As the sun rises in Jatiluwih, the sky is painted with soft pastel colours and the volcanoes loom in the distance. On a clear day it is possible to spy every single volcano on the island.
The air is cool and it’s harvest time. In the twilight the harvesters are up early and off to the Sawah (rice fields) to make the most of the cool morning.
Here, 1000 year old farming practices are upheld; Cows still plough the fields, a native variety of Balinese Red Rice (Beras Merah) is grown and every part of growing rice is interwoven with prayer. Today the harvesters are using their traditional tool, the Angapan.
The Angapan is a hand-held wooden tool with a blade inserted. The harvester takes hold of the tip of the rice plant and with their index & middle fingers, pull the stem over the blade to cut it. This action is repeated over and over and when enough is collected it is tied together in a bundle with natural cord.
To transport the rice traditionally a Negen is then made… each end of a length of bamboo is then inserted into the bundles, it looks somewhat like a weightlifter where the weights are replaced with Padi.
Nearly all of the red rice is grown in this area of Bali and it is a much taller plant than the hybrid, white rice. The red rice plant towers above most of the Balinese harvesters and their hats seem to bob like boats in a sea of rice plants. The harvesters push over the plants with a stick or bamboo to bring the Padi to an easier cutting level.
The group of harvesters that I stumble upon are busy, they don’t take too much time to remark at the tall tourist wandering through the sawah. After all, this is one of Bali’s UNESCO world heritage sites and bus loads of tourists are brought here every day.
The harvesters call out to each other talking, joking and laughing which I’m sure breaks up the monotony of the task. One young woman takes more of an interest in me and asks if I would like to help. Of course I am keen and exchange my camera for an angapan. She warns me to take extra care so that I do not pull my finger over the blade instead of the Padi.
It is a challenge and although I work much slower than the swift Balinese, eventually I collect enough for my own bundle. The sun is already increasing in strength and I am the only one in the field not wearing a hat. I think my fingers would hold up for longer than my skin but I decide it best to find a shady place.
Before I leave, I explain the project to the local harvesters and they are keen to support Rescue Bali by getting a photo with some of the RB posters.
Jatiluwih is beautiful… Seriously beautiful. It upholds the natural farming traditions and it is unique to Bali. By making this a UNESCO world heritage site it means that the farmers are forbidden to develop their lands. They may sell them but only as farmland. On one hand this is great as it preserves this oasis of traditional farming but on the other hand it also restricts the farmers with their options. The truth is, each tourist who enters must pay a 25,000rp fee, which is meant to go to the farmers… However, I am informed that it does not. The tour organisers who bring in busloads of tourists directly benefit from the hard work of these local farmers but do any of their profits go to those maintaining this wonderful cultural landscape? No. There is more work to be done here to get the tourist dollars to reach the farmers!
Journeying home I stumble across the incredible beauty of two waterfalls adorned with colourful insects and plants, and then a reminder of what is going on in the forests. Overall I am filled with gratitude for the people I have met and the sacred places I have ventured.
Thank you Jatiluwih.