Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bali's 'Subak' tradition officially listed as World Heritage

The people of Bali have relied on rice as their staple food for centuries - now the United Nations has added Balinese rice cultivation, known as Subak, to its World Heritage List.

For a thousand years, mornings in the heart of Bali have brought beautiful and inspiring visions the island's terraced rice paddies.

But the traditional agriculture of Subak is so much more - a complex system combining spiritual practices, irrigation technology, and social organisation so special it has just been added to UNESCO's world heritage list as a site of outstanding universal value to humanity.

In the village of Jatiluwih, perched on the side of mount Batukaru in central Bali, the technique is well-preserved, almost unchanged for 11 centuries.

Rice farmers are organised into Subaks, or irrigation organisations, made up of farmers whose fields are fed by the same water source.

Each covers a few dozen hectares of farmland and sustains several hundred people.

A reliable source of water is critical for wet-rice farming. The farmers of the Subak meet once a month to discuss how the water should be evenly distributed among the fields.

I Ketut Susila is the head of the Gunung Sari Subak, comprising 35 families.

"We will talk about water distribution, if the irrigation channel is damaged, how to repair it, when will we start to fix it," he said.

He says binding the whole system together is the farmers' Hindu religion and an annual series of rituals honouring Dewi Sri, the rice goddess.

"As devout Balinese Hindus, we still believe in seen and unseen powers. We hope the harvest from the rice field will be good, we say thank you for that," he said.

"We believe if the ritual is not performed, the pests will come, the damage of the rice field will be worse, that's our belief."

Subak was first nominated by Indonesia for world heritage listing in 2007, and at this week's UNESCO meeting will be officially inscribed on the list.

The decision means Bali is eligible to receive financial assistance and expert advice from UNESCO.

Agriculture academic I Wayan Windia was a member of the committee pushing for the designation, and says the tradition has lasted for so long because it is so effective.

"Each member has the same interest in getting water, because all of the members need water," he said.

"And they have same interest in the temple, as part of the spiritual activity.

"So Subak is strong because of the physical basis - the water - and because of the spiritual basis."

Read more: ABC Net
Subak on Youtube

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