Nectar In A Sieve & Don’t Be Afraid Gringo

The relationship between core and periphery nations can be observed by looking at the experiences of the people in the books, “Nectar In A Sieve” by Kamala Merkandaya and “Don’t Be Afraid Gringo” by Media Benjamin. In both the books Rukmani and Elvia narrate the changes caused by the various stages of capitalism brought by Great Britain in India and by the United States in Honduras respectively. The core periphery relations between these countries lead to many societal problems and these two women deal with these problems, especially the issues pertaining to land and education.
In both Rukmani and Elvia’s case land was the most important resource required for producing staples, which was used as a source of revenue and food. Education, in this context refers to the level of awareness people had about the influence of core countries on the peripheral nations and how the people viewed this dependency. Rukmani and her family lived under a feudalistic system and the arrival of the British tannery resulted in segregated industrialization in a rice farming village which led to family disintegration, abuse of power and land and to a minor decrease in feudalism.
It also led to a shift from peasantry to proletariats. Elvia lived in a semi-feudalistic system in Honduras with highly unequal distribution of land and wealth. The whole of Honduras, including various institutions like the Government and the church were under the influence of the U. S who with their political and economic influence used Honduras for the extraction of resources and also for its own political security in the North American continent. In “Nectar In A Sieve” Rukmani was married to a tenant farmer called Nathan who worked on rice fields and earned his livelihood by selling his harvest to the landlord.

He did not have his own land and so whatever he earned went towards paying for the rent on land. Most of the villagers there, including Nathan were tenant farmers who produced for their own basic needs and not for the market. The village put up a leather tannery in Rukmani’s village whose arrival led to segregated industrialization and also to a change in feudalism. Rukmani and the whole village’s life were affected, as their village became a “growing town” (Merkandaya 50) The tannery owners bought the land from the landlords and paid good prices for it.
This segregated industrialization weakened the unification of the village and caused great turmoil for everyone, especially Rukmani and her family. It disintegrated her family by creating a need for her sons to go work in the tannery. The expansion of the tannery also led to a loss in user rights as many people, including Rukmani and her family was kicked off the land they used to live on for years, with nowhere to turn to. Thus they were forced to go to an urban city and become proletariats.
Arrival of colonialism in the village led to capitalism, while keeping the feudalism intact. Though both systems worked simultaneously, capitalism slowly outdid feudalism as the tannery “grew and flourished and spread”(51), it got the power and became economically prosperous which allowed the expansion of the tannery. Capitalism in the village changed some of the villagers from peasants to semi proletariats as they started working in the tannery. On the other hand the cost of living went up and so did the level of poverty due to partial urbanization.
The tannery extracted the resources using cheap and surplus labor and repatriated the profits for capitalistic accumulation and deprived the village of if. In “Don’t Be Afraid Gringo”, Elvia Alvarado talks about the lives of the “campesinos” living in Honduras. She was a poor peasant living in a rural village and belonged to a very poor family that could never own land. Most of Elvia’s life revolved around social work and helping the fellow campesinos who were facing harsh times due to the influence of the core.
Elvia was proactive and resisted to changes brought about by the powerful elite of their society. So her primary job was to recover land which rightfully belonged to the campesinos but was in the hands of a few elite who were using it for their own benefit. Education as described later in the essay created awareness about the injustices done by the powerful elite and helped in her fight for recovering land for the campesinos. The campesinos depended on land, as it was the primary source of food and revenue. Staples produced in Honduras were exported to the U.
S markets at very low prices. The U. S had also monopolized capital by bringing technology into Honduras but this was only being used to extract resources. This resulted in unemployment as automated machines as in the case of the banana companies replaced manual labor. Honduras was under a semi feudal mode of production with an unequal distribution of land. Although capitalism was present in urbanized areas, most of the land was under feudal control with peasants fighting for land which was taken away from them.
The government did not “do anything to make the campesino’s life any easier. “(Benjamin 25) The rural areas did not have god transportation and bringing the harvests to the markets was very difficult. Campesinos without land worked “as day laborers, either for a landowner or for another campesino”(Benjamin 20) for minimal wages. U. S using its influence on the Honduran government and the local elite extracted some precious resources like coal and precious gems and the profits associated with them were never reinvested in Honduras.
The U. S also used Honduran land for maintaining regional security. Using Honduras strategic position in Central America, they established military bases and sent troops to Honduras to help government maintain internal control. The societal issue of education brought about by the core periphery relationships in both Rukmani and Elvia’s life, in this context deals with the level of awareness both women and their respective societies have about the influence of core nations and their dependence on them.
Although Rukmani was semi literate and could read and write, she was not well versed with what was happening around her. She was a very passive resistor and never offered any resistance to the development of capitalism. She foresaw the implications of capitalism by the arrival of the tannery and the dependency associated with it. Therefore she wanted to give all her children education because she knew education was the only thing that could make her children realize the effects of dependence on core.
Her suffering along with the suffering of the other villagers shows the lack of awareness they had about the harmful effects of the British colonization. Elvia only received proper schooling till the second grade and so she was basically illiterate but she always had the inclination to learn. As she grew up, she became aware of the harmful effects of Hondurans’ dependency on the U. S and how capitalism from the part of the U. S in Honduras was robbing the resources out of Honduras. Although she never had proper schooling, the eagerness to learn about the current affairs made her more and more inquisitive.
Elvia took some courses with the church and then started working as a social worker that traveled to different places and created awareness about general issues pertaining to their lives and society. She also took some courses from the Agrarian Reform Institute, which greatly improved her writing skills. Later on in her life, when the church also influenced by the Honduran government that was under the influence of the U. S reduced the support to her group, she became independent and began educating and organizing the campesinos to fight for their rights.
She began recovering land that belonged to the campesinos but was in the hands of the elite. Her knowledge of the Agrarian Reform Laws helped her fight with the government for the injustices done to the campesinos. She was thus able to recognize monopoly capitalism by the U. S as being the cause of poverty in Honduras. Looking at the argument presented in this essay it can be seen that both Rukmani and Elvia’s lives were greatly affected by the effects of core periphery relations and they faced great problems with issues of land and education.

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