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A contemporary duck farmer in China leads his charges along a busy street.

A contemporary duck farmer in China leads his charges along a busy street.

Zhu Yigui was a Fujianese duck farmer who lived in Formosa (now Taiwan) during the 18th century.  He was said to command his ducks with martial precision:  according to legend, he even trained his ducks to  march in military formations like soldiers (although mother ducks have long mastered the same feat with their ducklings–so perhaps Zhu’s soldierly duck-training prowess was less illustrious than legend would make it seem).   In 1721 an earthquake rocked the island and caused extensive damage.  Some people lost everything. The imperial prefect of Formosa was not interested in hearing excuses and levied punitive taxes on the peasantry—even though smallholders were trying to cope with disastrous losses from the earthquake.

L'_Isle_Formosa

Unable to put up with this abuse from the incompetent Qing authorities, the people rose in rebellion.  When they were looking for a leader they remembered the duck-raising prowess of Zhu Yigui who thus became a general.  On the 19th of April of 1721 he attacked and captured the city of Gangshan.  Soon other rebel factions joined the rebellion, as did the oft-abused aboriginal people of Formosa.  Zhu Yigui was given the sobriquet “Mother Duck King.”  His forces went on to capture Tainan, the island’s capital without even fighting.

Unfortunately, Zhu’s mastery over ducks did not adequately prepare him for dealing with rebels.  He quarreled with his fellow rebel captains just as the Machu relief army was landing on Formosa.  The rebels fell apart in pitched battle with professional soldiers and Zhu Yigui was captured and executed. Because of these troubling events duck farming was prohibited in Central Taiwan for many years.  Still, whenever one compiles a list of illustrious duck-breeders from the Qing dynasty, Zhu’s name is certainly on the list!

Sumerian Farmers

Sumerian Farmers

What is the world’s most important occupation?  There are so many contenders: the brave soldiers who lay down their lives to fight oppression, the bankers who take all of the world’s money for themselves, the doctors who keep us healthy, the workers in the energy sector who keep society from falling into darkness and horror…even our leaders who bravely ensure that nothing gets done (so that society does not suddenly lurch in some scary direction).  Yet all of these professions are only possible once there is enough food.  Without farmers we would still all be hunter gatherers–and by “all” I mean the tiny handful of us who would exist.  Pre-agricultural society was terrifying because of its lack of certainty.  Humankind foraged hither and yon in hungry desperate bands.  Everyone was involved in long-running internecine wars with local tribes.  After the dawn of agriculture we were stuck with all sorts of oppressive megalithic forces: social hierarchy, ownership, organized religion—but in recompense humankind found literacy and science, the twin touchstones of wisdom and progress.

 

Thanks, farmer!

Thanks, farmer!

As spring begins the farmers are busy getting ready for the growing season.  They are out there harvesting winter crops, fixing seed injectors, tilling fields, and doing other critical things that we soft urban dwellers don’t even know about. To celebrate the importance of agriculture and give the farmer his (or her) due, here is a gallery of farmer mascots from around the internet.

Old Farmer Mascot (mascotdesigngallery.com)

Old Farmer Mascot (mascotdesigngallery.com)

Fat Cat Farmer: mascot of Stilwell High, Stilwell, OK

Fat Cat Farmer: mascot of Stilwell High, Stilwell, OK

I really hope this guy doesn't raise pigs

I really hope this guy doesn’t raise pigs

Angry Farmer (Joe Apel)

Angry Farmer (Joe Apel)

 

Corn Cob Bob should probably be the national animal

Corn Cob Bob should probably be the national animal

Does a creepy cowgirl count?

Does a creepy cowgirl count?

Travis the Tractor

Travis the Tractor

You could own the Farmer Duane costume for a mere $979.00 (facemakersincorporated.com)

You could own the Farmer Duane costume for a mere $979.00 (facemakersincorporated.com)

Of course looking over these images raises some troubling questions.  What is the difference between farmers and hillbillies?  Do farmers still wear straw hats? To what extent is farming now controlled by a handful of quasi-monopolistic corporations?  If farming is so important, why are so many of these mascots so primitive looking?

 

Farmer Mascot?

Farmer Mascot?

These questions will have to wait (or remain forever unanswered).  For now let us celebrate the ancient profession of farming and each of us prepare for the spring planting in our own lives.

farmer-clip-art-4images

 

 

 

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia

Estonian mythology all seems strangely familiar and yet jarringly bizarre—like songs you hear in dreams or children’s books read in unknown languages.  The stories have Greek parallels (and owe much to Finnish mythology) but the narrative is off-putting. A cunning blacksmith makes a beautiful woman out of gold but is unable to give her a soul or a mind. Beings from the land of the dead come back through a sacred grove to seduce maidens in the evening. Forests grow tired of human greed and get up and move away.

duAtfTO

Perhaps the most familiar-yet-strange figure in Estonian myth is Vanatühi, the god of the underworld.  Vanatühi means “old empty one” and the deity is famed for being stupid–nearly to the point of being inert.  Whereas other underworld gods are always up to some malevolent scheme, Vanatühi is a big dumb farmer with crude ogre features.  Because of his stupidity, Vanatühi is always being outwitted by Kaval Ants (“Crafty Hans”), the cunning trickster of Estonian myth (who usually starts out as a farmhand working for Vanatühi.

Vanatühi has two mythological items of great power, the stranger of which is küüntest kübar, a magical crown made of fingernails (yuck!) which renders the wearer invisible.  The other mystical item he has is a whistle which he stole from Pikne, the god of lightning, however the whistle never seems to come into play.  Maybe Vanatühi swallowed it?

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