Nostalgic Cyprus, or was it?
By Ismail Veli
To say most of us enjoy old family photos and past life is probably an understatement. Photos allow us to see a glimpse of the past with nostalgia and often with extreme affection. Generally we say “those were the good old days”, but were they really that good? or is it purely a feeling of yearning for our loved ones who are no longer with us?. Personally I think it’s a combination of the longing for a time that we believe was much more simple. The complications and fast pace of modern life leaves most of us exhausted and sometimes exasperated. Bills, long working days, less time with family & constant pressure means that what little time we have left is sometimes spent browsing through photos of old relatives and other places.
I myself have a weakness and spend endless hours with old books, photos etc. On reflection however I have to admit that the past life of our great grandparents leaves me with a certain degree of sadness.
When my great grandparents were born in the late 1800s, life in Cyprus was anything but good. Malaria, Smallpox, Polio and even Leprosy were common. Opticians hardly existed, meaning that people often went blind at a young age. Women in particular suffered hardship that is beyond our comprehension. Women working on roads breaking and carrying boulders, working in the sun baked fields late in pregnancy and losing their lives giving childbirth was very common. Working in asbestos mines was another atrocious form of employment for young and older women alike, brutality and domestic violence was another common feature of life.
All this meant that the mortality rate amongst women was high. In fact in 1881 Cyprus had the least number of women (together with Greece & Bulgaria) as a percentage of the population in the whole of Europe. A few simple statistics would be enough to arrive at the stark realisation on the conditions of life in general. The total Cypriot population in 1881 was 186.173 of which 3.469 were born abroad. the number of males being 95.015 and 91.158 for females. When taking into account that many men had to serve in the Ottoman army and the mortality rate was very high, the fact that there were almost 4000 men more than women is revealing to say the least.
The British census of the period touched on this subject extensively. The only question mark was that there were some “Mussulman families that may not have declared the female members of their family”. But the conclusion was that this would not have changed the figures in such a dramatic manner.
A closer look at the health will show that life was anything but good. 2.238 were registered as blind, 231 were deaf, 564 were of “unsound mind”. 78 were Lepers 50 of which lived at a farm in the Degirmenlik Nahiyesi”. The general belief was that leprosy was much higher, but the fear of being excluded/disinherited from the family forced many to keep their illness secret from their own families.
There were of course many other ailments that is simply impossible to list in an article. The myth that people “in the olden days lived to a much older age” is completely false. The fact that only 10.752 people in 1881 were over the age of 65 is enough to dispel the theory. This amounted to only 5.7% of the population. While the population ratio between the ages of 15-35 were almost identical, the ratio between 35-75 falls dramatically to indicate that women’s life was indeed hard.
The percentage of blind also dramatically increased with age, so while 241 below the age of 5 were registered as blind this increases to 1.752 over the age of 25. Again this is conclusive evidence that young people unable to have access to opticians eventually turned blind. So while we enjoy our old photos of the past it may be well to remember the extreme hardship our ancestors endured, this in itself will give us a greater respect and appreciation of how and what we have achieved in a short few generations.
The lifestyle of today in no way compares to the immense hardship, deprivation and destitution suffered by our grandparents. We owe it to them to remember their suffering, endurance and courage in the face of so much adversity. Only by understanding the destitution and immense hardship they were forced to endure can we truly say that their suffering was not in vain.
I hope you like these pictures, many of which come from the books “PANORAMA OF CYPRUS 1899-1930″ By Stavros G Lazarides. ”NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC 1928”, and by John Thompson ”THROUGH CYPRUS WITH THE CAMERA: In the Autumn of 1878″