Somonte, Sunday December 9
After two weeks I have finally explored Somonte up to its outermost borders.
The main access road comes from the north, the direction of the river and the village. On the east and in northwest, the estate is bordered by small winter streams. On the west side the border is a straight path.
This is the entire territory of Somonte, as it has been handed over from father to son throughout the ages. It was expropriated by the Andalusian government during the transition period in the late seventies and early eighties. Since a couple of years the estate has been broken up after the northern part – about a third of the total terrain – was sold off to private agricultural industry.
We consider North Somonte to be illegitimately occupied by capitalist forces, and we claim it as part of our own free autonomous zone. Nevertheless we have been planting trees all along the border from one stream to another.
You don’t need the trees to see where the border is. Our side is green. The capitalist side is brown. It has been recently plowed and poisoned. If you look closely you can see the thin veil of dying weed. After the terrain gets sprayed with herbicide, the leaves of grass first turn bright red, then they slowly get covered by yellow dry stains, then they just shrivel away. At that point the terrain is ready to be sown by modified corn.
Dozens of people came to help us in our reforestation effort. We planted about 650 trees of different types. The whole operation has been sponsored by sympathisers from France. And this is not yet all. Apart from the borders and the paths, more trees are to be planted along the streams to avoid erosion.
When the streams are revived as a result of the winter rainfall, they can dig deep into the terrain, and they can flush away the precious layer of humus which is necessary for anything to grow. The roots of the trees are supposed to prevent it.
After reaching the borders we turn back on board the tractor. It’s almost sunset. The banner of the Andalusian Workers Union is waving from the vehicle.
The citadel of Somonte consists of one double house and three barns. Together they form an inner and an outer courtyard. During the first four days of this week, one of the ‘ships’ housed the sixty odd people who came to Somonte for the meeting of rural collectives.
Exchanges and workshops were held in between all the daily activity of the ranch. Many people here are from communities that have been operating more or less self sufficiently for years, sometimes decades.
One of these is Lakabe, an abandoned village in Navarra which was occupied thirty years ago. The abandonment of these mountain villages was encouraged under the Franco regime, by excluding them from electricity and other benefits of modern civilization. After the dictatorship ended, a handful of those places have been reoccupied. Lakabe is both the biggest and the oldest. It currently counts about fifty inhabitants.
Five more villages have been occupied in the region, but they all have a hard time to grow beyond a dozen inhabitants and evolve into a society with enough internal checks and balances to be able to survive.
The villages can neither be too big. A few years ago, members of the younger generation left Lakabe to colonise an abandoned village on their own. After that the hometown opened its doors for new people.
As a result of the crisis, the waiting list of people who want to join Lakabe has grown. But already the village has put immigration on halt, because the inhabitants still have to adapt to the latest influx.
Alternative ways of working the land and living together are possible and practicable, and very difficult. The scale is extremely small. It makes me think of the savages from Huxley’s Brave New World. We are free to live differently, because on the whole we are economically and demographically irrelevant.
Nonetheless, there is a lot and growing support in the cities for a move towards healthier food and sustainability. And here in Andalusia in particular there is a lot of support for Somonte.
We may only be about twenty people living here, but we are all fully aware of the importance of this struggle from a historical perspective.
For centuries, and up until this very day, great parts of Andalusia are controlled by a handful of nobles, while multitudes of people can only survive by selling their labour day by day.
Somonte is a revolutionary act against a feudal economy. And the people who inspire this rebellion are neither hippies nor veggies nor gurus. Their philosophy is simple and logic.
‘The land to those who work it.’