Book Reviews

Konoplji Hvala
Praise to Hemp

        Dr. Jan Kisùge0ci
        96 pages with illustrations
        ISBN 86-7953-002-6

        Konoplji Hvala or Praise to Hemp is written in two languages, English and Serbian.  The author wrote it because people tend to forget Yugoslavian hemp's importance in previous decades and centuries.  This work gives a historic overview of hemp's role in the northeastern part of former Yugoslavia.  From the 15th century until the 1930's, hemp was produced and used domestically.  It was generally used for sacking and cordage.  Poverty forced people to fulfill their own needs, so peasants produced their own cloth from hemp.   The "upper classes" used silk, linen and wool.  As a crop, it never became a dominant culture, but was still present on every farm.  Hemp growing and processing was very labor intensive and occupied the family the whole year 'round, from sowing in Spring to harvesting in the Summer, followed by its retting and drying in the Autumn, and finally the required breaking, scutching, combing, weaving and spinning until the next Spring.
        Only in the 18th century, did trading of fiber and hemp products become of some industrial importance.  Seed was imported from the Bologna region of Italy, since it was superior to domestic seed.  In the 1930's, modernization started with the education of farmers and weavers.  This was successful, as quality did improve.  Soon after the war, in 1949, hemp production reached its peak, with more than 100,000 hectares under cultivation.  However, in the following decades, this acreage drastically declined, so that now hemp has almost disappeared.
        After the book's historic over-view, three chapters are dedicated to the basics of hemp: biology, cultivation and processing, and products.  Although the basics are explained in a few pages, which makes it easy to read, it contains some factual inaccuracies.  Very nice to read is the chapter on 'Hemp in folk customs and beliefs'.  One example: "After the hemp has been sown, people run three times round the fields with their eyes closed so that birds should not see it and eat it".  The final chapter discusses the current use of hemp.   The author regrets that the decline of cultivation discouraged research and, therefore, modern cultivation and processing technology, even though interest for hemp still exists.  He feels that a part of history is disappearing and thinks nostalgically back about his winter evenings long ago, with the family spinning and weaving hemp.
        I found only two significant drawbacks in this book.  First, I really missed a map of the region concerned, since I could not find many of the places mentioned, in any atlas.  Second, the English could be improved.   But these two drawbacks are well-compensated by the many historic pictures and clear drawings.  It is written from a farmers point of view and is relatively easy to read, giving a better understanding of the history of hemp in this part of Yugoslavia.
        [Editor's Note: Konoplji Hvala is available to IHA members from IHA Books for US$30.00 postpaid.]

Sebastiaan Hennink
Thorbeckestraat 44
6702 BS Wageningen
The Netherlands
E-mail: Shennink@User.DiVa.nl


The Practical Hemp Primer

        Ch.R. Vogl, J. Hess and K.F. Stroeml, 1996.
        Die Praktische Hanf Fibel.
        Institut fuer Oekologischen Land-bau, Universitaet für Bodenkultur, Gregor Mendel Strasse 33, 1180 Wien, Austria, pps. 32, US$ 10.

        This 32-page booklet (in German) summarizes useful information for would-be hemp farmers.  It summarizes data from the scientific literature, draws upon practical experience obtained from 1995 in Austria and supplies information on the legal situation and regulations in Austria, Switzerland and Germany.  The authors discuss growing, harvesting and processing of hemp from an organic-farming perspective.  The content of this guide is refreshing, as it does not repeat such exaggerated claims as: hemp grows anywhere, needs hardly any fertilizer, does not suffer from pests or diseases, suppresses all weeds and leaves a superior soil structure.  Instead, the authors supply a realistic picture of the crop's problems and potential.  A large number of useful "hemp addresses" in German-speaking countries are supplied in the booklet.

Hayo van der Werf


America's Hemp King

        Dennis Rens
        self-published manuscript and video, 1996.

        Matt Rens was the Hemp King of America.  He reigned from 1914 when he began producing hemp for World War I until his death in 1950, while his industry was being shut down by governmental red tape.   Rens was one of the first to bring hemp into the modern age.  The Rens family's history has now been preserved by Matt's grandson, Dennis Rens, who compiled family memories, photographs and the historical record into this important documentation.   Dennis Rens has also released an accompanying video tape of home movies of the growing and processing of hemp taken by his uncle, Willard Rens, during America's last hemp heyday.
        Matt Rens started growing hemp in 1914 in response to an initiative led by the University of Wisconsin.  He realized that in Wisconsin, the crop could not economically be processed with the old Kentucky methods, by hand in the field.  The variations in Wisconsin weather, especially humidity, required that hemp be dried and processed indoors.  Rens invested in building a decortication mill that at its peak, processed four million tons per year of finished hemp line fiber.  Rens spent his life perfecting the methods of economically processing hemp and developed the Matt Rens Hemp Company into America's largest hemp processor.
        The manuscript documents how the hemp industry was prone to alternating booms and busts.  The booms coincided with the two world wars.  Matt Rens proved himself an excellent businessman by the way he weathered the cyclical depressions and invested ahead of the times of peak demand.  In his best stroke of genius, he sold his entire operation to a "slick Chicago businessman" just weeks before the crash of 1929.
        The manuscript misses one crucial phase of the Rens family history.  Matt Rens tried his best to prevent passage of the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act.  He traveled to Washington and testified before the House Judiciary Committee about his company and industrial and military demand for hemp.
        Rens' lobbying effort was successful, at least on a temporary basis.  Hemp stalks and fiber were excluded from the definition of Marihuana and farmers were only required to pay one dollar for a federal license.   But soon the bureaucrats started hassling Rens and others going so far as to demand that every last leaf be removed from the retted stalks before they could be transported to the mill.  In 1945, Rens again traveled to Washington to testify, this time before a Senate Finance sub-committee.  The federal demands became too much for any farmer and by 1957 the entire industry was lost.
        The prohibition against hemp cultivation caused a break in our generation to generation passing of farm sense.  Ten thousand years worth of human experience with hemp is quickly being lost with the passing of our elders.   Dennis Rens says he did not write this manuscript for publication, but solely as a project to preserve his family history.  More of us need to follow this example and document the knowledge preserved in the memories of our senior citizens before it is forever lost.
        At this point, Dennis Rens is making copies of his manuscript available for the production cost of $10 each.  The video tape is $20 and should not be missed.  Both are available from Dennis Rens at 1540 Camelot Lane, Minneapolis, MN 55432.

Don Wirtshafter
Ohio Hempery Inc., 7002 S.R. 329, Guysville, OH 45735 Tel. (614)662-4367
Fax.(614)662-6446 or http://www.hempery.com


Descartes and cannabis -
Why leave for Holland?

        Frédéric Pagès, 1996.   Descartes et le cannabis - Pourquoi partir en Hollande?  Les Petits Libres nr. 8, Editions Mille et une Nuits, France.

        Have you ever woken in the middle of the night, worrying about the role of cannabis in the deterioration of the relationship between France and The Netherlands?  Then this small guide is your answer.  With an attractive cover, a clearly written content and a price that even a Dutchman would afford (10 French francs), it presents the most challenging hypothesis concerning cannabis since the publication of Jack Herer's The Emperor Wears No Clothes.   Many of our readers may not have mastered the French language, but this little gem may be sufficient reason for a crash course.
        A strange love-hate relationship exists between the French and the Dutch.  Dutch middle-class tourists appreciate France for its sunshine, cafe terraces, wine and way of life, just as young French excursionists enjoy Holland for its scenery, coffeeshops, cannabis and atmosphere.  However, many Dutch burghers dislike France for its political arrogance (e.g., nuclear tests), whereas most French bourgeois are appalled by Dutch "permissiveness" (e.g., towards cannabis).
        Frédéric Pagès, a journalist at the French satirical newspaper "Le Canard enchaîné" has deftly written an enlightening fifty-page booklet (that fits in the back pocket of your favourite "bleu-jean") called "Descartes and cannabis - Why leave for Holland?"  Being a Dutchman living in France, whose favourite plant is Cannabis, it was of course, impossible for me not to read a work bearing this title.  It reveals why the all-time greatest philosopher of France spent the most of his adult life in the Netherlands.  Pagès uses Descartes' so-called "Cartesian method" to boldly put forward the hypothesis that Descartes came to The Netherlands for exactly the same reason as many of his current compatriots: to smoke cannabis!  He relates a fascinating account of his investigation into the preferences of the Father of Modern Philosophy that is sure to entertain (or enrage) anyone interested in these matters.

        Hayo van der Werf

wpe45.jpg (21710 bytes)