Walls of stone and a roof of bulrushes

Walls of stone and a roof of bulrushes
1960-1970. Petra Ríos Silva and Antonio Ríos Corrales pose by a hut in the Sierra de Toriles area (El Pedregoso, in the municipal boundary of Tarifa, Cadiz, Spain). With them, chickens, ducks and a dog © Nina Campano Rios

Walls of stone and a roof of bulrushes

Half-way up the mountainside in the and looking down on the countryside, once filled with dense forests of cork oak, holm oak, wild olives and mastic, there are archaeological remains of a very recent population: tens of dwellings, stone ovens, wells, fountains, laundries, pens, walls and paths. Since at least the 19th century, hundreds of families lived here in small villages of huts with stone walls and bulrush (Scirpus maritimus) roofs, protected from the insistent east and west winds by steep rocky outcrops. Their inhabitants looked after themselves with natural remedies, gave birth in the darkness of their huts lit only by shadowy oil lamps, or under a nearby tree.

They watered their small plots by fetching water from nearby streams, and baked bread in communal sandstone ovens. They used rope made from palmetto fronds and, if they had to go out at night, lit the way with rudimentary torchlight. They learnt to do accounts, read and write without schools. There was never public street-lighting nor did they name the most frequented tracks between huts. Water and sanitation infrastructures never appeared. These families subsisted by rearing animals, with small herds and plots, and from precarious temporary work in nearby farmsteads.

Nowadays many people who spent their childhood and youth in these settlements live in villages in the region of Campo de Gibraltar or in cities like Seville, Pamplona or Barcelona. They are the privileged witnesses of a time which is ignored or has been silenced, of a way of life which affirms human capacity for self-organisation and support so as to get ahead in difficult circumstances.

 

Beatriz Díaz, environmental biologist and freelance researcher