AGRARIAN COMMUNITIES AMONG THE ARABS AND OTHER NATIONS.
The agrarian system of Algeria strongly resembles that of ancient Germany, because the Arabs have arrived at very much the same point in economic evolution as the Germans had in the time of Tacitus.
We find a pastoral tribe, cultivating the soil subsidiarily, and on the threshold of the agricultural system. There is this difference, however, that the Arabs have remained at the same point from the commencement of history, while the Germans have arrived at individual property and intensive cultivation. In Algeria the agrarian systems vary considerably. In Kabylia the fields are marked out, and in many cases enclosed with hedges there are regular and very minute titles to property, which mention even the number of trees of every kind comprised in the inheritance. In the oases planted with palm-trees we also find individual property. According to Mussulman theories the soil belongs to the sovereign, but in fact the eminent domain resides in the tribe. The portion of each family, mechetas, remains undivided between the members who cultivate it in common and divide the produce. A partner may sell his share; but the other members of the family have the right of cheffa, that is to say, of reclaiming the portion sold on tendering the price. This is the retrait-lignager formerly in force throughout Europe, which is found in the village communities of every country. In certain tribes, especially in the Constantine district, the lands are re-divided annually by the sheik: in others, the families retain them, but without power of alienation. The lands are divided into lots called djebdas, corresponding to the area which a pair of oxen can till, that is to say from seven to ten hectares, or from seventeen to twenty-four acres. Mussulman jurisprudence recognises four classes of property, that of the State, blad-et-beylick; that of religious corporations, blad-et-habous; that of private individuals, blad-el-melk; and finally that of the communities, blad-el-djemâa. This last class of property corresponds to the German mark.(1)
When the Arabs created the system of irrigation in Spain, they also established institutions of collective administration for the distribution of the water, very similar to those which we find in the German mark for the administration of the forest. The regulations of the acequia of Quart, near Valence, dating from the days of the Moors, but enacted afresh in 1350, established the following organization. All, who were entitled to share the water, assembled in a junta in the spring of every second year. The junta framed rules, and nominated the syndic, the eight electos and the judge (contador). These elected officers formed the ordinary junta, and had executive and judicial authority. The syndic, who must be a cultivator, was nominated by the general assembly from a list of three candidates, prepared by the ordinary junta, in concert with the out-going syndic. He superintended the works, collected debts and fines, and submitted an account of his administration to the general assembly. Every Thursday, he sat before the porch of the cathedral with the electos, to try offences and disputes relating to the water. The contador examined the expenses, and received a remuneration. His authority was for an unlimited period, but was revocable. In the huerta of Valence, the tribunal or cort of acequieras was composed of the syndics of the seven acequias, which served for the irrigation of the kuerta. This tribunal, called cort de la Seo, assembled before the cathedral,or, in the time of the Moors, before the mosque,every Thursday, and tried all offences and disputes touching the distribution of the water. The wisdom of the decisions of this tribunal, composed solely of peasants, was celebrated throughout Spain. This organisation of acequieras among the Moors, is exactly similar to that of joint-stock companies, or of the Anglo-Saxon Township. The associates are self- governing and their own judges; they administer their own concerns without restraint; they elect their officers, deliberate upon and frame laws. There is at the same time a combination of republican government with the parliamentary system.(2)
Among many African tribes, the system of village communities is likewise in full force. Vice-Admiral Fleuriot de Langle tells us that among the Yoloffs of the Gorea district the soil is the common property of the villages. Every year the village chief, with the assistance of a council of elders, executes a re-distribution of the arable land, calculating the lots according to the wants of each family. It is precisely the same custom as we find in Java, and in Russia. In the midst of the Pacific Ocean, travellers have met with an identically similar social organization.(3)
In Mexico, the nations were found devoted to agriculture, and living in villages which own the soil as common property. The dwelling-house and garden attached were the only subjects of private property. One portion of the domain was divided annually among the inhabitants; another portion was cultivated in common, and the produce applied to public purposes. In certain districts, not only the arable land but even the dwelling house was common property. "In New Mexico and m Arizona, among the Pueblo Indians, a state of society is found in which the characteristic feature is a mode of dwelling, quite unique in its nature. Imagine a vast building, of massive quadrangular form, consisting of three or four storeys, each storey being divided into small cells, containing separate families: in this singular construction, the whole community is concentrated. These villages are quite peculiar in their nature. The building, as a whole, bears some resemblance to some of the large edifices which are seen further South, such as the palace of Falenqué or the `casa del Gubernador,' at Uxmal. These common buildings were in use at the time of the conquest, and there are still some found inhabited in several districts. The rueblos possess a degree of culture very superior to that of the wandering tribes of the north, with whom they are constantly at war."(4)
"The most absolute communism;" says M. Giraud Teulon,(5) still prevails in some districts of New Zealand, of South America, of the Andaman Isles and Nicobar. If any one traverses the territories of the Centre and South of the United States, he will frequently meet with villages, which comprise only one or two houses, a hundred and a hundred-and-fifty feet in length, in which forty or fifty kindred families live together. The Minitarees and the Mandans live in polygonal buildings, in which several families are housed; and the long huts of the Indians on the Columbia River contain hundreds of persons. Certain Indian villages, such as Tumachemootool, in the Columbia valley, or Taas, in New Mexico, are solely made up of one or two colossal houses, rising to a height of five or six storeys, by a series of terraces, each of which in succession is built some way behind the former, and containing from three to four hundred persons. In the cañon of the Rio Chaco, to the North-West of Santa Fé, there still exists a ruined group of seven pueblos or communal edifices, each of which was capable of holding seven or eight hundred people.(6)
It was edifices of this nature that the first Spaniards often took for palaces, and which, in reality, were nothing but massive buildings filled with Indians, living in community. Mexico, Yucatan, and Guatemala, before the arrival of the Europeans, were occupied by numerous villages of this kind. The present Indians of these territories are the direct descendants of the indigenous population discovered by the Spaniards. Their civilization even now affords in some respects the spectacle of the transition from the nomadic to the settled mode of life.
Among the Aztecs, as among all the North American Indians, the gens is the primordial element of the tribe; and the confederation of tribes forms the nation. It is exactly the same with them as with the Germans or the Celia at the time of the Brehons. The rights and obligations among the members of the gens were the following:a reciprocal right of inheritance or common possession of the landed property; a common burial place; joint responsibility for crimes; obligations of mutual assistance; election of the chief or sachem; and equality of all in the council. None of the Indian tribes has arrived at the notion of exclusive property as applied to the soil. The Iroquois constructed large houses, more than a hundred feet in length, which were inhabited by ten or fifteen families, living together in common on the produce of the chase. Caleb Swami, who visited the Creek Indians in 1793, remarks that the smallest of `their towns contained thirty or forty houses, in groups of from five to eight; and in each group dwelt a clan, living and eating in common. Lewis and Clarke mention the same of the Columbian Indians. Mr Stephen says that in Yucatan these communities each contain a hundred labourers, who cultivate the land in common, and divide its produce among them.(7)
Among certain tribes of Russian America, all the men live in the same building.(8) Among the Caribbees, at the time of the discovery of their island, property and even produce were common;(9)all laboured and ate together. The same custom is found in the Aleoutian(10) islands, and among the Indians on the banks of the Orenoco.(11)
In Peru, the soil was divided into three parts. One of these parts was devoted to the maintenance of religion; the second to that of the sovereign and government; and the third was divided among the cultivators. When a young man married, a house was built for him and a lot of earth assigned to him. A supplementary portion was given him at the birth of each child: the portion for a male child being twice as great as for a female. Re-distribution was executed every year in proportion to the number of members composing each family. The lands of the nobles, or curacas, were also submitted to partition; but they received a share in proportion with their dignity. As in Java, works of a permanent nature, requiring large expenditure of labour were executed in common by the inhabitants of the villages. This is how the irrigation canals, which struck the Spanish conquerors with astonishment, were dug; and also the terraces, arranged in steps, on the side of the hills, which allowed rich harvests to be obtained on steep and rocky slopes. Idleness was regarded as a crime, and punished as such. Mendicity was forbidden. All who could not labour received assistance; but every able-bodied man had to procure the means of satisfying his wants. Spanish historians tell us that ambition, avarice, and the appetite for change were all unknown. The labourers passed their lives in submission to custom, tradition, and authority. The gentleness of their character, and their passive obedience recall the character of the Russian peasant. The same institutions produce among all races similar results.(12)
Among the ancient Britons, the land was common property, and a new partition of lands took place whenever the floods carried away any portion of the domain. Among the Anglo-Saxons, conquered lands were the common property of the nation, whence it took its name folkland, or land of the people, ager publicus in opposition to private domain, or bokland, land inrolled in the book.
In the north of France, in Flanders, in Artois and in the bishopric of Metz, the marshy lands were also periodically divided among the joint owners. In Switzerland, the allmends were and still are common lands, sometimes divided among the inhabitants, and sometimes let for a rent which is divided among them. Among the Hebrews, the land was the collective property of the family, and was, in some degree, inalienable, as every fifty years property which had been sold was restored to its old proprietor.
In Wallachia, the land did not devolve by succession in families. It belonged to the State, the State alone having the absolute dominium. The soil was divided into two parts:that of the terrani, and that of which the produce belonged to the Commune; this latter, the ager publicus, was cultivated by the labour of all in common. The terrani alone were entitled to the property of the commune; they had no ownership in it, but only possession. At the death of persons entitled, the family did not succeed; but the property returned to the collective domain, and was allotted afresh to occupiers. It was thus necessary to have recourse from time to time to a new partition. In course of time the strong usurped possession of the soil, and appropriated to their own purposes the labour of the peasants, in the form of corvées.
Among the Afghans, there is the same collective domain of the village, divided among the inhabitants by a periodic partition. Some of the customs are so similar to those of the Hebrews, that they have been supposed to be borrowed from that people. "The equal allotment of lands among the different families of a tribe is effected among the Afghans, just as we see it described in the last chapter of Numbers; and, in consequence, marriages are frequently contracted between members of the same tribe, to avoid alienating, by a foreign union, any portion of the common inheritance. Within the tribe exchanges of property are effected, by virtue of stipulations entirely voluntary, in consequence of the unequal value of the lands granted to the several families. Every five or six years, according to custom, the lands pass from one hand to another; and, at the end of a certain lapse of time, each has occupied in turn the good and bad portions of the common soil. Hence arise emigrations of entire villages, after which the newly- occupied territory is divided among the settling families, by means of a new allotment which the Afghans call sometimes pucka, and sometimes purra. This last word is of Jewish origin, pur in Hebrew signifies a lot, or proportional part, whence the commemoration feast of Purim."(13)
M. Roscher also quotes many other examples of agrarian communities, Feldgemeinschaft.(14) It may be well to give them here. In the country of Lowicz, down to the beginning of this century, private property in land was unknown, arabic land being subject to a new allotment each year.(15) In the island of Sardinia, also, collective property with annual re-partition of lots was to be found.(16) There is a similar system among the Creek Indians.(17) Among the Tcheremiss all agricultural operations are even executed in common, at a fixed time, no one being able to claim exemption. The harvests are subsequently divided among the families.(18)
In certain districts of Norway, the partition of lands by lot had survived; but in 1821 was brought to an end by lands so divided being subjected to a double land tax.(19) According to John Mill,(20) in certain parts of the province of Madras, arabic lands were subjected to a new partition every ten years. Among the Cossacks of the Ural, an agrarian community exists in all its entirety. In Thuringia traces are still found of the old equal allotment according to families.(21)
Throughout the whole of ancient Scandinavia the same system was m force. In Denmark, the collective communal property was maintained till nearly the end of the last century. As in the Swiss allmend, the soil was divided among the inhabitants in lots, but each lot contained several parcels, in order that every family might have lands of each quality and that no one might be unfairly portioned. Hence it happened that a cultivator had as many as thirty, forty, or even eighty parcels. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, under the influence of the ideas of individualism then prevalent, a series of laws were adopted with a view to putting an end to the collective possession. The law of April 23, 1781, abolished the system of community for arable lands; that of 1805 abolished it for the woods; and that of December 30, 1858, for the bog. The partition, called in Danish Udshajning, was effected, by definitely assigning an equal part to every member of the commune. There no longer remain any common lands, except here and there a few peat bogs and a few pasturelands called overdress. Every cultivator may send on to the overdrew, all the cattle which he keeps on his holding. The allmenden, or alminding in Danish, are no longer to be found, except in certain names. Thus, for instance, in the isle of Bornholm, there is still a forest called Kongens Almind.(22)
Quite recently traces might still be found even of the labour being carried on in common. Thus Von Haxthausen says that, in Altmark, the heads of families assemble under the presidency of the chief of the commune, to decide on the work to be done by them all the next day.(23) The same custom also existed formerly in Jutland.(24)
The numerous facts just quoted prove the existence of village communities with identically the same characteristics among the most widely different nations. If the juridical traditions and archaic agrarian institutions preserved in isolated districts were carefully studied in each country, there would undoubtedly be found supplementary proof even more complete, though not more decisive.
1. The Turkish dominion in Algeria comprised 40,000,000 hectares:--14,000,000 in Tell, 26,000,000 in Sahara.
In Tell, 1,500,000 hectares form the dominion of the state, as beylick property; 3,000,000, comprising forest, waste-land, steppes, brushwood, rocks, river and torrent beds, and ravines, were the reputed property of the Mussulman community (Bled-el-Islam) because they had not been the object of any individual, family, or collective appropriation.
5,000,000 hectares, called arch, were appropriated to the tribes, by title of joint occupancy.
8,000,000 hectares, called melk, of traditional Roman origin, might be held to constitute private individual property.
1,500,000 hectares, also melk, of Mussulman origin, were only family appropriations, over which a paramount claim was reserved to the sovereign.
In the Sahara, 3,000,000 hectares, of oasis or kesour, gained by the labour of man from the desert, were private property, conformably to mussulman law, as waste lands brought under cultivation.
28,000,000 hectares of common land, especially the alfa districts, were classed among the property of the mussulman community, in default of reclamation, or individual, or collective appropriation.
With the exception of 8,000,000 hectares, held by the independent Kabyles as private property, acquired or preserved from the Roman period, and of 8,000,000, also held in private ownership by the Ossians and Kesourians, as waste lands reclaimed, the Pasha of Algiers, in 1880, disposed of an uncontested and almost incontestable right over the remainder of the soil of Algiers. By the Senatus-consult of 1863, the Emperor renounced all these rights characterising them as "obsolete;" and declared the tribes and douar communities to be the proprietors of the lands they held, whatever their title, without power of alienation. (See Report of M. Warnier, Algerian deputy in the National Assembly, 1878, and La Propriété en Algerie, by R. Dareste.)
2. See Voyage en Espagne, by Jaubert de Passa.
3. History of Pelew Isles, compiled from Journal of Captain Wilson by George Reade. (Quoted by Viollet, Caractère collectif des premières propriétés immobilières).
4. Année géographique (1878), by M. Vivien de Saint-Martin, p. 267.
5. Les origines de la famille, p. 51.
6. Morgan Smith's Contrib. to Knowledge, Vol. xvii. 254258, 262, and 488.
7. Incidents of travels in Yucatan, Vol. II. p. 14.These quotations with regard to the Indians are borrowed from an article by Lewis Morgan, in the North American Review, April, 1876.
8. Von Wrangel, Nachrichten, p. 129.
9. Edwards, History, of the West Indies, i. p. 42.
10. Von Wrangel, p. 185.
11. Depona, Voyage, etc., p. 295.
12. See Prescott's Conquest of Peru, where the contemporary evidences are well summed up.
13. See La vie des Afghans, by Forgues, Revue des Deux-Mondes, Oct. 1863; and Elphinstone, Cabal, ii. p. 17.
14. System des Volkswirthschaft, B. ii. p. 190.
15. Krug, Geschichte der Staatswirth. Gesetz-Geb. Preussens, i. p. 187.
16. Schubert, Staatskunde, I. 4, p. 269.
17. Wappaens, Nord-Amerika, p. 998.
18. Von Haxthausen,Studien, I, p. 443.
19. Blom, Statistik von Norwegen, I p. 148.
20. John Mill, History of India, I. p. 343.
21. Langethal, Geschichte des deutschen Landwirthschaft, I. p. 12.
22. For these details the author is indebted to a distinguished Danish economist, M. Alekaja Petersen, who has translated this work into Danish.
23. Von Hazthausen.Ländliche Verfas, I. 257.
24. Hanssen, Archiv der pol. Oek., iv. 408.