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The needle crafting

The needle crafting

  • Spurred on by a photo taken forty years ago, Despina from Kini talks us through mastic trees needle crafting and rural life

“It was a long time ago, we were on the road leading to Patrika, Agia Irini and Somata, and he took some photos of me laying white powder under the trees and crafting the trunks.”

Born in Kini, Kira Despina of Aristodimos blended with the land, she grew up in the fields. She never had any children; today, aged seventy-two, she’s still toiling away in the plots.

“My father and I would churn out three hundred kilos of mastic back in the day, now I can manage around ninety on my own. We also had livestock, two cows and two oxen; one of the cows would give us thirty-two kilos of milk, which we turned over to the Association. It was exhausting; my mom would handle the weedwhacker, the harvester and so on. Drudging in the fields and with the animals was her métier. My father would oversee the roads – in Katraris, in Agios Yiannis… The fields he worked on were neat, he built walls, he pruned, he planted, he watered, you name it… Not only was he the best farmer in the village, he had also picked up prizes and accolades – they were hanging on the wall over there – from the then Directorate of Agriculture for the best olive tree pruner, vine grower… When I was around, he would show me how to prune, how to perform all sorts of things.”

“My brother wasn’t very fond of rural life. There is one location where there is a plot of ours extending up to six and a half thousand square meters with one hundred fifty mastic trees in it. Every mastic shrub has its little “threshing floor”. My father had no intention of giving the plot to both of us, because my brother would wind up selling it to some Albanian guy who would abuse the trees and destroy them; ‘I’ll give it to Despina’ he said.”

“I can’t figure out for the life of me why there are so many pebbles in mastic; my mastic is spick-and-span. I think they’re skipping the scraping stage. They blow the dust off it and they’re left with the pebbles. And their incisions… I’m very diligent. I take good care of the mastic shrubs, I treasure them, just go and check them out… my needle crafting is spot on. Just like my father and my mother used to do. Her name was Oreanthi.”

We used to get there on the donkey’s back, I now ride on a two hundred cc quad bike. I bought it eight years ago, I didn’t want to get a pick-up truck. The quad bike is more practical than the donkey, way more practical, there is a crate for my buckets, the mastic nuggets, the olive oils. There are lots of villages surrounding Kini, so our plots are not that vast. The 2012 bushfires burnt our shrubs in Vouni, an other plot in Katraris got expropriated for the dam to be built; everything’s within reasonable distance. No plots are located far away, maybe the one in Agia Irini on the road to Patrika, maybe the one in Profitis Ilias too.”

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“In the past, people would craft using a tiny adze; plus, there was that chemical, their clothes would turn into rags, they would churn out lots of mastic. Then they

switched to saws and little hammers; coz these were sturdy trees that went through a lot and managed to survive. Nowadays, I use a scratch awl, keeping the tiny adze close at hand. In the old days, we would carry out more incisions. Now, I craft once a week, three, four incisions. I haven’t managed all my trees this year; I craft them every other year. To be honest, I make few incisions, randomly crafting trunks.”

“I started working on the day before Profitis Ilias celebration day, to make sure the leaves have fallen off. They say August is the mastic-yielding month, so I’m done crafting my trees by the Virgin Mary’s Dormition day. Early September, I’m starting picking up the mastic on top. Then they’ll go dry so I’ll get to scrape the resin from above.”

“We were farmers, we were blessed to work hard. I can’t say we lacked things, but those were difficult times. Of all things, I wanted to get some education. My father was strict… he didn’t want me to attend Junior High… We would walk to Kalamoti, pay the teachers, pay for the books and stuff. If only I had graduated Junior High… I had no plans for more; I wouldn’t have to sweat over the shrubs, I would have gotten a proper job. I wouldn’t have ended up a farmer. It saddens me to see children work. I turned out eighty-five kilos on my own last year. I’m zippy, everyone close to me frowns on that, but I can’t stand still.”

Translated into English by Nikos Loutraris

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