Kennip: Roped in with weed
In a 1920 copy of the Isle of Man Examiner, Philip Wilby Caine, reporter, poet and playwright, laid out a vision for a pastoral Isle of Man in a poem that sketched a modern bucolic lush with bounty.
He saw the reasts, gearys, and curraghs (Manx Gaelic for wastelands) and even Kitterland rock covered in wheat, corn and oats standing tall, heavy and abundant ‘…til every field seemed simply packed with good grain.’
The young men are using all manner of
In place of beasts’ droppings and wraick
from the shore.
They’re leaving the scythe for these reapers
And nothing’s being done as it was done before.
In the opening line to Caine’s idyllic harvest, he declared; ‘We shall see hemp at Cronk Y Kishtey’.
So along with wishing for an Island wealthy in crops planted and grown by mechanised farming, what is now contemporary agriculture, was it his hope that whilst the staples were yielding by the plenty across the land, Manxmen could also rely on a solid stock of weed out Dalby way as a reward for all their groundwork? That in return for preserving utopia, Islanders should be entitled to enough chuff to honour their days with?
Of course, his ode to Mann wasn’t some prediction that the Island’s farming community was destined to fall into certain recreational standards laid down in 1969, so what did P.W.C see in hemp, as he wrote of it with such sentiment?
Hemp: A History
The Department for Environment, Food and Agriculture (DEFA) have said that to their knowledge, hemp has never been grown on the Isle of Man*, but in fact, history appears to tell a different story. Perhaps our timeline might just prompt us to re-recognise hemp, as the UK government starts to issue industrial licenses for growers in light of EU economies capitalising on what is fast becoming a growing market.
Current legislation states that it shall be unlawful for a person to cultivate any part of the genus Cannabis. Yet the resourceful Manxman of centuries passed cultivated and utilised the plant for a number of industrial purposes, oblivious to its apparent class C properties.
The fibres, or shivs from within the stalk, were extracted for yarn and span into cordage and rope. This traditional application proved hemp was reliable and so, was revered as a mainstay crop prized for its versatility alongside flax, across the Island and throughout Europe.
According to The Dictionary of Manx Place Names, Archdeacon of Mann, John Kewley, recalled that an old woman told him that as young girl in Andreas, she had spun hemp from Cronk Y Kishtey into fishing lines. Now I’m not proposing we all get into the fishnet industry, but the crux of it is that hemp has had a constant presence on the Island, and as the modern consumer becomes more ethical in their choices, particularly in regard to health and sourcing sustainable products, hemp couldn’t be more relevant.
Hemp has gone through somewhat of a rediscovery since the turn of the 21st century, as British and European farmers explore its old and new industrial potentials.
Cigarette and Bible paper, technical filters and even bank notes are hemp derived. Supermarkets sell hemp milk, oils and seed, eco-lifestyle stores stock hemp clothes and of course, health food shops now stock CBD oil, which is generating quite the excitement. The marketplace for hemp is thriving.
As an Island nation increasingly reliant on imports, there is an obvious dissonance over its position on hemp: The sale is sanctioned for Manx consumers to enjoy all of its industrial goods and foodstuffs, yet the law upholds a prohibition that bans local cultivation, denying us the chance to get in on the boom.
In a 1968 Journal for the Manx Museum, the archivist Ann Harrison wrote a piece entitled ‘Economic Opportunities in 1700’ and recorded her observations of the Derby Papers.
It seems plans were being drawn up to increase trade to and from a rather impoverished Isle of Man. So the incumbent Lord of Mann, William Stanley the 9th Earl of Derby, passed a bill through Tynwald Court that ‘obliged all landholders to plant hemp or flax in a husbandlike manner’, and have the yield delivered to the Mooar (chief or head) of the Parish.
Another review of Manx commerce between the 17th and 18th centuries saw Mr. Pilcher G. Ralf, of the Isle of Man Banking Co. write in the Examiner;
‘In the middle ages, under the severe and exacting rule of State and Church, trade developed: Besides corn and cattle, the Isle exported sheep, hides, hemp and fish and received from southern Europe wine and salt. Local industry supplied the natives with homely articles of clothing.’
In these old times, the good people of the Isle of Man were going about their business in the fields with carranes on their feet (a sort of slipper or rough hide sandal from an ox) whilst donning their Manx grown hemp shirts, in a truly self-sufficient fashion.
As well as clothing and keeping the roofs on at Cregneash, hemp was regarded for its use at sea. The Island’s fishing community was dependent on the production of hemp as it was the essential material for weaving nets. After all, this was the time of the sailing ship and so the robustness of industrial hemp was seen as an ideal canvas for sails and yarn for ropes. Hemp was proverbial.
Trade vastly increased with what seemed to be an endless expansion of the British Empire. The thriving commerce that came with it, graced our waters with an emergent and prospering mercantile class, who frequented the ports with all manner of goods. ‘Shipping Intelligence’ became a mainstay in the columns of the Manx newspapers recording daily, ship and company names, quantity of cargo, price of consignment and the port of call. Flax, along with timber and hemp were consistently seen as primary goods on board.
By the 19th century, it appeared that the Island was relying increasingly on hemp from elsewhere.
Immense quantities were being shipped from the Riga in what was then Russia, a place with the reputation of producing the best hemp in all of Europe, in spite of what the local’s said:
‘The small quantity of manks [sic] hemp raised is usually converted into nets, sold at the same price as those manufactured of foreign hemp, but much preferred.’
The Quayle’s too noted in their book, a ‘General View of Agriculture in the Isle of Man’ that;
‘…so little attention is paid to this plant, the more is to be regretted; as the import for the use of fishing boats and other purposes is a heavy and increasing tax on the island.’
A change in law
In his time of writing, Caine’s hemp was considered a raw opiate by the Geneva Convention in 1912 and by 1925, the Manx Legislative Council belatedly aligned itself with English law and made amendments to the Pharmacy and Dangerous Drugs Bill (the now paternal guideline for today’s Misuse of Drugs Act 1976) causing hemp to be impounded alongside heroin, cocaine and even mercury, arsenic and belladonna.
But the hemp in question was in fact cannabis indica, and it seems that with the securing of India by the British Raj, Indian hemp was gaining quite the reputation for less constructive uses, as it was then condemned for inciting ‘insanity’ and ‘lunacy’.
The fact is, hemp endemic to the northern hemisphere is cannabis sativa, but of a variety that contains minuscule amounts of the psychoactive substance THC, typically 0.3%.
Getting high from it is simply out of the question. Yet frustratingly, utterances of hemp evoke associations with hash, resin and even weed for some.
An unshakeable stigma…
The discovery of Indian hemp inaugurated this eternal confusion that mistakes the industrial hemp as just some smoke-able narcotic, couple that with a Mexican nickname and the stigma becomes inseparable.
Nevertheless, the integrity of hemp has endured. It is now considered to be one of the hardiest and most sustainable crops in the world, lacking any need for herbicides or pesticides.
Considering hemp’s worth, the European Union legalised its cultivation throughout the 90s for its member states, with countries like France and the Netherlands now leading the way in production.
Last year, The European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) reported that the production of hemp seeds had almost doubled in the last 8 years, from 6,000 to 11,500 tonnes, whilst the processing of flowers and leaves for the CBD food supplement and medicinal industries had increased by 3000%.
It is a plant that has grown on the Island for hundreds of years, and our ancestors from generation to generation have garnered its harvest for a multitude of ordinary uses, while commercially, its modest supply was allocated to our fishing industry.
Sadly though, in spite of the UK’s endorsement of cultivation, Manx Law cannot see through the ‘cannabis’ of hemp’s Latin namesake.
It sees the perils of 0.3% THC, a pharmaceutical attribute guaranteed to provoke moral panic, with visions of giggling youths burning down acres of the stuff throughout the Manx countryside in a desperate bid to get baked, terrorising farmers like antagonist drunks, giving gob to the bouncers outside a promenade bar.
Bring back hemp?
Confining hemp to an inattentive bill, dismisses the value of its industrial and foodstuff qualities, and denies the Manx economy an opportunity to capitalise on a growing market, all the while British and European producers benefit from increasing demand.
In their strategy for the Landscape and Amenity of the Isle of Man, DEFA are striving for sustainable means of maximising the Island’s natural wealth, whilst acknowledging our role in needing to explore methods of carbon capture.
A square metre of hemp takes in 4 times the amount of CO2 than a square metre of forest and by planting hemp to protect the environment, we could, in turn, provide habitat for wildlife, enrich our soils, enjoy healthy food products, create a textiles industry and essentially reap the economic benefits of tapping into the growing market for hemp.
If only the ‘Traa dy Liooar’ cobwebs were dusted from between the lines of Manx legislation perhaps only then, in the words of Philip Wilby Caine:
‘We shall see plans most useful and clever
Twice and three times more crops we shall grow.’
Perhaps then, Hee mayd Kennip ayns Cronk-Y-Kishtey.
*Correspondence with DEFA established hemp has not been grown on the Island ‘…as far as we are aware.’