Agios Ioannis was a poor village by Cretan standards. However, poverty is a relative measure, and is in part socially defined, It is clear that with an improved water supply, the loss of population, and the rise in the level of prosperity in Crete after the war, the general lot of the villagers of Agios Ioannis had greatly bettered. Even so, it is also abundantly clear that the other nearby villages have succeeded to a far greater extent economically, than have Agios Ioannis and its neighbours, Livaniana and Aradena.
A wealthy person in Agios Ioannis was one who owned a large number of sheep and goats and many olive trees. The person’s style of living and consumption would not differ much from that of the rest of the villagers. Only by comparing the better off families with the poorest could one find any noticable difference.
Housework was the responsibility of the woman. But the house was also her domain, where she made most of the decisions. A woman was expected to look after the children, feed the family, wash clothes, and keep the house clean.
Working in the garden plots was also a woman’s job. In the spring she planted her lettuce, onion, squash and pot herbs. During the summer she watered the plot about every two days, weeded, and picked the vegetables she needed. Watering the plots was considered a woman’s job, but sometimes, especially if the woman was old, her husband would give her a hand.
Women got up about 6:00 and made breakfast for their husbands. Thereafter they started preparing the midday and evening meals that were warm and heavy. The women spent several hours every day picking and cutting the vegetables and preparing the meal.
There were great differences in the amount of daily work for women in Agios Ioannis. A woman with several small children had little time for needlework and gossip. Her work was heavy and time consuming. Water had to be drawn directly from the cistern during the fall and winter period (i.e. August/September to March/April), when the cistern’s water was too low to provide a flow through pipes to several faucets situated throughout the village below. Even though women had propane gas stoves, they mostly cooked their meals and heated water on an open fire. Clothes were washed by hand, and during the cold and damp winter, these could take days to dry. Women also made their own soap. A woman with no small children but rather a teenage daughter to help her in the house, had plenty of spare time to sit around with their neighbours. The old women who lived with their husbands or sons also had time to visit each other.
A woman was seldom seen sitting down without her needlework, and she usually brought it with when she went visiting. She washed and dyed the wool gathered from the sheep in May and June, knitted the “blousa” (the men’s woolen undershirt), wove tablebloths or “sakouli”, crochets, embroiders and did repair work. However, on Sundays and on certain other days she should not do certain kinds of work, and I was several times asked by the other women if I was knitting on Sundays, which I, of course, denied ever having done.
The sakoulis were still in frequent use by the village men and sometimes by the village women when they needed to carry heavier objects. They were elaborately woven with stripes in bright colours. One sometimes saw village men wearing a sakouli in a town, and they were getting increasingly popular with tourists who had started using these as small and colourful sacks.
The decrease in the population has made cooperation more necessary both between families and between men and women. By enforcing the traditional separation of sexes the village would not be viable. The cooperation of distantly related or totally unrelated families was also important for the survival of the community.
Most people could call upon a large network of siblings, cousins, uncles, aunts and other relatives. The most common reason for using this network was the demand for additional bodies. Since many families in Agios Ioannis consisted of only a couple and several others only had young children, there were many occasions where an extra hand was needed.
On one occasion a concrete roof was put on one of the houses. This was a job for the men and almost every household was represented. The immediate reward was food and wine during the work, and an enormous meal afterwards. In addition – the possibilty to draw on help from the other households when needed.
In the evening people visited each others’s houses where they passed the time talking, telling stories, playing cards or games and doing needlework. Certain houses were more frequently visited than others; this was the case of the household who had the only village telephone.
In many ways Agios Ioannis was not a typical Cretan village. Since the number of inhabitants was limited there were closer ties between the generations, and the border between the public and private areas was not always clear, as it normally would be in a Cretan village. People had time to visit each other in their homes or talk by the cistern or sheepfold. Both men and women went visiting, and when one found groups of women together, a man could and would join them if he passed by. If some men gathered in one’s front yard, his wife and other visiting females would sit down among them with their needlework.