As there is still no one to be seen we go back to the car and slowly continue our journey along the road, all the time on the lookout for any sign of cocoa being gathered or anyone who can tell us where we may possibly find someone who has elected to have some plucking done to-day.
We have come about a couple of miles further when out from a stretch of bushland emerges a boy, carrying on his head a calabash full of fresh cocoa beans. Fortunately, he savvies a little "pidgin" English. He offers to guide us to a farm where he thinks some pods are being harvested.
"How far away ?" we ask.
"He be small far," is the reply, which means to say, "far, but not very far," and that may mean any distance from a hundred yards to ten miles.
After following our guide for about a mile and a half along a Bush trail and through trackless belts of cocoa trees, we suddenly come upon a typical harvest scene on a Gold Coast cocoa farm - a family party of men, women, and pickins are leisurely helping each other to get in the crop.
In gathering cocoa pods, great care must be taken not to injure the " cushion " of flowers to which they are attached, for damage to flowers means, of course, less chance of pods forming for a succeeding crop. The little stalks by which the pods are suspended are so short, and the tiny flowers grow so close to them, that a very little carelessness in harvesting the crops may do much harm to the trees. Care must be taken, too, in selecting the pods to be harvested; they should not be under-ripe or overripe, for the quality of the cocoa will be impaired if the beans are taken from any but just nicely ripe pods.
The pods are detached singly by severing their stalks. Those which can be reached from the ground are sometimes plucked by hand; a firm hold is taken of the pod, and the stalk is broken by a turn of the wrist. A better method is to hold the pod in one hand and cut through the stalk with a sharp-edged tool. The pods on the higher branches are detached by means of an improvised or specially designed picking implement.
The men of the party we are watching are doing the picking. They use a cutlass for severing the stalks of the low-hanging pods; for detaching the pods aloft, one of them is armed with a long piece of bamboo to the top of which is tied an old jack-knife, and the other with an up-to-date specimen of picking implement, consisting of a long handle of broomstick style, which is fitted with a movable blade that is worked by a cord.
The women and children have been gathering up the pods as they fall, and heaping them at the foot of the trees. Presently, some of them start piling up the pods in big baskets. A few minutes later a little procession moves off carrying the heavily laden baskets on their heads. What a pretty picture the carriers make as they wend their way through the leaf-strewn spaces between the near neighbouring trees - the blues and browns of their draperies mingle with the green and gold of the cocoa trees to present a fascinating colour scheme, and the repetition of the golden note in the headloads of ripe pods might well be a master artist's touch. And is it not a joy to watch these people walk? They hold themselves so well, and have such wonderful control of their movements, thanks to a gymnastic exercise in which they are trained from the time they can run alone - the exercise of balancing on their heads anything they may have to carry The pods that have been harvested to-day, together with those which were gathered yesterday and left at the foot of the trees, are being taken by the carriers we are watching to a spot near the farmstead's compound, ready to be broken open for the beans to be extracted.
We express a wish to follow the carriers, in order to see something of the next stages in the work of cocoa production.
We can go where we like on the farm, we are told, but to-day no one here will be doing any of the other kinds of work we want to see; if we like to come again to-morrow . . . or the next day, perhaps. . . . Well, yes, it is just possible that someone on a neighbouring farm is getting beans ready to ferment, and if we discover some folks over yonder doing what we want to look at next, perhaps they will be able to tell us where there is a chance of finding someone else attending to beans in ether ways. Certainly, one of the men will come with us to show us the way to a place where one of the women thinks we may find pods being opened.
Fermenting Cocoa : Grenada (British West Indies)
For mile after mile we plod after our new guide. We are drenched to the skin with steam heat, very weary of struggling through trackless seas of leaves and negotiating the stony beds and swampy morasses of parched streams. Our leader seems to be taking us on an exploring expedition that is akin to a wild goose chase. Comes the moment when our courage fails us to the point of urging us to discuss whether we shall turn back and make for the car, but we decide to follow on in case we should be nearly "there." A few minutes later we sight our reward.
Seated on the ground in a rough semicircle, around a mound of pods and a heap of beans, is a family party. With a cutlass the men slash open the pods, and, using the point of the cutlass as a scoop, they toss the contents of each pod on the heap of beans at their side.
Each pod contains about forty beans, arranged, as you see, in rows. The beans are held together in one slimy mass by a sticky white pulp, and it is in one mass, usually, that the contents of each pod are extracted at the point of the cutlass.
The women of the party are busy breaking up the sticky masses into single beans, and picking out rubbish such as bits of stalk and pod. They do this messy job with their hands.
Fermentation, otherwise known by the highly descriptive name of "sweating," is one of the most important operations in connection with cocoa production, for the quality of the beans is affected to a considerable extent by the care - or carelessness - with which it is carried out. During the sweating process the acrid pulp surrounding the beans runs off as a fluid, and the beans undergo a chemical change; further, at the outset of the treatment the beans all look white, because they are wrapped in a jacket of white pulp, but in the course of sweating their bodies emerge in their natural colour, which gradually deepens in tone - the pale coloured varieties assume a cinnamon-brown hue, and the purple varieties turn chocolate-brown.
You notice that the beans which we now see being picked apart are heaped up on plantain leaves. When the picking over is finished, the heap will be covered with plantain leaves and left to ferment. Fermenting beans should be uncovered and turned over once a day, or at least once in two days, whilst they are under treatment, otherwise some will be underdone and others will sweat themselves together into a mildewy mass.
The length of time necessary for fermentation varies with climatic conditions, but averages about six days.
Most of the Gold Coast farmers follow the primitive method of fermentation we now see being practised, or some primitive variation thereof - they leave the beans on the ground, or in a hole in the ground, piled up on plantain leaves and covered with plantain leaves. Usually, they turn the beans, but not as frequently and thoroughly as is desirable.
In countries where cocoa production is carried on under more advanced methods, the beans are put to ferment in specially designed bins or boxes, fitted with perforated bottoms through which the acrid juice can escape; special care is taken, too, to see that the beans are regularly and thoroughly turned.
After fermentation the beans have to be dried. Artificial drying in specially constructed "hothouses" is resorted to in some countries, but sun-drying is more common and by many experts it is considered preferable.
The Gold Coast farmers have nearly all advanced beyond the very primitive method of spreading the beans just anywhere on the ground to dry.
Another "small far" walk brings us into the midst of a typical Gold Coast cocoa-drying scene. Several mud huts, thatched with grass, are grouped at close quarters round a "compound." The open-air compound is the centre of a small clearing in a maze of cocoa trees, alternating with patches of virgin bush; it is the common yard which serves as playground and cocoa-drying ground for the numerous branches of the farmer's family who live in the mud huts. Within this compound are several raised platforms, with rough-hewn timber legs, and a lath flooring of split palm-leaf ribs. The laths are covered with home-made mats of plaited grass. Spread out on the mats are cocoa beans which have been headed from the fermenting heaps to this sun-cure centre, where they finish their whole course of preparation for their journey to the world's markets as "raw cocoa."