If the harvest fly does not sing, it is not summer [chapter 1]


In this series of short stories about a year in a mastic village, you will get to follow the journey of Dimitris and Giannis. Together with the young Dimitris, you are invited to observe and learn the master’s craft. This is the first chapter; stay tuned for more!

Α δε λαλήσει τζίτζικας εν είναι καλοκαίρι
If the harvest fly does not sing, it is not summer
(local saying of Chios island)

It is already late June, and Giannis decided to take young Dimitris on the mastic fields with him. Dimitris was waiting anxiously to help with the ‘kendima’, which means embroidering. He has grown up around mastic and wants to become a mastic grower. The fields of Giannis are near the village of Pyrgi, where they live. From the road, they can easily see those rather short trees with deep green leaves and with interesting trunks. On the southwestern part of Chios, mastic trees line the roads on both sides. The sun has started to come up, so Giannis and Dimitris must hurry if they want to finish their work before late noon. Otherwise the Greek sun will be unbearable.

“Dimitri, go find some branches and twigs to make a broom. We need to clean the soil under the trees,” Giannis said. “Ok, I’m going. Don’t start the ‘table’ without me,” Dimitrits replied and he started running immediately to look for branches. “You don’t have to run!” Giannis shouted after him. “Have some patience. I will wait for you.”

While waiting for Dimitris, Giannis looked at one of the older mastic trees. Its branches had grown so much that you could almost stand completely under it. When he was a child, he used to think that the trees were already very big, because he himself was small. While growing up, he learned that mastic trees are actually rather short trees, and it takes specific cultivation methods to make them bigger.

His grandmother used to tell him many stories about life in the past. How back then, they used to bring their children along at the field because there was no one else to babysit at home. Their main transport were donkeys and their saddles were used as baby beds. After taking off the saddle from the donkey, the women would turn it over and place a jute bag in it. Using a rope, they would then hang the saddle-baby bed from a strong mastic tree branch and leave the baby to sleep as if in a swinging bed.

“Hey Giannis, wake up!” Dimitris called him out of his daydream. “What happened?” Giannis asked. “Come on! Let’s clean and level the soil and lay down the white soil!” Dimitris answered full of excitement. “Okay, okay.. I wish I had that enthusiasm when I was your age,” Giannis laughed. Together, they carefully cleaned the soil with the broom they made, called ‘athrimba’.

“I will show you today how to make the first incisions on the tree,” Giannis said. “Today, Kendima? But isn’t it too early? June has not even finished,” said Dimitris confused. “No, it is not too early,” Giannis explained. “We always do the first incisions right after cleaning the soil, in order to ‘wake up’  the tree and start producing mastic. But be careful, we will only make some very few incisions on the bottom of the trunk of each tree. Do you want to know how we call this first kendima?” Giannis asked. “Sure!” Dimitris was excited to learn. “It is called riniasma,” Giannis told him.

Now they were ready to start. “Which tool are you going to use?” Giannis asked. Dimitris looked at the tools in front of them. “The kenditiri or baltadaki,” he answered. “Well done, you have learned all of them!” said Giannis enthusiastically. “Now let’s get to work.”

Baltadaki (left) and Kenditiri (right), tools used by mastic growers to make incisions on the tree and produce mastic resin (Photos: PIOP archive)
Baltadaki (left) and Kenditiri (right), tools used by mastic growers to make incisions on the tree and produce mastic resin (Photos: PIOP archive)
This is a fictional story written by Danae Kaplanidi (PIOP), and is the outcome of archival and ethnographic fieldwork research in the villages of Mesta, Olimpi, Emporeios and Pyrgi. The author would like to thank the research participants for their time and willingness to share stories about life in southern Chios.
Top image: Mastic field of the Chios Mastic Museum, 2019. Photo: Danae Kaplanidi