Cyprus Life – 1879

“With her modest earnings, probably amounting to no more in a week than a London huckster makes in a day.”

In the past I had the pleasure to read the accounts of an English traveller in Cyprus in 1879 and I wrote about some of his experiences in a newspaper as follows.

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 With the modern trappings of life we may think we have everything or want more but what of those people who went before us, what did they have 133 years ago? Nice clothes, a wide selection of food to choose, electrical playthings and property?  Perhaps the following gives us some clues!

“SELLING BREAD”

“In the features of this old dame, who earns her living by selling bread in Larnaca, there still linger traces of youthful comeliness. Her thin locks are silvered with age, and the years, as they dragged heavily along, have furrowed her brow. Yet her eye is clear and bright, and wears a look of calm contentment: it is the blue eye met with among Cypriotes of European origin. She might, indeed, pass for an old Scotch crone, or the decent owner of an apple-stall at the corner of some London street. With her modest earnings, probably amounting to no more in a week than a London huckster makes in a day, she is respectably clothed and housed; but it must be borne in mind that food and raiment are cheap in our newly-leased island, and that in absence of palatial almshouses the poorer classes are constrained to adopt thrifty habits, and somehow contrive without difficulty to find shelter for themselves”.

The manner and language of past English writers, in this case 1879, may not suit today’s sensibilities but they do paint a picture of the past even if from a slightly lofty viewpoint.

“A NATIVE BULLOCK CART

“The bullock cart of Cyprus is a conveyance restricted in its use to a very limited area. It may be encountered on the dusty road to the capital, or to Famagosta, wending its way along to the rusty music of its wheels. We meet it also crossing the fertile plain of Mesorea (between the mountain ranges), labouring, produce-laden, down towards the coast, or hooded and transformed into a slow-paced jaunting car, conveying a family to some favourite resort. It is as picturesque in appearance as it is incomprehensible in construction. Why should its rude wheels weakly dip towards the axle, seeing that, were the wheels flat, greater strength would be obtained, as well as increased space in the carts? It may be that the diagonal strain of the spokes tends to keep the fellies together, and is a relic of a wooden age, when tires of iron were unknown. An intelligent wheelwright of Cyprus, when questioned on the subject, solved the mystery of the skeleton cone and short axle-trees, by stating that, to the best of his belief, wheels were always conical and axle-trees short. The bodies of these carts are constructed of a hard, fibrous wood, found on the island, of a kind admirably fitted to resist the strain and jolting on the rough roads traversed. The Cyprian ox is a finely-formed, clean-limbed animal, fleet of foot when not overburdened or underfed. It is used in ploughing and in treading out grain, and, as in India, is held in reverence by the natives, who as a rule, abstain from eating its flesh”.

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So there we have the basic mode of transport of the day but there was still the fast moving vehicle of the sporting type and this, the camel, had longer legs and originated from the deserts far away and I was told recently, can still be found in camel parks in Mazotoz near Larnaca and Paphos.

So today with BMW’s Hummer’s and all of the other smart cars hustling for positions on our quality roads with older Peugeot’s and Dogan’s, what would be your preferred choice? To live a simple life as did our forefathers of 133 years ago or to go with the flow in the materialistic fast moving 21st Century and leaving behind and forgetting about another way of living?

My thanks and appreciation to the staff of Milli Arşiv for the incredible information they have provided that makes the publishing of this article possible.

 By Chris ELLIOTT