Keeping the Workers in Line

I collected this piece of folklore from my dad during the first half of Spring Break, when we were visiting a friend. We had just finished dinner and were still sitting around the dining table, when we began to tell stories.


Dad: “In the past the landlords used to own wineries, and they would put the wine to age, and the peasants, they used to go at night and steal the wine. So, they said… You know, they’re superstitious. They believe a lot of stuff, so at night the patrones (landlords) put the figure of el Diablo (the devil) in front of a light, like a candle or a lantern, and it project the face of el Diablo. And the peasants get scared, and all they run away, to scare them out of the wine, because Chileans, the peasants, they were very drunk, and alcoholic, the majority. They wanted to scare the peasants. My trabajadores (workers), I used to live on a farm, and my father had many campesinos (peasants) working for him. My father used to go have meetings in the attic, and he would carry chains. Big chains, like (makes noise of dragging chain), to scare them, and they used to run away from the place. They used to tell them that if they don’t behave, the ghosts show up and walk on the roof. But it was my father, hiding at night, passing the thing, making noises.

Me: “In other words, your father wasn’t superstitious?”

Dad: “No, no of course (not). Me too. He was the patrón, defending the patrones. You know I found myself doing exactly the same with my Mexican workers. I hired about twenty workers, and we put housing in Kona Kai, in Kona (in Hawaii), and I told them, ‘You know, you have to be careful, because if you misbehave, in this house, a woman was killed twenty years ago, you know, and she hang herself from this roof…’ You know, invent things. And they believe.”

Me: “Did they ever catch you?”

Dad: “Yeah, now we’re friends. But you know they were very astute. It’s like a practical joke you do on then and keep the secret for, until they found out.”

Background & Analysis

My dad was raised in Rancagua, Chile, which is a city outside of Santiago. His father worked alongside the landlords of wineries, and they would perform these practical jokes to keep the workers in line. Learning from his father, my dad implemented this type of pranking with his workers on the coffee plantations he currently manages.

This means of keeping order, and determining who was trustworthy or not, via practical joking, was very clever. Also, my dad described that those who found out or were told, became in on the secret, and this is an example of the liminal theory, and those workers transitioned.