century

that any basic changes occurred in the nature of subsistence,

or in the nature of social relationships organized about
subsistence activity. This is particularly true of the

region of Magdalena in which Orejones and Majagua are

The nature of subsistence activity on the north coast
is structured by a basic ecological fact: one crop is

produced each year due to the seasonal alteration between

seven months of rain (April to October) and four months of

drought (November to March) (PatikTo 1965:16-17, Rosales 1934:

100). It is only in the Andean highlands of Colombia, the

three mountain ranges or cordilleras and their valleys, that

two crops a year are possible without the use of irrigation.

This fact explains much of the reason for the dense coloni-

zation of the Andean areas, areas where complex native
societies provided abundant food for the conquerors.

On the coast only in the area of the Sierra Nevada de
Santa Marta were two crops produced annually. This was
the province of the Tairona civilization based upon elaborate

irrigation agriculture and exterminated at the beginning of
the conquest of South America (Patifo 1965: 75-76, 51, 93,

107, Reichel-Dolmatoff 1951:37-38). These systems of

irrigation are no longer extant, having suffered extreme

neglect under the conditions of conquest, so that the

region is today less productive than centuries before

(Patifo 1965:107). As Reichel-Dolmatoff (1951:22-23) ob-

serves, the densely populated region was won at a high cost

of blood, after which the conquerors lost interest, leaving

the region relatively depopulated and uncolonized until the

present century.

With the deterioration of the Tairona irrigation works
the land use pattern reverted to the capacity for only a

single crop annually. This fact discouraged any dense colo-

nization during the following centuries. Cities were founded

at Cartegena, Santa Marta, along the banks of the Magdalena

river, and at the headwaters of that river in the interior.

But these did not spark the colonization of the hinterlands,

which remained refuge areas for palenqueros, escaped Negro

slaves, for army deserters and soldiers of fortune, and for

criminals and ragged remnants of Indian groups (Escalante

1964:117). In contrast, the areas producing two crops
annually, the savana of Santa Fe de Bogota, the Cauca Valley,

the mountains of Pasto, Popayan, and Antioquia, were

steadily colonized over several centuries. The story of

the Nuevo Reino de Granada is generally written about these

latter areas. Those areas which the Spanish leap-frogged

in order to reach the riches of the interior have been con-

sistently neglected. The Magdalena region was one of these.

Santa Marta served as the port of entry and retreat for


the Spanish conquistadores for a century. Most conquerors
who came to get rich in the New World passed through the city.
Practically none stayed for very long. Of the 200 family
names registered in the 16th century in the old baptismal
and marriage and death records of the Cathedral in Santa
Marta none occur more than once (Alarcon 1963:64).
Aside from the lure of riches there were other reasons

for the continual flow through the city. Foremost among
these was vulnerability. English and French pirates attacked
and sacked the city of Santa Marta committing "all kinds of
savage acts that reduced the city to ruin" in the following
years: 1544, 1548, 1550, 1553, 1559, 1560, 1563, 1570, 1572,

1580, 1585, 1586, 1596, 1619, 1629, 1630, 1643, 1655, 1669,
1677, 1679, 1680, 1681, 1692, 1694, 1702, 1704, 1712, 1740,
and 1779 (Alarc6n 1963:64). But, in addition, resources were
depleted and the city reduced to ashes a number of times by
Indian attacks and by troop uprisings. It is little wonder
that Viceroy Ezpeleta characterized the people of Santa
Marta as follows:
tienen pies para pisar la riqueza, pero no
tienen manos con que recogerla (Alarc6n 1963:9)
they have feet for stepping on riches, but not
hands with which to pick it up.
Despite such conditions the residents of Santa Marta
were not lacking in riches. Many amassed fortunes in gold,
pearls, fibers, and food crops which were exported (mainly
to the Island colonies of the Antilles) together with thou-
sands of Indian slaves. But once such wealth was accumulated

the Spaniard generally withdrew to the peaceful colonies of

Santo Domingo, Cuba, and Hispanola. And another wave of

conquerors swept the region. In the process the surrounding

Indian populations were decimated, and the land remained

sparsely colonized.

The hinterlands were exploited, generally, in two ways,

each intimately connected to the cities of the coast. These

were the Spanish-imposed hato or cattle estate and the Indian-

derived roza, huerta, labranza, or chacara, consisting usually

of small plots planted to a mixture of corn, manioc, plantain,

beans, peppers, and other foods consumed by Indians, Negro

slaves, and Spanish conquerors alike. It is in the relation-

ship between the hato, the roza, and the city that we find

the basis for the structure of this early society, a structure

which has changed little over 400 years.

Cities were of two general types: those founded near

native towns whereby the Indian populations could be pillaged

for food and later forced to pay tribute voluntarily under

the threat of pillage, and those founded on communication and

transportation routes as market centers and centers of distri-

bution. Examples of the first type were Santa Marta, Rioacha,

Cartegena, Cignaga, and others on the coast. Examples of

the second type were Mompos, Talameque, Tenerife, Salamina,

Honda, and others on the waterways which led inland to the
populous interior provinces. The hato and roza were associated

with each type of city, for each were necessary to the sur-

vival of the Spanish settler and the commerce in food, hides,

fibers, and precious metals and minerals which grew up every-

where even before the Spanish had settled and built homes.

The Estate System

The first cattle and the idea of the hato were intro-
duced from the Spanish colonies in the Antilles (Patino 1970:

204-205). The wars of extermination fought in the Magdalena
region during the first half of the 16th century appear not
to have seriously hampered the development of the cattle
estate, for during the years between the founding of Santa
Narta in 1525 and the year 1539 the region became known for
the excellence of its cattle industry (Patino 1965:206, 280).

The primary vehicle for this development was the encomienda
which was initiated in the Santa Marta area as early as 1529

(Reichel-Dolmatoff 1951:19). The nature of the encomienda is

well described elsewhere (Hanke 1949, Simpson 1950). It will

suffice to describe it as an extensive amount of land and

labor entrusted to the Spanish settler in exchange for his
services in Christianizing his charges. Its first activities
involved cattle and mining, since grains and vegetables were
obtained through tribute from hostage native towns. The
term hato is used here because it refers to a cattle ranch,
whether this be staffed by Indian slaves, Indian tribute

labor, Negro slaves, free Negroes, or free mestizos. It is
characterized by an urban-dwelling landowner, an administrator,
and laborers (slaves, employees, wage laborers, etc.). While
forms of land acquisition and labor recruitment changed from

time to time the structure of life on the hato changed little.
The cattle estate evolved in two forms, each growing out
of New World phenomenon of wild range cattle (Patilfo 1965:

364, Exquemelin 1951). Cattle were identified as corraleras,
mansas, estravagantes, and montaraces. The first were those
that grazed either within the corral or house compound and
were milked daily. They entered the corral without protest
and were easily moved from place to place by workers on foot.
The mansas were those who required several days of labor to
herd into the corrals, with the aid of workers of the estate
mounted on horseback. The estravagantes were cattle which
roamed wild over the estate, yet carried the brand of the
owner. This meant the animal had been herded into a rodeo
somewhere on the savanas or plains with the aid of mounted
men and hunting dogs, wrestled to the ground with lances
and ropes, and marked as the property of the owner. If
resistance was too great the lances were used to kill the
animal. Last, the montaraces or bravias were truly wild
cattle of the forest which were simply hunted and killed.
They were so wild that lances were used to hold the animal
while a rope was used to tie it to a tree. There it tired
of fighting and could be killed by a man on foot with a
machete (Patifbo 1965:366-367).
The early hato was an operation which consisted pri-
marily in the efforts of an administrator to domesticate
the wild cattle. Fences were prohibited by law until the
end of the 19th century, except for crops and corrals

(PatiTo 1965:315). Milking was not common enough to prevent
the regression of cattle to a state in which they gave little
milk (Patino 1965:374-375). Wild cattle were hunted for
their hides, tongues, and fat for export all over Colombia
(PatiKo 1965:365), and the jerked beef called tasajo was
shipped from Magdalena up the rivers into the interior by
the end of the 16th century (Patino 1970:252).
Such extensive ranching based upon wild cattle yielded
to intensive operations as more and more cattle and people
filled the area. While the extensive operation centered on
the annual rodeo or assembly of wild cattle for selection,
killing, branding, curing, cutting horns, etc., the inten-
sive operation sought to milk tame animals. These were kept
in closed corrals near population centers or urban areas
(Patifio 1965:371). The corral was moved at intervals so as
to change pasture grasses, as the Spanish did not bring the
tradition of cut grass or hay for penned animals, and the
pasture used was naturally occurring until quite recently

(Patifo 1965:374).
The extensive cattle hatos were located in the isolated
areas where range herds roamed at will. The complaints of
the Indian towns and urban planters throughout the colonial
period bear testimony to the crop damage done by these herds.
The hundreds of pages of legislation forbidding free ranging
cattle from agricultural areas constitute a major monument to
the inefficiency of restrictive legislation (Patino 1965:342).
The area of Magdalena was characterized by both inten-

sive and extensive hatos, although the intensive operations
developed relatively late and were located close to the
urban populations. The area around the city of Santa Marta
and the commercial center of Cignaga (through which traffic
has moved out of the hinterlands into the interior via the
river Magdalena for centuries) was the scene of intensive
hatos, the owners of which produced two to three arrobas or
bushels of cheese daily for local urban populations. These
hatos averaged from 200 to 300 cattle in their corrals (Patifo

1970:246). The area between the Magdalena river and the
Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (the future banana zone) was a
center for extensive hatos (Patifo 1970:223). A good example
is that of Rodrigo Bastides, the founder of Santa Marta.
Upon his death it held over 8,000 cattle (Patino 1970:204).
Such a figure is not atypical of the extensive hato, for these
were huge estates. So large were they that figures such as
16,000 head, 12,000 head, and 40,000 head are not uncommon
from colonial times to the present (Patino 1970:223-224).

The Subsistence Horticultural System

From the beginning the Spanish invaders survived
through dependence upon indigenous technologies and forms
of social organization. The invaders were cattlemen. They
depended completely upon the native populations for food,
labor, and material and technological devices (Patino 1965:

437-438). Famine in Santa Marta came when "the Indian
rebelled" and among residents of that city it was said that

"those who do not have Indians cannot be said to be living"
(Patino 1965:38). The cabildo, or city fathers, of Santa
Marta in 1547 petitioned for 12 skilled workers from Spain
to carry out projects for the city, promising that each
worker would be given two Negroes "para que produzcan," or
so that they might produce (Patifo 1965:465).
The Spanish invader survived due to a complex system
of tribute levied on the Indian peoples, including compul-
sory planting laws (Patino 1965:340). Tributes set were
for quite specific amounts: four hanegas or 1.6 bushels
of corn each month, 10 fowl each week (five female and five
male), a set number of fish, eggs, salt, woven mochilas or
carrying bags, sacks of fique fiber or Fourcroya foetida,
sandals of fique, fish nets, etc. depending upon the tech-
nology of the group under tribute and the needs of the
Spaniard (Patifo 1965:405-408, Reichel-Dolmatoff 1951:111).
Under such conditions the native methods of production and
forms of social organization and technologies persisted to
the present (Patifo 1965:329, 381-382, 457). Where the
Spanish successfully introduced European crops and techno-
logies (e.g. wheat and ox-drawn plows in the highlands) the
Indians learned new technologies, although they continued
to subsist through planting their own traditional rozas.
In general, the Spanish, Indian, and Negro lived off of
native crops in the coastal and lowland areas where European
crops could not diffuse (Patino 1965:331-332).
Dependence upon continuing tributes, however, presup-

poses the survival of the Indian peoples whose labor sup-

ports the Spanish armies. Most governors of the city of

Santa Marta did not have foresight to recognize this truism,

and continually sacked the Indian towns upon which the city

at first depended. Gradually, these towns, made up of tech-

nically free Indians, became centers of peasant horticul-

turalists, and up until the present time continue to provide

food for the city. These are towns such as Bonda, Gira,

Taganga, and Mamatoca (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1951:14-15). The

Indians did not survive, and as they died out they were re-

placed by Negro slaves and Negro and mestizo peasants. While
slavery was universal from the beginning (preferably utilizing

Indians further away from the urban nodes) the use of Negroes

in horticulture arose only when the native sources were

depleted (Patino 1965:406). In fact, the importation of

untaxed Negro slaves coincides with the extinction of the
Indians and the abolishment of Indian tribute labor (Patifo


The tributes were met by the social forms which powered
the roza. These were of two kinds: those located on the

large estates or the gardens of the Europeans, and those

located in small Indian towns. Tribute labor in the form
of communal work parties was utilized on the farm, but this
involved only the males of the Indian population. This form

of work organization was traditional among the Indians of

the coast. The Spanish in fact issued certain ordinances

which permitted the Indians to conduct "sus borracheras con


occasion de las siembras colectivas, con la condici6n de

evitar excesss" their drunken feasts upon occasion of the

collective planting, on the condition that there not be

excess (Patino 1965:392). We read the following description

of this collective work party called la chagua:

Ellos por hacer menos trabajo en la labranza,
tienen introducido un modo de cambio, que
liaman chagua, de esta suerte, juntanse un
dia de la semana los indios de un pueblo 6
parte de ellos, cada cual con su hacha y
machete en la casa del indio que hace la la-
branza, y entire todos de desmontan la tierra,
y la dejan apta para la siembra, teniendo
obligaci6n el duefo de 1l chagua de darles de
comer y beber en aquel dia, porque para ello
se previene antes con la pesca o monteria, Y
la mujer con las tinajas de chicha. Este dia
para ellos es de hdga, y por eso suelen elegir
el festive, y es necesario que el doctrinero
diga misa temprano, y cuide que la oigan.
Vuelven a la noche y si ha quedado alguna bebida,
forman su baile hasta acabarla. Recogense
despues, y cuando alguno de aquellos hace su
chagua, es obligado a concurrir a ella el indio
que recibio el beneficio (Rosa 1945:261, quoted
in Patifo 1965:392-393).

They (Indians in the jurisdiction of Santa Marta)
in order to have less work in their fields have
introduced a change of pace, which they call
the chaua, in which the Indians of a town gather
one day of the week, or a part of them, each one
with his axe and machete at the house of the
Indian making the garden, and together they clear
the brush away leaving it ready to plant, while
the owner of the chagua is obligated to give food
and drink that day, necessitating assembling much
food on the part of the owner, and much maize beer
on the part of his woman. This day for them is
a day of rest and they treat it as a fiesta, so
that it is necessary for the priest to say the
mass early, and be careful that they pay attention.
They return at night and if there is any drink
left, form their dances until they tire. They
retire then, and when one of them must sponsor
a chagua, it is obligatory for the owner of the
last one to participate since he received this

The male collective work group of this form is gen-
erally known to students of the central Andes by the term

minga or minka which comes from Ecuador where the Incas and

later the Spanish each integrated it into their systems of

taxations and tribute work (Patifo 1965:393). So popular

was this form of social contract with the Spanish that they

attempted to spread it to areas where it was not a customary
form of organization (Patino 1965:342-343). The fact that

the Spanish government attempted to finance hospitals for the
indigent, care of the aged, food and clothing for the poor,
as well as cultivation in the fields and house construction

through such collective work parties is an indication of the

enthusiasm with which they took to the idea (Patifo 1965:

342-343). The energy source for such beneficence, we should
remember, was the compulsory labor tax on the indigenous


Labor Recruitment
The form of organization associated with the term roza
therefore is the cooperative work party. Clearingand burning
off the land is the activity of a group of males drawn from

the community who are given food and alcohol while they work.
The males of each household then plant and weed the roza

during the growing season, and the females harvest the pro-
duce and carry it to where it is prepared (Patifo 1965:387).
Collective labor on the estates of the encomenderos and the

cattle barons who followed them followed similar patterns,

although on the encomiendas and cattle estates males com-

pleted all tasks except preparation of the produce for con-
sumption (Patifto 1965:409-410). While there is little

direct evidence, it seems likely that females were used as
domestic servants in the houses of the cattle barons. Cer-
tainly during later times the female Negro slaves were used
in this fashion (Escalante 1964:129). Current slave raids
into the jungles of the Amazon basin for the purpose of
capturing female Indians to serve as domestics in the houses
of the cattle barons of the Llanos Orientales suggest that
in the colonial epoch women from the Indian towns were drafted
in similar ways.

Indians were preferred to either Negroes or mestizos
for agricultural labor (PatiTfo 1965:402), even though it was
said that Negroes worked harder than Indians (Escalante 1964:
121). The reason lies in Spanish dependence upon native
technologies and forms of organization in agriculture, mining,
and transport (PatiKo 1965:444-445). Near the end of the 16th
century Negroes became increasingly important. They were
being trained by Indians to operate native bongos or dugout
canoes linking the coast with the interior on the river Mag-
dalena at this time (Patifo 1965:405, 493). And the city of
Santa Marta came to depend upon the labor of Negroes in sub-
sistence horticulture about the same time (Patilo 1965:497).
In general, as soon as natives disappeared, Negroes were
rapidly imported (Patifo 1965:486).
Negro slavery existed alongside Indian slavery and
tribute as contemporary forms of labor exploitation through-
out the colonial period (Escalante 1964:117). The Negro

slave was preferred for labor in the mines; the association
of Negroes with sugar plantations is second to the associa-
tion with mining in this region (Patifo 1965:487, 503,
Escalante 1964:121-123). From the 16th century founding
of Santa Marta and Cartegena until the mid-19th century
when slavery was abolished (1851) the slave revolt and the
independent escaped slave towns called palenques were con-
stant features of the coastal hinterland (Escalante 1964:
114-117). Expeditions to subdue these free towns were con-
tinuous (and unsuccessful) during this period (Escalante
1964:114-117). Famous palenques were located south of Santa
Marta and in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (Patifo 1965:

515, Escalante 1964:113). But the greatest concentration of
Negroes was on the hato, in the mines, and in subsistence
rozas. "Las haciendas de ganado Y labranza de la Costa
Atlantica. se movian con trabajo esclavo" or the
cattle haciendas and subsistence farming of the Atlantic
coast were powered by slave labor (Escalante 1964:131).
This was particularly true of the area west of the Sierra
Nevada, where the Negroes, both free and slave, played the
roles of worker and administrator of extensive cattle
ranches (Patifo 1965:510).
The sugar plantation on the coast of Colombia, as well
as the plantations of cotton, tobacco, cacao, and anil, was
worked by Indian tribute labor (Patiifo 1965:412-419). But
the monocrop plantations were never a prominent feature of
the Atlantic coast (Patifo 1965:503, 1969:315). If Indian

groups became extinct it was due mostly to the traffic in
Indian slaves for the great 16th century plantations of the
Antilles (Patiffo 1965:418). With extinction of the Indians
the Negro became the worker. In this regard it is important
to consider the role of the free Negro.
Escalante (1964) has emphasized the significance of the
free Negro towns during the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th cen-
turies. Once they had become established (some to the point
of signing treaties, see Escalante 1964:115-116) they produced
horticultural crops to be marketed in the coastal cities by
womenof the town carrying baskets on their heads (Escalante
1964:136). This seems to be a significant difference between
the Antilles and the Continent; while the palenque was rarely
found in the former, it was a marked feature of the latter
(Escalante 1964:136). The importance of the free Negro to
the survival of coastal society is emphasized by Patiffo (1965:
497) with the word "indispensable" in reference to subsistence
The census report of Francisco Silvestre (Vergara y
Velasca 1901:LX-LXI) of December, 1789, portrays the situa-
tion in terms of the categories the ecclesiastic chose for
his description of the Santa Marta region of the coast:
Total Men 19,641
Total Women 20,301
Whites 4,566
Indians 8,506
Free Negroes and Mixed 22,882
Slave Negroes 3,988
Total Population 39,942

The proportion of free Negroes and mixed bloods to slave
Negroes, Whites, and Indians is revealing, even if the totals
are incorrect by as much as several thousand. The free Negro
and mestizo working either as a subsistence horticulturalist

(peasant) or in the cattle ranches constituted two-thirds of
the population, and this 62 years before slavery was abolished.
Additional evidence as to the importance of this sector of

the population is found in General Santander's opposition

to the recruitment of Negroes in the Colombian army during
the war with Peru, since such recruitment would hurt subsis-

tence horticulture upon which the army depended (Patifo 1965:

The monoculture plantation in the Antilles, Brazil,

and parts of Latin America is writ large in the histories
of these regions. The unbroken continuity of peasant sub-
sistence horticulture (Indian, Negro, Mestizo) in forming
the character of these populations is often overlooked.
We should not forget that Spaniard, Negro, Indian and mes-
tizo ate corn, beef, manioc, beans, and other subsistence
crops. They did not eat the gold or silver shipped to
Europe or the goods which they got in exchange for sugar.

Forms of Human Organization

In summary, the hato, the roza, and the Spanish city
formed the nexus of coastal society. The plantation was
never characteristic of this region and the mines were soon
exhausted, but the insatiable need for food is constant over

all periods. The forms of human organization that developed

in response to this shared need must be considered central

to an analysis of community life on the north coast.
Change in the forms of human organization came more
slowly to the Magdalena region than to other parts of the
coast. In the 1880's barbed wire diffused to Colombia from

the United States. By the year 1896 it was declared a revo-
lutionizing influence in Colombian cattle production (Patifo

1965:322). This was true only of the coastal hinterlands

near Cartegena and not of Santa Marta. A Colombian geographer

writing in 1898 compared the two regions, noting that around

Cartegena the cattle were penned with the new wire but that

in the Magdalena region around Santa Marta the traditional
cimarrone cattle continued to roam the forests, savanas, and
hills (Vergara y Velasca 1901:551). The geographer explains
this difference in terms of the maggots produced by a certain
fly in the Cartegena hinterlands, necessitating penning the
animals for cleaning, whereas the hinterlands of Santa Marta
were the area of the jejen or gnat which did not infect the
cattle (Vergara y Velasca 1901:551, 557). But there appears
a more salient explanation.
The site of the present city of Barranquilla was popu-
lated since before colonial times. It was not until 1850
that the major growth of the city began, however, sparked
by the completion of a railroad spur linking Barranquilla
with the Atlantic Ocean deep port called Puerto Colombia

(Vergara y Velasca 1901:811). When this happened the old

port city of Santa Marta began to recede in importance.

The following chart in millions of pesos compares the export

activity at the customs offices in these three major ports

of the north coast between 1839 and 1891 (from Vergara y

Velasca 1901:814-815):

39-40 57-58 66-67 79-80 83-84 1891
Barranquilla 186 759 2,624 9,955 9,127 13,000
Cartegena 937 1,365 759 1,117 1,117 2,575
Santa Marta 124 2,108 1,422 1 23 35

As Vergara y Velasca (1901:811) notes, the fading of the port
of Santa Marta and the rise to importance of Barranquilla
means that the older city had come to export less and depend

more upon local, internal markets. Perhaps this is an indi-
cation of declining population as well. Certainly the cattle
industry marked time, if it did not actually fall behind pro-
duction levels of former times.
The region of Magdalena and its capital city of Santa

Marta thus became relatively isolated from the major flow

of commerce and growth. It became a truly regional nexus

of hinterland society and regional nodal centers and grew
increasingly isolated and less dependent upon commerce with
other regions. The great barrier of the Magdalena river was
between Santa Marta and tarranquilla, and was crossed by a
ferry at Salamina from the earliest times, but this permitted

no significant expansion or development. It is significant
that Salamina did not grow to sudden prominence when Santa
Marta was eclipsed by Barranquilla. Because of such isolation

the kinds of productive activities described above for the

coast of Colombia in the 16th century were observed as late

as the late 19th century in the Magdalena region.

Still another expression of cultural persistence in the

Magdalena region is the rebellions and civil wars which plagued

it for 100 years. A recently published history of Magdalena

(Alarc6n 1963) consists of little more than a list of generals

and battles fought for possession of towns and estates during

the 19th century. The specific issues (federalism, indepen-

dence, Masons, Catholocism, conservatism, liberalism, etc.)

are of minor interest in the long run. For whatever the

issue the result was always the same: the territorial repar-

tition. These continual repartitions may be interpreted as

evidence of the prolific war activity of the cattle barons

of the 19th century when one examines the list of legislation

effecting partitioning and repartitioning of the hinterlands,

reflecting the rising and falling fortunes of the cattle

barons. The departmental capital was changed several times,

municipio cabeceras were changed with regularity, mnicipal-

ities were carved up in one decade only to be reassembled

the next, and populations living in towns and hamlets found

themselves paying taxes to one government center one year and

another the following year. Such a state of constant wars,

treaties, and more wars mark 19th century Magdalena as an

involuted region and as a region of intense competition among

landowners for control of resources which grew progressively

less productive as time passed. When, after 100 years of

civil war, the Colombian violencia came into existence in

the interior, it did not spread to the Magdalena region.

The issues which divide residents of this region are dif-

ferent than those which divide the highlanders.

It has already been seen that the cattle estate typically

requires the work of an administrator and a few full-time

employees. All activities involving the cattle are easily

handled by a small number of vaqueros or cowboys. The only

activity requiring the work of numerous hands today is the

constant weeding of pasture grasses. But during the colonial

and republican periods and in some places today, such main-

tenance was easily carried out by a few workers and the admin-

istrator. The constant plague of the hato is the invasion

of pasture grasses by weeds. The system of weed control which

evolved, the desmontona, involved putting an excessive number

of cattle in a pasture area to eat out the incipient weeds.

This was usually done during the dry summer when grasses were

dormant and cattle were forced to eat weeds. Often the acti-

vity involved cooperation among neighbors who would pool

their herds in order to desmontar a particular estate for a

few weeks and then move on to another estate (Patifo 1965:

374). Today in Magdalena this custom is followed only in
remote areas where labor is scarce, and field hands clean

pasture grasses with machetes elsewhere.

Other activities such as branding, killing, castration,
moving between pastures, cutting horns, etc. were all easily

handled by the administrator and his vaqueros. Near the

cities intensive hatos devoted to milk and cheese production

used a number of ordinarios to milk the cattle, but judging
from the number of these kinds of employees on dairy farms
today (see Chapter III) there were never very many of them.

In summary, the hato called for only a few workers whose
activities were directed by an administrator. Huge tracts
of land supported a small population throughout the colonial,
republican, and contemporary periods. Workers were granted
plots of land for their own rozas or subsistence plots, just
as slaves were at an earlier time required to grow most of

their own food (Patino 1965:513-514). From the administrator
they drew rations of salt, beef, and tools with which they
worked in both the roza of the owner of the estate and their
own gardens. They were given houses in which they located
their families (Escalante 1964:129, Patifo 1965:513), and
on many estates Saturdays were free from work and Sundays
were a day for rest and attendance at the mass said in the
estate house (Escalante 1964:130). Cooperation in the form
of la chagua work group occurred on these estates just as
in the scattered towns and hamlets of the hinterland, for the
exigencies of swidden horticulture were everywhere the same.
Little historical evidence exists as to whether or not
the chagua or cooperative work party for clearing and burning
the land was adopted by Negroes and mestizos, but the proba-
bility is quite high given the following facts. First, swidden
techniques were unchanged by the Spaniards over the centuries

and are well suited to local ecological conditions. Second,
Negroes and mestizos learned these techniques from indigenous

peoples. Third, the organization of horticultural work in

the free Negro towns was similar. Th'e males occupied them-

selves with defense of their stronghold and raiding, and most

horticultural duties such as planting and weeding fell to

the women, but clearing and burning off the land continued to

be a function of the male cooperative work group (Escalante

1964:127). In mixed Indian-Negro-mestizo estates and hamlets,

therefore, it is unlikely that different forms of horticul-

tural organization were practiced, since all drew upon a

single technology and learned a single complex of customs

for utilizing that technology.

Cooperative work groups, then, are the distinctive form

of human organization typical of the colonial, republican,

and contemporary periods of coastal society. This is equally

true of the extensive cattle estate and the small peasant

hamlet. The small hamlets called aldeas or caserios contained

no more than a score of families. They were scattered in

between the large cattle estates of the hinterlands. They

numbered about two or three every 100 kilometers in the 19th

century. There were only six of these in the 1870's in the

banana zone when the geographer Simmons surveyed them even

though the zone covered an area of about 100 kilometers by

40 kilometers between the mountains and the swamp (Vergara y

Velasca 1901:82-85). Yet, given the relatively greater rain-

fall and abundance of rivers in this region, as compared to

other parts of Magdalena, this must be considered a parti-

cularly dense concentration of peasant families. These

families were engaged in subsistence horticulture, some
sugar production, aviculture, beekeeping, cottage crafts
such as cheese making, and contraband activities (Angarita
1928). The civil wars of the 19th century took a heavy
toll among these towns and hamlets (Vergara y Velasca 1901:

552). When the Colombian geographer Vergara y Velasca vis-
ited the region in the late 1890's he discovered the towns
to be "isolated nuclei" surrounded by expanses of territory
only superficially grazed by cattle. The cattle estate
dominated the landscape.
Vergara y Velasca (1901:792) described the region that
was to become the banana zone as "one of the most repulsive
poles of the country." The reason for such a drastic con-
demnation is found in the seasonal shift from drought to
flood. The numerous rivers draining the Sierra Nevada de
Santa Marta on the western side flow into the large fresh
water lagoon called Cienaga Grande. In the lowlands these
rivers become wide (some navigable as late as 1934, Rosales

1934) and the land becomes humid and swampy. In the winter
rainy season the cattle and residents had to move to higher
ground as the riveisrose and flooded their broad, flat
valleys (Vergara y Velasca 1901:515). This ecological fea-
ture and the sparse human population prompted the negative
comment of the Colombian geographer, but he predicted that
the banana industry growing up at the foot of the mountains
would assure the development of the region (Vergara y Velasca

The United Fruit Company

The prediction of Vergara y Velasca turned out to be

correct. Beginning in 1896 the United Fruit Company started
developing the lowlands at the foot of the Sierra Nevada.
A French company began operations in the same region in 1905,
but disappeared at the start of the First World War. Names
such as Normandia and Alsacia are still found on plantations
in this area. But it was the Compania Frutera de Sevilla,
at first called the Compania Frutera de Magdalena, two local
names for the United Fruit Company, which actually developed
the zone (Kamalaprija 1965:7-8).
The Colombian geographer Rosales (1934:101) observed
that the zona bananera was composed of a group of small towns
strung along the railroad line which connected Santa Marta
and the old aldea of Fundacion. This railroad crossed the
rivers Riofrfo, Sevilla, Tucurinca, Aracataca, and Fundaci6n
which through an elaborate irrigation and drainage system
built by the United Fruit Company has ceased winter flooding
and now irrigated the banana plantations stretching out to
the west of the towns. The railroad went no farther than
Fundaci6n until 1961, when the government extended it to the
national capital in the interior (James 1969). But as early
as 1868, 1871, and 1872 contracts were granted to enterprising
men on the coast to complete a railroad linking Santa Marta
with the Magdalena river, obviously in the hope of turning
the tide of depression which had engulfed the ancient port
city (Alarcin 1963:399). It was the effort of a Bogota based

group of businessmen born in Santa Marta who formed a corpor-

ation called the Sociedad Patriotica del Magdalena that

actually began work on the proposed line. The group was

incorporated in New York in 1881, under the name Ferrocarril
de Santa Marta, and then work began. In 1886 the inaugural

trip was made between Santa Marta and Cienaga, and the com-

pany was sold to the English firm of Greenwood and Company.
Work continued until the line reached Sevilla, and then

stopped when flash floods wiped out much of the line in 1894.
It remained for the United Fruit Company to finish the line

between Sevilla and Fundaci6n (Alarc6n 1963:394-396, Val-
Spinosa 1969:38). This was not done until the flooding was

controlled by straightening the courses of rivers and installing
miles of canals running between the rivers and draining the

land. French, English, and United States engineers and capi-

talists, together with a work force recruited from all over

the coast as well as numerous foreign nationals, built the

irrigation network, installed bridges, completed the rail-

road, laid out banana plantations, built houses and work

camps on the plantations and founded towns. The entire
structure of life in the region was dramatically changed

during the first decades of the 20th century.
Church records from 1914 to 1925 give evidence of this

dramatic change. Half of the marriages performed in Orejones
united persons from distant regions of Magdalena, Bolivar,

Atlantico, and the Guajira. By 1938 the municipality of

Orejones had sprouted a population of 15,861 persons, about


4,500 of them living in the 630 buildings of the town of
Majagua (Contraloria General de la RepGblica 1941). This
transformation can be appreciated when it is recalled that

the hamlet of Majagua was no more than a score of people
in the geographical surveys of 1874 and 1898.

The influence of the banana company upon the organiza-
tion of life in the region was felt in four ways: (1) the

local elite composed of original settlers, hato owners,
were transformed into a wealthy elite; (2) a middle sector
was created by recruitment from the cities of the coast of

employees of the Company; (3) the traditional social rela-
tionships sketched earlier in this chapter among landowners,
administrators and workers were altered; (4) and the nature

of social relationships among laborers themselves was changed.

The landowners operating hatos quickly converted to
bananas. Some of them sold their land and moved to the cities
but many built fortunes selling millions of stalks of bananas

to the Company. They purchased homes in the coastal cities.
They sent sons and daughters to the capital, Europe, and the
United States for education. They held political offices at
the departmental and national levels where they continued to
dominate political life just as when they were cattle barons.

The new middle sector consisted of employees of the
Company: estate managers, clerks, commissary directors,
secretaries, fruit selectors, and labor supervisors. These
received single family dwellings with running water and indoor
plumbing, furniture, mules and horses, credit for shopping

at the company store, and a monthly salary. Their sons
and daughters were given scholarships to study at the
Colombian universities. Their illnesses were treated in
hospitals staffed by United States physicians. Several of
these families built fortunes during the banana heyday.

The workers were provided with three rooms of a row
house, running water and indoor plumbing, reduced rates on
the train, hospital services deducted from their pay (2%),
a machete, work clothes, credit for shopping at

the Company store, and a cash wage higher than that paid
today to workers on the coast. At the exchange rate of 1.02
pesos to the dollar in 1925 (Kamalaprija 1965:127-128) the
worker in the banana zone earning 2.00 pesos a day received
US$2.00 (Valdeblanquez 1964:245, El Tiempo December 22, 1928,
page 1). Today the worker makes 20 to 25 pesos a day which
at the exchange rate of 23.00 to the dollar comes to the
equivalent of US$1.05. To this picture should be added the
fact that all former workers for the Company during this
period report that prices for goods available in the commis-

saries of the United Fruit Company were cheaper than those
available in the stores of the towns.

It has been seen that during earlier periods the rela-
tionship among landowners and their workers is best described
by the phrase patron-client (Foster 1967:216). The landowner
granted usufruct rights to several hectares to his worker

for cultivation, provided living quarters on the estates,
and granted credit at an estate store or commissary. The

coming of the banana industry and wage labor destroyed this

relationship. Workers were paid money in return for labor

rather than given usufruct right to land. The company did

continue to provide both housing and credit at estate com-

missaries. But the subsistence horticulture tradition which

was always a part of estate life disappeared.

The industrialization of agricultural production naturally
included industrial forms of labor organization. The workers

became quite specialized in striking contrast to their former

roles as unspecialized horticulturalists or cattle ranch

workers. Work groups were task rather than kin based, and

highly specialized. Cortadores cut the stalks of banana,

portadores hauled and loaded the stalks on gondolas pulled by

oxen and then tractors, tractoristas drove them to the sta-

tion, tanquepes washed, sealed and bagged the stalks, canal-

eros controlled the water flow to the estates, and a mandador

directed groups of macheteros in planting, cleaning, and

weeding the banana plants. Among the macheteros work was

organized in groups not unlike the traditional form, but

food and drink were not part of the work activity. Rather,
work.periods during the weekdays were clearly separated from

leisure periods on the weekends. The Company lavishly spon-

sored local festivals on the weekend days, but festival

events were kept distinct from work activities. Saturday

and Sundays were spent in the towns drinking, eating, playing

billiards, visiting brothels, and fighting game cocks.

The banana plantations were located to the west of the

railroad, which ran north and south for 98 kilometers be-

tween Santa Marta and Fundaci6n. Another 50 kilometers of

railroad track ran off the main track to the west. The

banana plantations were strung out along these spurs. On

each spur were located several washing stations or espuelas.

It was here that the bananas were brought, prepared, and

loaded on railroad cars to be taken to the United Fruit Company

docks in Santa Marta. Steamships left the port weekly for

New York and Liverpool (Rosales 1934:107).

Banana production was precise and well ordered. By
no means was it restricted to the United Fruit plantations.

Some 30,000 hectares were under cultivation at the height of

productivity, and only 10,000 of these were the property of

the Company (Kamalaprija 1965:8, 12, Comisi6n de Planificaci6n

1964:111). Irrigation, planting, cleaning, and weeding, and

harvesting were identical on both kinds of estates. Even the

custom of issuing script for credit at the estate commissary

or Company store was common to each. Such uniformity was re-

quired by the nature of the product and the need to transport

bananas as rapidly as possible to their market in the United

States and England.

The exporter contacted the producer three days before
the steamboat arrived, and the producer informed the exporter
how many railroad cars he would need. The "cut day" then

began, which was not a day at all but 72 hours of intensive

labor on the part of all concerned. The cortador made a cut

in the trunk of the banana tree so that in a short while it

would incline and make the stalk easier to reach. Then the

stalk would be cut and the portador would carry it to the

waiting gondola, which then delivered it to the tanquepes

and fruit selectors at the espuela. Other portadors loaded

the sacks containing the fruit on the railroad cars. No over-

time or special payments were made to the workers for such in-

tensive work periods. After the cut day the mandador and his

macheteros cleaned off the mature trees and planted the new

shoots (Kamalprija 1965:29).

Aside from the coastal subculture other subcultural groups

present in the municipio during the early 20th century included

Middle East immigrants who opened stores, bars, and brothels, a

number of West Indian immigrants who worked as day laborers,

and the North Americans living on the quinta or cluster of manor

houses on the other side of the railroad tracks. A small number

of highlanders from the interior migrated into the banana zone

during this period, most from Antioquia.

The picture painted by Gabriel Garcla Marquez of this

period in Cien Anos de Soledad is for the most part accurate,

if entirely surrealistic in style and tone. Majagua, was in-

deed transformed into a boom town. But its transformation

did not correspond exactly with the picture presented in Cien
Af'os de Soledad. The major discrepancy is with regard to the

role of the elite founders of Majagua, the landed gentry who

form the central characters of the novel. They were not
simply awestruck bystanders to the banana boom; rather they

were prime movers and beneficiaries of the boom. These elites

became independent banana producers and strong allies of the

Boston based corporation. They helped lay out the plantations,

planted the first bananas, founded and built small towns, and

collected millions of pesos for their efforts (La Epoca 1972).

Today their descendents can be located in the Parliament in

Bogota, in the departmental capital of Santa Marta, in Barcelona,

Puerto Rico, Miami, and New York.
The banana strike of 1928 is one of the central events of

the novel, and perhaps the most central event in the history of
the banana zone. Garcia Marquez portrays the elite of the town
as merely passive bystanders during this event. But the facts

reported by the newspapers of the period, historians, and by

workers who participated in the strike provide a different

interpretation. An event analysis, a technique developed by

Kimball and Pearsall (1955), of the strike is relevant here

because the strike was both a formative event and a reflection

of the social structure of the banana zone.

The strike resulted in the massacre of uncounted numbers

of unarmed workers the morning of December 6, 1928 by the
Colombian army. The figure rose to around 1,500 during the
week of terror which followed throughout the zone (Val-Spinosa
1969:4, 69). The priest of one of the banana towns recorded
the following note in Book Number Three of the baptismal re-
cords of his church:
Los asesinatos se perpetraban con regularidad
incredible, por lo cual los vecinos justamente
alarmados y temiendos por sus vidas, vivian
prevenidos contra todo individuo que no fuera
costeno (Angarita 1928).
Assassinations were perpetrated with incredible
regularity, causing the townspeople who were justly

alarmed and fearful for their lives, to live
in complete distrust of any individual who
was not of the coast.
Such a violently harsh manner of ending the strike on the part
of the Colombian government was the product of several factors;

the shaky Colombian economy and its huge indebtedness to the

United States (Val-Spinosa 1969:10-15), the growth of the
Socialist Party (founded in 1919) and the insistence by this
party that the newly emerging proletariat organize (Val-Spinosa
1969:18), a move which the Minister of War interpreted as
"communism" (El Tiempo December 8, 9, 10, 1928), and the
attempts of the United Fruit Company to retain monopoly over
all human and nonhuman resources in the banana zone (Val-
Spinosa 1969:34, 38-39, 40-41).

The strike began peacefully as reported by correspondents
of newspapers in Barranquilla and Santa Marta, as well as by

the Governor of Santa Marta, (El Tiempo November 20, 1928, p.
2, November 21, 1928, p. 1, November 22, 1928, p. 9, December
22, 1928, p. 1). When the demands of the workers' petition

were rejected by the manager of the United Fruit Company,
Thomas Bradshaw, and six independent Colombian planters acting
with Bradshaw, there was no violence or work stoppage. The
strike was not called until November 11, the day after a large
cutting order had been issued by the Company (Val-Spinosa 1969:

50-51). General Cortes Vargas was ordered to come from Barran-
quilla to become the military commander of the Province of
Santa Marta, after telegrams were sent to the President of
Colombia by Thomas Bradshaw reporting the workers to be in

"riot" (Val-Spinosa 1969:51). Cortes Vargas arrested around

400 people in the towns of the zone as he made his first tour
of inspection, accusing them of attempting to impede the pro-
gress of his train, but still there was no violence (El Tiempo
November 19, 1928, p. 2). The Company manager, Bradshaw, re-
set the cut day for December 3, and together with General
Cortes Vargas arranged for 25 soldiers to guard the nonstriking
workers at each espuela through the zone (Val-Spinosa 1969:59).
Passports were issued by the army for travel in the zone and

the train was defended with mounted machineguns (El Tiempo
December 4, 1928, p. 7). A rumor which remains unconfirmed
today reached the Governor of Santa Marta that a civilian had
been killed at one of the espuelas in an argument with a sol-
dier, and the Governor requested emergency help from the nat-
ional government. A state of siege was declared by the Presi-
dent's cabinet on December 3, but it was not instituted for
want of a confirmed "incident" which would justify it and
which could be given wide public hearing (Val-Spinosa 1969:60).
This incident came on December 5 when unarmed workers managed
to entice a group of armed soldiers to a dinner and party.
This was a widely broadcast as the "capture" of a squad of
soldiers and a state of siege was officially declared (El
Tiempo December 6, 1928, p. 1). The workers gathered at the
town of Cienaga in the railroad station for a demonstration
on December 5, and early on the morning of December 6 by the
light of cooking fires and lamps they were ordered to disperse.
When they refused, the army fired into the crowd of 4,000 per-

sons with carbines, machineguns, and revolvers (El Tiempo
December 6, 1928, p. 1, Val-Spinosa 1969:60-64, Valdeblanquez
1964:238-243). Then began the mopping up operation under
the direction of General Cortes Vargas.
Although telegraph lines connected each town of the
zone with Santa Marta, and Santa Marta with Barranquilla and
Bogota, and although telephones were located in United Fruit
offices in all towns, and although public telephones existed
in each of the larger towns of the zone, no information could
be obtained by the staff reporters of El Tiempo for a week
(El Tiempo December 6, 1928, p. 1, December 7, 1929, p. 1,
December 8, 1928, p. 1, December 9, 1928, p. 1, December 10,
1928, p. 1). Telegrams and phone calls sent by newspapers
in the capital to businessmen, landowners, and public officials
in Santa Marta on the morning of December 6 were not delivered
until the 21st of December. Meanwhile, the army reported one
person dead and several injured in the confrontation, all of
whom were alleged to be anarchists, communists, and rebels
(El Tiempo December 6, 1928, p. 1, December 10, 1928, p. 1).
The series of atrocities committed by the Colombian
troops are well recorded (Gaitgn 1972). While Cort6s Vargas
remained in control of the zone until March of 1929, no
Colombian and foreign correspondents were admitted, and no
list of casualties was compiled (Val-Spinosa 1969:69). But
various generals and colonels of the army were quite anxious
to report their achievements, and their telegrams can be read
in the pages of El Tiempo from December 10 until December 17,
1928. In July of 1929 a young firebrand lawyer named J6rge

Eliecer Gaitgn made the banana zone massacre his vehicle
to national prominence by visiting the banana zone and
collecting massive documentation of the events which had
occurred (El Tiempo, Lecturas Dominicales, No. 317, October
6, 1929, p. 12). These he used in a dramatic denunciation
of the military and the United Fruit Company in the Parliameht
for four consecutive days (Gaitan 1972). His considerable
talents as an orator, criminologist, and lawyer, punctuated
with many letters, sworn testimonies, and even pieces of a
child's skull, were devastating (Val-Spinosa 1969:80-81).
The result is tersely described by Val-Spinosa (1969:82-84).
The Liberal Party mounted their first successful challenge
to the hegemony of the aristocratic Conservative Party with
the candidacy of Enrique Olaya Herrera:
During his whirlwind campaign for the presi-
dency Olaya Herrera laid a wreath at the tomb
of the martyred strikers at Cignaga. Two weeks
later he was elected Liberal President of
Colombia (Val-Spinosa 1969:84).
Behind the chronicle of actions and reactions which can
be traced through various sources there is another side to
the massacre in the banana zone. This is the composition of
the factions which supported or opposed the strikers, for
this gave the event lasting significance.
As early as November of 1928 it was widely recognized
that the chief support of the day laborers came from the mer-
chants of the banana zone (El Tiempo, November 29, 1928, p. 16).
Cash gifts, food, and clothing were donated to the strike
leaders to be distributed to those whom they could recruit to

the cause. One of the strike leaders claimed to have re-

ceived over 40,000 US dollars in gifts of money and materials

from the independent Colombian merchants of the zone (Val-

Spinosa 1969:52). Those observers who attribute the strike

to the organizing activities of the strike leaders (members

of the Colombian Socialist party who had previously directed

the strike of oil workers in the fields of Barrancabermeja on the
Magdelena river) are unable to explain why it was that the workers

listened and acted as advised by the organizers. Radical acti-

vity is only rarely undertaken in the absence of some ally

perceived to be powerful or influential. The merchants of

Barranquilla, Cignaga, and the banana zone recognized that

the 30,000 to 40,000 residents of the banana zone were a vast

market, monopolized by the United Fruit Company commissary and

script system. Here the workers found natural allies. When

the manager of the Company and the group of independent

planters acting with him agreed to all but three of the total

of nine demands presented by the strike leaders, the negotia-

tors from the national Office of Labor discovered merchants

and employees of the stores in the banana zone agitating for

prolonging the strike until all the demands were met (El

Tiempo November 29, 1928, p. 16). Among these demands were

points six and seven: the suppression of script, and the

suppression of the commissaries of the United Fruit Company

accompanied by the establishment of freedom of commerce in

the zone (Val-Spinosa 1969:46, Valdeblanquez 1964:245-246).

If the workers became, in part, a vehicle for the desires


of the newly arisen commercial class of the north coast, the

United Fruit Company served in like manner as a vehicle for

the desires of the independent planters of Colombian national-
ity. Val-Spinosa (1969:38) argues convincingly that the Col-

ombian planters, who controlled and exploited the vast majority

of land cultivated in bananas, were obligated to support the

Company position since they were greatly indebted to the

Company (owing about 4.5 million dollars in total). And as

Val-Spinosa observes, Alberto Catrillon, one of the strike

leaders, and J6rge Eliecer Gaitan

S. did not so much blame the Colombian
army for firing on Colombians as for doing
it at the behest of the United Fruit Company
Yet Val-Spinosa had missed several important points. The

independent producers were quite wealthy, and that wealth

came from their sales to the United Fruit Company. They were

unlikely to act out of feelings of nationalistic solidarity

with the workers, especially since they and their fathers and

grandfathers too exploited the workers in exactly the same

fashion as the Company for several preceding centuries (even
if the profit margin were not as great in comparison).
Secondly, the independent planters included political offi-

cials in Santa Marta who refused to do their duty to act

in defense of the workers. Third, the planters uniformly
abandoned the workers to their fate as the zone began filling

up with troops, moving to the cities of the coast as if in

expectation of the slaughter. Fourth, even to the present

time the workers who witnessed these events and who were

interviewed by the writer denounce the independent planters

as traitors to Colombia, for it is widely claimed that these

planters hired goon squads to break up demonstrations and

assassinate strikers in their homes. In short, it should

not be forgotten that the millions of stalks of bananas

rotting on the trees during the strike belonged mostly to

Colombian growers who needed them harvested and transported

to the docks before they would be paid. Until we begin to

recognize that societies are made up of subcultural groups

that may share little in common, aside from a symbiotic rela-

tionship, we will continually fall prey to the reasoning

which concludes that all Colombians or Americans or members

of some other nation-entity think and act alike.

These two opposing factions of growers and workers help

explain a great deal, but there was still a third. These

were the labor contractors or labor brokers through which the

Company and the private producers contracted for labor.

While there is no published record of the actions of these

persons, former workers on the banana plantations report

that they were unable to obtain work unless they joined the

union. That is, the labor contractor would not include

them in his work group contracted for a specific task if

they remained independent or unallied. This faction by

recruiting for the strike contributed to the growing atmosphere

of confrontation, although the reasons for this action remain


The final faction was composed of the full-time employees

of the United Fruit Company, both Colombians and Americans.
Today in the banana zone these persons uniformly condemn the
strikers for chasing the Company (and their prosperity) away
from Colombia. At the time of the strike their sentiments
were no different, since they staged counter-demonstrations
in favor of the Company in Cienaga. Such employees of the
Company were uniformly evacuated from the banana zone when
the shooting started and provided with housing in Cienaga
and Santa Marta. There are no more ardent fans of the United
Fruit Company in Colombia than these once prosperous families.

Although the main actors in the drama were the day lab-
orers and the officials of the United Fruit Company, it can
be seen that all who occupied positions in the structure of
the banana zone had much to lose or gain depending upon the
outcome. There were no innocent bystanders, as claimed by
Gabriel Garcia MErquez. It is only from the perspective of
the novelist, the political scientist, and the historian
that great world events can be interpreted as the results of
the thoughtscr actions of certain individuals acting in

Following the massacre and the week of terror the workers
for the Company and the independent producers resumed work
on the plantations. The crop was harvested and transported
to New York and Liverpool. By the following year production
had risen above pre-strike levels (Kamalaprija 1965:127-128).
Production fell briefly in 1931 after the stock market crash,
but resumed and achieved the high of 1930 between 1932 and
1941. Only then did production decline significantly. During

World War II the fleet of ships belonging to the United Fruit
Company ceased to call at Santa Marta. When the Company

returned to Colombia in 1947 in order to resume their operations
they discovered that their plantations had been invaded by
both the wealthy independent growers and landless day laborers.
Rather than leave Colombia the United Fruit Company nego-
tiated a new policy with the planters through the government.
Contracts were signed by which the Company considered the
squatters tenants or arrendatarios. The tenants in turn agreed
to sell and the Company agreed to buy all bananas produced,
the tenants paying US $1.00 for each hectare not producing
bananas. The arrangement applied basically to the wealthy
squatters who annexed large tracts. The day laborers who
annexed only a few hectares were ignored. By the year 1949
exports were higher than the high of 1930 (Kamalaprija 1965:
But at this time the Company began liquidating its holdings
in Colombia, including the railroad which it gave to the govern-
ment upon its return in 1947. The reason lies in a changed
world market, the altered situation of colonies of Western
Europe, and North American activities in the Pacific (Kamala-

prija 1965:8). In 1939 the Company had owned 10,000 hectares
of land producing bananas, whereas by 1953 it held only 3,000.
By 1964 it owned no banana producing land in the zone (Kamala-
prija 1965:9).

With the exit of the Company, Colombian federations of
growers sought to save the zone. But none of them located in

the municipality studied. They concentrated to the north

and the banana industry of Majagua and Orejones died. Total
hectares devoted to bananas today number only about 8,000,

and these are located near Santa Marta. Export is mainly to

the Federal Republic of Germany, and the major competitor
for Colombian growers is the United Fruit Company.

In Majagua and Orejones changes occurred rapidly. The
wealthy independent producers evacuated the region, together
with the newly created middle sector employees of the Company

and hundreds of workers. Many families of the upper and

middle sectors were ruined. The workers lost an income that
had provided the impetus for migration into the banana zone.

In the countryside the employee housing and worker rowhouses

stand empty in clusters in the middle of rice estates and

cattle pastures, stripped of their plumbing, doors, windows,
and roofs, concrete skeletons providing a stark reminder of

earlier prosperity against which current poverty looms even
more grisly.

The land use pattern and forms of human organization

introduced by the company have been replaced by traditional
patterns and forms. This reversion has been only partial

however. For while the cattle estate has returned to its

dominance of the landscape, the old form of the patron-client

relationship has not been reasserted. Of 38,000 hectares
of arable land in the municipality of Orejones only 13,000

are devoted to agriculture and horticulture. About 3,000
hectares are devoted to commercial rice cultivation. About

10,000 hectares are devoted to pan cojer or staples grown

in subsistence gardens such as corn, manioc, and plantains.
The remaining 25,000 hectares are devoted to large cattle
estates (Comisi6n de Planificacion 1964:99). Thus, immediately
after the exit of the United Fruit Company the large cattle
estate returned to its former position of dominance in the
region. But the irrigation network brought by the Company
permitted the innovation of commercial rice production. The
forms of social organization related to each of these land
use patterns will be examined in detail in the following
chapter. Here it is important to note only that the forms
of social relationships introduced by the North American mono-

poly have persisted only on commercial rice estates. The
large cattle estates continue to be organized along traditional
lines, with a few elementary changes in social relationships
among the personnel. Hence, the older social tradition of the

hato and roza exists today side by side with a newer industrial
social tradition. Both must be examined to understand contempor-
ary community life.

The Highlander Migration

A third social tradition was introduced into the commu-
nity during the decade of the 1950's. In the years that
followed the banana zone strike the principal actors went on
to other occupations and interests. General Cort6s Vargas was
promoted to Director of the National Police. The mayor of
Santa Marta and a major independent banana grower, Juan Campo
Serrano, became a national Senator as did members of the Noguera,

Vives, and other families who were large independent banana

growers. The labor leaders, Alberto Castrillon and Raul
Eduardo Mahecha, went to jail and were later released along
with 54 other prisoners convicted at the time by the military
and civil Jefe of the zone. J6rge Eliecer Gaitan, the young
lawyer who came to the banana zone to investigate the tragedy,
went on to become the most tangible symbol of the emergence
of the working classes in Colombia. In 1948 he was assassi-
nated in the capital city. By then he had spoken to crowds
of thousands, while running for the presidency, and inspired
many Colombians with the sense of volcanic outrage and messianic
promise with which he had stirred the Parliament of 1929 over
the banana zone massacre. His violent death moved the normally
inarticulate working people to a monumental expression of anger
and fear, the bogotazo, or several days of rioting, burning,
and looting. This was followed by several days of armed
battles with the police and army tanks sent to subdue them.
Stunned by such a vociferous and costly demonstration, Presi-
det Gomez launched the repression of the Liberal Party which
ultimately resulted in the Colombian phenomenon known as la
violencia. The violencia lasted from that day in 1948 when
Gaitin fell to the sidewalk until the late 1960's when the
death toll declined sufficiently to call it simply murder and
banditry on the part of the "revolutionaries" or over zealous
army regulars. It was, in Hobsbawn's words (quoted in Dix
1967:361), the "greatest armed mobilization of peasants in
the recent history of the western hemisphere, with the possible
exception of some periods during the Mexican revolution."