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Date:10/30/2014 4:59:50 PM
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The Hoe, Part I
The concept for this topic was given to me by, who else, Hal Borland. He wrote in his book, "This Hill, This Valley" (to paraphrase) that the hoe was not an instrument of enslavement, with the ensuing image of an African slave bent over it, but rather an instrument of liberation, where a free man can work his own land to support his family without servitude to a lord or master.

The hoe, as used by the American Countryman, was of a length that allowed the user to stand upright. This was in contrast to the "short-hoe" that slave laborers were forced to use on the plantations. While a short-hoe technically allowed closer cultivation, I personally believe that the real reason for such a utensil was to force laborers to stoop in a sub-human fashion in order to reinforce their status of submission. It is my opinion that the same concept of subservience was behind the use of the "cortito" by Latino "campesinos" in California.

"El Cortito", “the short one,” was a hoe that was only twenty-four inches long, forcing the farm-workers who used it to bend and stoop all day long—a position that often led to lifelong, debilitating back injuries." ("The Fight in the Fields" By Susan Ferris and Ricardo Sandoval)

The use of the cortito was abolished by the California State Supreme in 1975. The court stated that it, “It was flat-out a symbol of oppression—a way to keep control of workers and make them live humbled, stooped-over lives."

A free and independent countryman hoes his own garden. He stands upright to look over his land, a carry over from the frontier days when a pioneer had to be constantly on the lookout for Indians. My own ancestors in New France in the 1660s had to have members of the Troupes de Marine guard them while they worked their fields. We must've carried that memory down through the years because when we brothers were boys, we would love to "injun" up on each other if one of us were working alone in the garden. Of course, nowadays, at our age, I wouldn't do that because I'd be afraid of causing a heart attack.

The First Nations people also historically used the long hoe. A shoulder blade of a deer or buffalo worked best when lashed to straight branch or limb. It is significant to me that the Native Americans in Canada and the northern USA had never come across the concept of the short hoe. I am made to think that a native woman with a long her in her hand was formidable both in war and in peace. As I've just said, nothing is more liberating than a hoe. More on this to come. -- Gary
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