A well-organised community of workers

Numerous houses and huts were built under the mantle of oak trees in La Sauceda valley during the Second Republic. A church, a communal oven, several shops and a school were used by the occupants of the central area, where there are now houses for tourists and visitors to stay in.

But other parts of the valley were inhabited as well, divided into administrative districts called ‘cantones’. About 2,000 people lived there, and they worked on cattle farms, collected charcoal or cork, or were involved in contraband with products from Gibraltar.

In the first two decades of the 20th century, there were 11 inhabited areas in La Sauceda valley as well as the one we know today which is close to the church and beside the stream.

 

 There were good communications between them and many of the inhabitants were related. Historian Fernando Sigler, in his book La Sauceda y el Marrufo, (La Sauceda and El Marrufo, from Republican resistance to Francoist repression) explains that on the population register of Cortes de la Frontera in 1924, the 12 areas were grouped together under the name of ‘Fourth Section of Sauceda’. About 1,395 people (349 families) lived in this section. The different areas were called: Bañuelo, Breña redonda, Cerquijos, Diego Duro, Las Huesas, Loma del moral, Majada del moral, Majada Jiralde, Parralejos, Pasa la Llana, Ramblanzo and Sauceda.


The principal economic activities in the valley were forestry work, collecting cork, making charcoal, chopping firewood, agriculture and cattle farming, but there were also shoemakers, blacksmiths, muleteers, bricklayers, tradesmen, industrialists, labourers and mill workers. In 1924, according to Sigler, payment for those who worked in the countryside at La Sauceda was generally three pesetas a day for adults and two for children. For blacksmiths, it varied between two and four pesetas, and widows who worked to support their families were paid 1.25 pesetas. The average pay per day in this area was 2.66 pesetas.
These activities, together with family-run vegetable plots and contraband products brought from Gibraltar, were the principal sources of income for a population which was mentioned by Miguel de Cervantes in the 17th century, in his work El coloquio de los perros: “Dejólos encerrados, y volvió a coger los trofeos de la batalla, que fueron tres vainas, y luego se las fue a mostrar al asistente, que, si mal no me acuerdo, lo era entonces el licenciado Sarmiento de Valladares, famoso por la destruición de La Sauceda. Miraban a mi amo por las calles do pasaba, señalándole con el dedo, como si dijeran: Aquél es el valiente que se atrevió a reñir solo con la flor de los bravos de la Andalucía”.

There, the author of El Quijote was already referring to a history of resistance which was to be repeated four centuries later. Cervantes was talking about the campaign of repression against the ‘Moriscos’, descendents of the Moors, who still followed their own traditions in the mountains of Ronda and Cádiz, after Felipe II ordered a military campaign to be carried out against them.
This text and others like it has led to La Sauceda gaining a reputation as a place which has been inhabited ever since by the marginal, rebels and the homeless. The reality was very different. The wealth of woodland at La Sauceda in the 15th century resulted in a long legal battle between the municipalities of Jerez and Ronda over this land. And in the 16th century it was Alcalá de los Gazules which took legal action against Ronda for the meadows of La Sauceda. Ronda won, but in the 18th century Cortes de la Frontera separated from Ronda and the inhabitants of La Sauceda, who were normal people like any other, mainly dedicated themselves to livestock farming, feeding their cattle and pigs with acorns in the meadows of the 2,160 ‘fanegas’ of land that the municipality owned there.
In the 19th century people from La Sauceda who were linked with the workers’ movement took part in the conferences held by the Federation of Workers of the Spanish Region (FTRE), the Spanish section of the International Workers Association (AIT). By the start of the 20th century there was already a school at La Sauceda, and in 1923 the church was built; its remains are still standing. Several mills operated by using the waters of the stream and there were a number of ovens, to supply the local population with flour and bread. The inhabitants of the valley sold their cork, charcoal and livestock in Jerez and elsewhere in Cádiz and Málaga provinces.

Information from archives and oral testimony from survivors indicates that this was a highly integrated community which was well communicated with other places in the region. The inhabitants of La Sauceda had close economic, commercial and family links with those of Cortes de la Frontera and also the hamlets and small communities in the municipality of Jerez. There were 96 of these altogether, extending along the north side of Cádiz province, which borders Cortes at La Sauceda valley. Jimena, Algar, Ubrique and San José del Valle, which at that time was an outlying district of Jerez, were other places with which there were close associations. The arrival of the Republic was well received in La Sauceda, where many of the inhabitants were Republican sympathisers, socialists and anarchists. The Popular Front won the elections in Cortes in 1936 and Miguel Pérez Pérez, who was nicknamed Polonio, became mayor of La Sauceda.