|Made from palm leaf, this abstract female head with a large fanlike headdress is dedicated to the rice goddess Dewi Sri and dates from pre-Hindu rice cults. The figure is a symbol of wealth, fertility, and good fortune; ft can also be found on cakes, baked clay, or made from old Chinese coins. The art of cutting and folding young co-conut or palm leaves in intricate designs, both for impressive large-scale ornamentation and small-scale temple flower offerings like the above, is thought to be a pure Balinese art form, with no trace of borrowing from outside cultures.|
Bali's well-defined dry season makes irrigation necessary, but the island's mountainous nature makes it difficult. Since a farmer is unable to build and maintain elaborate irrigation systems, only through cooperation with neighbors have the Balinese become famed as Indonesia's most efficient rice-growers. The subak is a communal association consisting of growers, tenants, and sharecroppers who work adjacent holdings averaging 50-100 hectares. Acting as a sort of local "water board," this intra-village civil engineering organization's main function is to control the distribution of irrigation water and organize joint work projects to build and maintain dams, canals, tunnels, aqueducts, and waterlocks. In existence in Bali since at least A.D. 896, there are today around 1,200 of these irrigation cooperatives, each with several hundred members. All must abide by the same rules. Each member is allotted work in proportion to the amount of water s/he receives; a pekaseh arbitrates any disputes. All government programs to improve rice production are channeled through the subak by a staff of field agents who live right in the main rice-growing areas.
Though it's the bedrock unit of the Balinese community, the subak will buckle under to policies adopted by the central government. In 1994, after the government rezoned the land around Tanah Lot to clear the area of rice fields, the regency cut off all water supplies to the local subak. The villagers were eventually forced to relocate to make way for the massive 121-hectare Nirwana Resort. Even a venerable social institution like the subak subordinates itself to the imperatives of tourist development.
The divine rice plant is the source of all life and wealth, a gift of the gods. Rice rituals differ depending upon place, time, and situation, but all over Bali huge importance is placed on the growing of the island's single most important food crop. As in other areas of Balinese life, women prepare the offerings, designed to gain the goodwill of the deities who provide water and other favorable conditions for a successful harvest.
Before each planting season, the head of the local subak undertakes a trip to the mountain lake of Bratan to ask Batara Wisnu ("Provider of Water") for his assistance. A few drops of water from the lake are symbolically splashed in each rice field before planting begins.
Just as rite-of-passage ceremonies mark stages in a person's life, prayers and rituals accompany every cycle of growth in the life of the rice plant: germination of the seedbed, the planting, the plant's first birthday (42 days), ripening, Dewi Sri's "pregnancy," harvest, and at last a thanksgiving ceremony (ngusaba nini) in which a handsome meter-high cone of cooked white rice is offered up to Dewi Sri in the subak temple.
Small bamboo shrines, resembling Thai spirit houses, stand at the corners of every sawah to hold the offerings dedicated to such agricultural deities as Ibu Pertiwi ("Mother Earth"), Surya (the sun-god), Batara Wisnu, and Dewi Sri, the lissome and beautiful rice goddess. Dewi Sri's deified effigy, fashioned from rice stalks, is found everywhere in the rice fields until the harvest is completed, when it's moved to an elevated place in granaries (lumbung) located in the backyard of almost every Balinese domestic courtyard. To discourage the evil spirits who are accountable for seed loss by birds and mice, offerings of flowers, rice, and eggs are laid before the shrine; cockfights may also be held to satisfy the spirits' bloodlust.
Stages of Growth
There are no particular seasons for growing rice. Traveling over the island at any time of year it's possible to see all phases in progress. In fields side by side you'll see the stubble of newly harvested fields; the glimmering mirrors of flooded, newly prepared fields; the jade of freshly replanted shoots; the swaying green or robust gold of a mature crop; the burning of the stalks; the plowing of fields interspersed with bright green seedbeds. Sawah are at their most beautiful when flooded, just before the young rice is transplanted. The smell of a healthy young sawah is akin to the odor of a healthy aquarium.
To prepare the fields for planting, the farmer first rakes and breaks up the bare, dry ground and stubble of the sawah; this is called ngendag ("opening up"). After hoeing, the field is flooded, then smoothed with a wooden sledge (lampit) pulled by one or two cows (buffaloes lack the necessary stamina) until the whole field is turned into a muddy, watery ooze. The dikes (pundukan) must be continuously cleared of vegetation that would steal needed water from the sawah.
Next, if one is planting padi bali, a corner of the rice field is walled off and a seedling nursery is begun with already germinated seeds. With the new high-yield dwarf varieties, the seeds are simply broadcast by hand. Seedlings grow for 25 days in the seedbed (ngabut). Several days before they are transplanted, the fields are again flooded and smoothed, then fertilized with urea and TSP. The more intensively and diligently the field is worked, the higher the yield.
The transplanting in the larger field next to the seedbed is a group effort, the shoots thrust one by one into the watery mud, spaced one hand's breadth apart and lined up in rows. As the rice grows and the ears fatten on the heads, the rice is said to be pregnant; at this time the fields must be vigilantly guarded from mice and birds. Fluttering plastic strips, rags, bamboo clappers, whips, whirring, clacking contraptions-even human scarecrows-are found all over the fields.
Traditional Harvest Methods
After four months (six months for padi bali), the deep green of the nearly ripe crop appears, turning a golden yellow when fully mature. Although only men plant the rice, harvesting (gampung) is carried out by both men and women. This is a time when the usual quiet of the rice fields is replaced with the lively chatter and upbeat singing of happy throngs of workers-a time of great excitement in a Balinese village. Working under great bamboo hats, every able-bodied villager joins in the work, including children. Harvest is an opportunity to meet future sweethearts.
During a harvest the village streets are almost deserted, the banjar empty-everyone is out in the fields. Offerings are made first, the rice goddess thanked for her bounty. So as not to frighten the goddess, women cut off the ears of padi bali with a small knife concealed in their palms.
Behind the women as they progress across the field come the children, gathering whatever rice has inadvertently been left behind. These leftovers become the harvest of the children, which they can take home for themselves.
Each handful of padi bali stalks is gathered into a sheaf of 10, handed to a man whose job it is to form the wonderful round bales (suwun). Ten sheafs comprise a 10- to 12-kg bale, which is tied with a bamboo string, turned upside down, and hung on the ends of bamboo poles to be carried back to the village in a sort of half-walking, half-running gait, or transported home on the heads of women.
The modern, faster-growing hybrid IR36 is cut by sickles and threshed right in the fields, as it's brittle and tends to fall off the stalk if carried too far. After the harvest, the straw left in the fields is burned, enveloping the whole region in suffocating smoke. After several crops of padi bali, soybeans or some other legume are planted to rejuvenate the soil.
Threshing, Winnowing, Storing, Milling
Traditionally, bundles of rice are taken from the granary and husked a little at a time, just enough for one day's cooking, or sold as the family needs cash. The rice stalks must first be threshed, which frees the grains from the stalk. Then, because the Balinese prefer white rice, the grain is pounded to separate the husk from the inner kernel, usually in a hollowed wooden trough by women using metal-tipped, two-meter-long bamboo poles they rhythmically change from hand to hand. The sound of several women engaged in this task is an ancient form of percussion; some musicologists theorize the hypnotic cadence produced is the origin of most forms of Balinese xylophonic music.
After the pounding loosens the chaff (nebuk), the rice is winnowed (njidi), the grains thrown up and caught on large split bamboo trays while the chaff falls to the ground or is carried away on the wind. The rice is then milled in one of the 1,500 or so gas- or diesel-powered mills found all over Bali. Mills purchase the rice outright, mill it, then sell the processed rice (beras) in 100-kilo sacks. Farmers can have their rice milled for around Rp100 per kg. The coarse bran, germ, and husk byproduct is used as food for pigs.
Rice is the farmer's savings account. In Dutch times, farmers sold their crops for cash to the Denpasar rice mills, the money often squandered long before the next harvest. Now, after the harvest, rice is stored in the banjar granary, or tied in bundles sepingan, to the top of tall poles. You still sometimes see these bundles of rice drying in the sun, particularly in the uplands. The Indonesian government subsidizes the price of rice, known as the "mother price," so that all citizens are at least able to eat. Both government, military, and private-sector employees are paid partly in coupons that can be redeemed for rice.
The Balinese have collected seaweed for hundreds of years, though government-supported commercial production only began in 1980. The most successful cultivation site is the narrow strait between the islets of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan, and on the north coast of Nusa Penida. About 1,000 families are engaged in seaweed production on Nusa Penida, while 35 families work at the Cape Geger project.
To farm seaweed, stakes are first driven into the sandy ocean bottom near shore, then plastic ropes are tied between the stakes to form a rectangle 2.5 by five meters square; 50 of these rectangles make up a 625-square-meter area; 16 squares occupy a hectare. All cultivation and harvesting take place underwater.
It takes a family of five to maintain one-quarter of a hectare, producing about 20 tons of dried seaweed per year. The collected seaweed is used in food, sauces, soups, condiments, and agar-agar, a thickening agent used in cooking. The harvest is sent first to Surabaya, then exported to France, Denmark, Japan, and Singapore for processing. Bali exports approximately 400 tons of seaweed per year. The government does all it can to promote this highly exportable, profitable, labor-intensive, nonpolluting, nonseasonal industry.
Next to lombok (chili peppers), salt is the favorite condiment of the grain-eating Balinese. In the southern part of the island a vigorous family-run cottage industry produces clean, unrefined natural salt from seawater.
The island's salt-making capital is Suwung. Another salt-producing area is the broad tidal flats of Jimbaran. The glistening, volcanic black-sand beach at Kusamba, three kilometers northeast of Klungkung, is a third salt center.
All three locations use different methods to produce salt, though the principle is the same: large amounts of seawater are deposited onto land and allowed to dry under the sun; the residue is scooped up, leached, and the outflow allowed to evaporate, leaving gritty salt crystals which are then purified. The Jimbaran saltworks employs an evaporator, a large, loosely woven bamboo basket extruding a long, white, dripping stalactite around which forms a cake of salt. Saltmakers produce an average of about 25 kg per day.
Saltmakers at each site claim that the salt from the other locations is crude and bitter, but it's generally believed Jimbaran salt is the highest quality. Because of its complex beneficial minerals and bio-electronic properties, sea salt balances alkalinity/acidity levels, renews energy, restores good digestion, rejuvenates the body's biosystems, and relieves allergies and skin diseases.
Other Small Industries
The Bukit Peninsula is home to a number of important industries. One is the conversion of coral into quicklime (pamor), used in the making of mortar. A very high temperature is required to slake lime; you can always locate a lime kiln by its great clouds of choking, polluting fumes.
During the early 1980s the offshore tidal environment and reef fauna of Kuta, Sanur, and Candidasa were totally degraded by indiscriminate coral gathering. Now regulations prohibit coral harvesting less than three kilometers from shore. Fortunately, lime output has started to fall off as more builders switch to superior cement.
Limestone quarrying on the Bukit to produce blocks and bricks is concentrated south of Pecatu. You can see many old quarries on the main road to Uluwatu Temple. Long crowbars (linggis) are used to pry the limestone loose from the cliffs, and the blocks are sawed where they fall.
Baked red bricks and roof tiles are made in wooden molds by hand in the northern part of the island wherever there are clay deposits, which is just about everywhere. This enterprise is a curious sight, the brick- or tilemaker's shed completely surrounded by a deep moat dug right out of the clay topsoil. The island's brick-making center lies just south of Mambal on the road north from Denpasar to the Monkey Forest, where half the population is involved in this lively industry.
Bali's prefab clay, concrete, and ceramic center is at Kapal, between Tabanan and Denpasar. Kapal is also famous as a manufacturing center for Bali's rice cookers-the weird and wonderful dang-dang many tourists mistake for hats-as well as numerous other sheet metal products. A growing market is the export of traditional Balinese wooden house frames and parquet floors, particularly to Australia and the United States.