Mas­tic’s his­tory chron­i­cled at Chios mu­seum

Re­cently in­au­gu­rated in­sti­tu­tion pro­vides unique in­sight into the prod­uct that has de­fined life on the is­land since the Mid­dle Ages

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His­tory

It was un­der the rule of the Ge­noese (1304-1566) that the pro­duc­tion of mas­tic was first sys­tem­atized. They pro­vided the is­lan­ders with pro­tec­tion from pi­rates in ex­change for a mo­nop­oly on the mas­tic trade. The densely pop­u­lated vil­lages were sur­rounded by walls with gates that would open in the morn­ing to al­low vil­lagers to head to the fields and close again at night.

In the cen­ter of ev­ery vil­lage stood a stone tower that was the cen­tral store­house for the mas­tic as well as the main ad­min­is­tra­tive build­ing. The ba­sic units of pro­duc­tion were the homes of the vil­lagers them­selves: On the ground floor an­i­mals were kept that were used mainly for trans­port. Above was a floor on which fam­ily life played out, while the roof was used for the dry­ing of grain and other agri­cul­tural prod­ucts that formed the ba­sis of the vil­lagers’ diet.

Life was not easy and space was at a pre­mium: Ev­ery home housed more than one fam­ily and there were no court­yards and few free spa­ces. Ev­ery as­pect of life re­volved around the pro­duc­tion of mas­tic.

In the 16th cen­tury Chios came un­der Ot­toman con­trol. The new rulers kept a mo­nop­oly on the trade of mas­tic un­til 1840, when the is­lan­ders were per­mit­ted to sell mas­tic them­selves with the Ot­tomans col­lect­ing a tax on the trade. The 19th cen­tury was a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult pe­riod as the value of mas­tic fell, threat­en­ing the in­dus­try. As a re­sult, the Chios Mastiha Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion was es­tab­lished in 1938 for the mas­tic grow­ers to pool their re­sources. To this day it is the sole body man­ag­ing the Chios mas­tic trade.

The method of mas­tic pro­duc­tion has changed lit­tle since the Mid­dle Ages, a fact which con­trib­uted to UNESCO’s 2014 de­ci­sion to in­clude the is­land of Chios’s know-how of mas­tic cul­ti­va­tion in its List of the In­tan­gi­ble Cul­tural Her­itage of Hu­man­ity.

To col­lect the valu­able resin, grow­ers scar the bark of the tree at spe­cific times and us­ing a spe­cific method. In re­sponse the tree pro­duces the resin in an ef­fort to heal the wound. The re­sult­ing “tears” are col­lected in the early morn­ing cool be­fore the heat of the day soft­ens them. The tears are then trans­ported to the vil­lage, where they are pro­cessed and cleaned be­fore be­ing de­liv­ered to the as­so­ci­a­tion.

Mu­seum

At the Chios Mas­tic Mu­seum, founded just last year, in an at­trac­tive mod­ern build­ing in the Mas­ti­choho­ria re­gion, vis­i­tors can live and breathe the re­gion’s in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship with the valu­able and cu­ra­tive resin.

Walk­ing in, you are im­me­di­ately en­gulfed by the aroma of the resin and hear a fe­male grower singing a capella the “Schini­atikos” – a song ded­i­cated to the ar­du­ous work of mas­tic har­vest­ing.

The mu­seum’s first sec­tion is ded­i­cated to mas­tic cul­ti­va­tion, with tools, tra­di­tional gar­ments, videos and an im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of black-and-white pho­to­graphs of grow­ers in times past jux­ta­posed with pic­tures of mod­ern grow­ers to em­pha­size the time­less­ness of mas­tic cul­ti­va­tion on Chios.

Mov­ing on, a wind­ing net­work of cor­ri­dors in­spired by the densely packed Mas­ti­choho­ria, fea­tures ex­hibits that take the visi­tor from the Byzan­tine era to 1912, when Chios be­came part of the Greek state.

A third sec­tion fo­cuses on the mod­ern his­tory of mas­tic cul­ti­va­tion. Here orig­i­nal equip­ment from the first fac­tory opened by the Mastiha Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion can be seen in ac­tion. In the 1960s a novel prod­uct is cre­ated based on mas­tic resin: chew­ing gum.

The jour­ney ends with a visit to a grove of cul­ti­vated lentisk trees lo­cated on the slopes be­neath the mu­seum. The trees change with the sea­son: In the win­ter they are cut back, while in the sum­mer they are scarred and “weep.”

In the oral his­tory part of the mu­seum, one grower is recorded say­ing: “The life of a Mas­ti­choho­rian be­gins to merge with the mas­tic it­self. Many, dur­ing the har­vest sea­son, avoid clean­ing their hands, while oth­ers de­lib­er­ately cover them in mas­tic in or­der – so it is said – to show that they are mas­tic grow­ers – it is a mat­ter of pride for them.” * This ar­ti­cle first ap­peared on the Greece Is web­site. Greece Is is a Kathimerini group ini­ti­ate.

opened just last year, in an at­trac­tive mod­ern build­ing, one can live and breathe the re­gion’s in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship with the valu­able and cu­ra­tive resin.

At the mu­seum,

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