Manekseka Sangkum: What did the previous year's ceremony say about the current drought and crop disaster?
Siem Reap Provincial Governor Khim Bun Song (right) holds a ceremonial plough during the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony at the Angkor Wat complex yesterday. Heng Chivoan
Wed, 25 May 2016 ppp
Khouth Sophak Chakrya and Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon
Good harvests for rice, corn and beans are again predicted for the coming year according to the Royal Astrologer’s interpretation of the royal oxen’s eating habits yesterday on the occasion of the annual Ploughing Ceremony.
Under the auspices of King Norodom Sihamoni at the Elephant Terrace in Siem Reap’s Angkor Archaeological Park, a pair of brown oxen were given the options of eating from golden chalices of rice, corn, beans, sesame, water, grass and rice wine.
The bovines’ decision to eat “95 per cent of the beans, 90 per cent of the corn and 90 per cent of rice demonstrates that agricultural production will be better” this year, Royal Astrologer Kang Ken declared.
“However, it is just a prediction,” he continued, adding that farmers should pay attention to their agricultural practices.
A similar prediction was made last year. However, the Ministry of Agriculture’s 2015-2016 annual report released in April indicates that crop yields fell from the year prior. Ministry spokesman Lor Raksmey said that despite the drought, the 4 million tonne rice yield was sufficient to meet domestic and international demand.
Quoting the poet Krom Ngoy, Raksmey advised farmers to prepare for the growing season and choose climate-appropriate seeds to sow. “When the rainy season starts, grow the crops on the highland and in the lowlands make the dikes firm,” he said.
Two oxen examine golden chalices of food during yesterday's Ploughing Ceremony. Heng Chivoan
Yang Saing Koma, president of the agriculture NGO CEDAC, yesterday cautioned that rather than the predilections of oxen, a good yield was contingent on improvement to the Kingdom’s water-management infrastructure. “Or else we will face a loss,” he said.
Koma, however, maintained that the ninth-century tradition was good in that it gave farmers optimism. “They are happy and make efforts based on the prediction,” he said.
Royal University of Phnom Penh history professor Sambo Manara echoed Koma’s words, describing the social value of the ceremony as a “psychological approach” to help people come to terms with the natural world.
According to Manara, the ceremony is a representation of the King’s divine communion with nature in which he asks the rain god Phirun for help. A bad harvest defying a prediction can be interpreted not as a fault of the King, but rather external forces attacking nature.
“We can say today it is global warming, we can say the environment changes . . . It means something else that is evil comes to interrupt us,” he said.