"The village owes its beginnings and subsequent development to the shepherds"

Recounts and anecdotes passed on from generation to generation tell of continuous poverty in Karitsa from the very old days of Turkish rule to more recent times during the German occupation in the 1940s and even during postwar reconstruction in the 1950s.

Early Karitsiotes, before 1700 relied on goat and sheep rearing to make a living. Virtually all had flocks of sheep and goats whilst the poorest of them all, the so-called
xenotsopani (hired shepherds), looked after the flocks of the big tseliges (chief shepherds). The writer is of xenotsopanos ancestry. For virtually all of his life grandfather Yiannis Katsambis looked after the flocks of others. Additionally, Karitsiotes would try to eke out a bare living tilling any pocket of land that could possibly be cultivated in some way. Since the very early days they were involved in growing olives. Gradually they began cultivating wheat, oats, barley, lentils and chickpeas as well. From the time they began reaping wheat they would take it to be ground into flour and bran in the water mills of Mariorema. There were about five or six mills along the Mariorema. Old timers most often mention Milo tou Thodori (Thodori's Mill).

Following reaping and threshing of cereal crops, farmers would store their harvest in
kanapedes, large wooden chests. When flour stocks ran low they would load the mules and donkeys to take the wheat, mixed in with an amount of cheackpeas, to be ground into flour and bran at the watermills along the Mariorema. Each mule would carry two sacks amounting to 80 okas or about 100 kilos of wheat over very hard and rocky mule tracks. That is why Karitsiotes preferred the closer mills known as Tou Thodori, Tou Varela and Tou Erinaki (or Psihogiou). These mills would turn from autumn to spring. During summer there was not enough water that far downstream to turn the wheels. "If you needed to go to the mills in summer", locals recall, "you would have to plod uphill to the mills on the uplands where the water flowed more forcefully." Two of those mills often mentioned are Tou Koulou at Vigla, and Tou Panayiotaki in the village of Mari itself. In our region the miller's fee was about five percent of the load. In other words on a load of 80 okas the miller would keep four.

Other subsistence produce included greens grown on small vegetable plots dotted here and there in fertile pockets of Karitsa. Small quantities of grapes and figs grown in
Pano Loutsa were keenly favoured by the villagers. So too was the wine squeezed at the local grape mill known as Lino tou Kafedzi.

Most clothing came from the hair and wool of goats and sheep. Even footwear, the famous tsarouhia (rustic shoes), were produced from the hide of sheep and goats. Here we are dealing virtually with a subsistence way of life. Any food, clothing and footwear not made by themselves could be bought from neighbouring villages, particularly from Geraki, by exchanging with goat and sheep products such as meat, wool, cheese and skins. Geraki has always been considered the trade centre of the area.

Regrettably, no matter how hard the shepherds and tillers of Karitsa worked, at the end of the day they were barely able to eke out a scant subsistence. Their fields, scattered here and there, were small in number and area, on stony terrain and difficult to till. Essentially this situation lasted well into the 1960s by which time the largest wave of immigration out of Greece, particularly to Australia had already well and truly begun. Despite the pain of separation one of the positive outcomes of immigration was to increase the number of fields left for those who chose to stay home.

In recent times we note a general improvement in trade and in the standard of living in the village. A notable change is the departure from wheat growing and the propagation of olive trees. Southern Peloponnisos, particularly Messinia and Laconia, is acknowledged as the producer of the finest olive oil in the world. Agricultural machinery is now used in the village. Karitsiotes will no longer till fields that are not accessible by tractor. At the same time many Karitsiotes have purchased fields to cultivate in the more fertile nearby areas including Geraki, Agios Andreas, Gouves and Elos, whilst continuing to live in the village. Additionally in more recent times there have been serious moves to develop bee keeping and apiculture in the village.

Rearing of goats and sheep, on which the village owes both its beginning and its development, suffered a serious decline in the 1960s due to an unfortunate attitude of the time, the disinclination of younger villagers to follow such an occupation. Fortunately such reasoning has been rectified somewhat in the more recent past, thanks to a substantial increase in the price of meat. Today it is estimated that goat and sheep numbers range between seven and eight thousand head. Furthermore increasing numbers of home reared goats and sheep, inside the village itself, are thought to partly cover the villagers' needs for meat and milk. Virtually all non-shepherd families in the village keep a number of goats and sheep at home. Hence home reared animals provide some benefit to the villagers.

Development Program
Shepherds, however, have benefited most of all from a series of initiatives by the former village council in the eighties and the nineties. This has led to improved working conditions for the shepherds and Karitsiotes in general. Notable works have included:

  • Improvement to grazing lands by the construction of roads towards the uplands. The road from the village to Agios Yiannis via Sourbanou was especially opened up to service the needs of shepherds. Furthermore the road from Loukeiko Logari to Georgiou Tsembeli ti Sterna was opened up for the same purpose.
  • Opening up roads to virtually all fields for use by agricultural machinery and tractors. Nowadays Karitsiotes are not prepared to till fields that are not accessible by tractor.
  • Sealing of the main road from Variko to Smertia. Thus the village gets connected to the national roads network. A small stretch of road from Smertia to Litrivio is still to be widened and sealed
  • Extension and ring fencing of the village square offers a spacious and safe space for children to play and for adults to meet and socialize.
  • Sealing a new catchment area for the reservoir in Mesorahi in 1988 as another source for watering goat and sheep flocks. In 1990 a new reservoir was built at Pano Loutsa. It was funded by the program to improve grazing lands and has a capacity of 175 tons.
  • Establishment of a reservoir at Dariva to feed all water taps in the village.
  • Automated connections with the telephone exchange in Geraki. Until recently a single telephone in the office of the village council serviced the needs of the entire village. The provision of telephones, to all households that asked, met one of the very essential and long overdue needs.

The initiatives and crucial water works mentioned above took place in eighties and the nineties. So many developments in such a short period of time was something that the village had not seen before. According to many villagers most of these, to a large extent, can be credited to the former village president Panayiotis Andoniou. The people of Karitsa certainly are most determined that the development program continues. Immediate goals include:

  • to service all houses in the village retains first place in the list of priorities
  • Opening up of a new road from Vatsoureiko Stefani to Koprisia via Spilitses. The current road to the uplands is too narrow to allow heavy machinery for road maintenance and water drilling teams.
  • An indisputable need, if not basic principle of village pride, is widening and upgrading of the main road, which ought to be sealed and totally bituminised as far as the village square.

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