Dave Gullett

a miscellanea

So the aroma hangs in the air…

Have you ever heard of cloves? Chances are you have, and chances are you have some in your pantry with your other spices. (If you do you might want to go find the jar and bring it back to your computer, open the jar and take a deep whiff.) That fragrant aroma has traveled a long way to find you. And chances are very, very good that it began its journey in Sulawesi, and its is equally likely that it began in the small village of Suluun.

Walking through Suluun two Saturdays ago the sweet aroma filled the air. It was the peak of the clove harvest, the pinnacle of this village’s life. The harvest occurs only once every two years and is crucial to the people’s survival.

They go to their yards and groves and pluck the clove, the unopened but of the flowering tree, by hand and drop them into sacks. They do this by standing on rickety bamboo ladders for hours on end. It’s often backbreaking labor, full of long hours and very tedious. Families with larger groves often hire help for the harvest so that all the cloves can be gathered at the exact right time. Being off even by a few days can cause the quality, and thus the price, of the cloves to plummet.

After the trees are cleaned off, they haul the bags back to town, usually in trucks or oxcarts, but often on bicycle or motorcycle.

Then from the morning until just before the sun goes down, the cloves are spread out on canvas tarps to dry in the sun. The patchwork of canvas covers any open, sunny area: yards, driveways, even half the street or more.

They are laid out for three or for days depending on the temperature and humidity. This is crucial, for if the cloves are not dried properly they will lose their value tremendously.

The villagers must be on the guard for rain, and be ready to gather their drying cloves as soon as rain begins to fall. The moisture could ruin their entire harvest.

After the drying is complete the cloves usually head are usually sold directly to cigarette or spice companies.

The value of these cloves can be such that a family is secure financially until the next harvest in two years.

And it is common for Christians here to bring cloves to the church as part of their offerings instead of money.

The livelihood of the people here hangs on the quality of the harvest and the price of cloves.

There is a delicate balance though. This year they are having a record harvest. More cloves than they have seen in years.

But the abundance has sent the price falling. Often so low it isn’t worth paying extra people to harvest.

Cursed by abundance in a sense, the people must choose to sell the harvest for a low price or store the cloves in hopes of a price increase, taking the chance they might be ruined.

Dependence on “chance”; dependence on things one cannot control is a recurring theme in these hills.

So the aroma hangs in the air, and so does their future.