Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cambodia Celebrates the Royal Plowing Ceremony


About 10,000 people have attended the Royal Plowing Ceremony on May 12 in the Veal Men Park near the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. Known locally as “Bon Chrot Preah Naingkoal”, the celebration was conducted by His Majesty Preah Karuna Preah Bat Samdech Boromneath Norodom Sihamoni, King of Cambodia.

The traditional ceremony was organized by the Royal Palace and the Committee for Organizing National and International Festivals.

Dith Munty, President of the Supreme Court, served as Sdach Meakh, who offered to add his strength to augment that of the Royal hand; his wife served the Queen in the capacity of Mehour and sowed seeds behind her husband while he helped direct the team of oxen.

Kang Ken, Chief Royal Astrologer of the Royal Palace, said the Royal Plowing ceremony constitutes a significant religious event for Cambodia because the celebration hopes to encourage the powers of Heaven to bless the farmer and his agricultural activities. The ceremony is timed to coincide with the start of the rainy season – the busiest time of the year for the nation’s rice farmers.

The soul of the religious celebration illustrates the bounteous nature of the King’s heart and his desire to see a strong agricultural sector contributing to the health and prosperity of the people. The ceremony will also seek abundant rains for the year so that farmers will have a chance to produce a maximum harvest. The ceremony is also worth preserving as an example of the richness of Khmer tradition and culture.

After circling the field three times, the procession will rest at a shrine where Brahmins invoke the protection of the gods. Sacred oxen are then brought to eat from seven silver trays containing such things as rice, corn, beans, sesame seeds, grass, water and wine. Predictions are made for the coming year based upon what the sacred oxen select.

“This year, the oxen ate all of the corn and beans but avoided the other grains they were offered. So according to time-honored formulae, this means that we will have plenty of the corn and beans, but an indifferent rice harvest,” the Royal Astrologer announced after the ending of the plowing activities. He continued, “That the oxen avoided the water, wine and grasses means that we can look forward to a normal rainy season with no extremes this year. I do not foresee any real troubles for the people or their animals this season.”

Hong Sao, 56, a farmer from Saang district in Kandal province, witnessed the Royal Plowing ceremony and said that he was happy to hear the results. His family and neighboring farmers have sewn a little rice, but have concentrated on beans and corn this season. This will help them generate extra income, given the recent mediocre performance of rice in the markets.

“I am happy with the predictions generated by this year’s Royal Plowing ceremony,” Sao told The Cambodia Weekly after ending the event. “I am going to plant more corn and beans and I hope that I will get high yields as a reward for all my preparation and hard work.”

Chreag Nong, 53, a farmer from Kratie province also attended the Royal Plowing Ceremony. He was worried about the predictions as he will concentrate on rice cultivation this season.

“I am worried about the rice harvest this year. However, I made my preparations for this year and I have to stay with my decisions,” Nong said. “I hear that the rainfall predictions are average for this season, so with a bit of luck, more hard work and some good economic conditions, we should pull through.”

Nong has eight members in his family and only three hectares of land in Kratie province with which to support them. His family is able to produce around 500 to 1,000 kilograms of rice per year. He farms upon arid, higher ground and his output is limited by a lack of irrigation.

He said that during some growing seasons, when there were droughts and he could not make enough profit to support his family, he was forced to sell his labor and supplement his income with produce collected from the forest.
According to Ministry of Planning, about 14 million people, roughly 85 of the population are connected to the agriculture sector.

Cambodia’s rice output increased to 7.2 million tones in 2008-2009, up from the 6.7 million tones harvested during the 2007-2008 season, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ report 2009. The report said the government plans to export about eight million tones of rice per year by 2015. ////

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