Mastic Industry & the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association
Mastic processing does not end at the houses of the mastic producers or the local association of the mastic villages. When the producers deliver their mastic crop to the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association, mastic is re-classified and stored in cool spaces. A cool space nowadays is a cold room refrigerator but in the past this room was not big enough for the amount of delivered mastic. For this reason, in the premises of the Association, they used to build underground storage spaces. Those spaces were accessible by the ground floor where a floor door could be opened and the employee could descent with a ladder and store the mastic on the underground wooden shelves.
At the Association, mastic is cleaned again with salty water and soap, dried in a humid room for approximately forty to sixty minutes (according to the size of the mastic tears), sifted and pinched. Pinching is taking place at a large room with benches where mostly women perform the task. Not all mastic is passing at once through these processes. The amount is defined by the orders that the Association has to effect and the purpose of use of the mastic. For example, ‘black mastic’, that is, mastic tears that have attached dirt on their inside and cannot be therefore totally cleaned, are destined to be used for the production of mastic oil. Otherwise, according to the size of the tears, the bigger ones (called ‘pittas’) are sold as a product as they are while smaller ones are used for the production of mastic desserts and chewing gum.
For the production of mastic chewing gum, first the mixture is prepared which is made out of mastic, sugar (optional), butter, corn flour, and water. The ingredients are placed in the blending machine to produce the mixture. After fifteen minutes the mixture is taken out of the blending machine and is placed on a marble counter. Then it is formed to pieces of maximum height three centimeters and left to cool. After cooling the pieces are transferred to the press and engraving machine where they are pressed and gum dragees are formed. At the end the dragees are cut and put in the candy machine to create their coating made out of syrup. Packing of the chewing gum is also performed in the factory of the Association. Nevertheless, with the development of automatic machines, the human effort has been reduced over the years.
Mastic oil is produced through distillation.
According to a research of 2006 regarding the employees of the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association, male workers appear to have started working at the Association after they have completed their military service, finished more than secondary school, while a few were former sailors. On the contrary, female workers appear to have started working at the Association at a wider age range and for reasons stemming from personal or family misfortunes. The educational background of female workers did not always exceed primary school and most of them used to help in the fields and the household. When asked about the parents’ background (i.e. their job), most fathers did several jobs while the mothers were mostly farmers and household keepers. Nevertheless, the educational background of the children does not seem to be affected by the professional background of the parents, although the researchers agree that the lack of education of the female workers of the Association is the main reason they sought employment there.
A first difference between the male and female workers of the Association is that the male workers appear to have been retired from the Association, that is, they had a steady profession there, while the female workers appear to have worked more as part-time or paid by piece workers. Female workers connect their decision to start working at the Association either to the opportunity they had to live in the town of the island rather than immigrate in a foreign place, or to their need to provide for their family. Although the opportunity to work at the Association was very much dependent on social connections, the work was not characterised as that of a guild.
Many workers who saw an opportunity for professional career on their island developed to better employment positions such as the administration office with a full-time, steady contract and potential to develop more. Finally, the researchers observe that the younger female workers are more willing to pursue a career at the Association.
- Plytas, A. (2010) Detailed description of various production lines of mastic in the factory of the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association. PIOP Archive.
- Varlas, M. and Papastefanaki, L. (2009) Archive of oral testimonies concerning work in the processing of mastic. PIOP Archive.