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  • Writer's pictureAna Philibert

Cycles and rice

Updated: Jun 4, 2022

With so much gratitude to the people who inspired me, answered all my questions and were a part of this story and photographs.

The sound of an old tractor brought me to my window to witness the beginning of one of the most important traditions in Balinese culture: the cultivation of the rice fields. That window became my direct access to a new reality; a deeper connection with the culture and with the earth, a different notion of the passage of time and an admiration for the people who work these fields.

The preparation of the land marked the beginning of a period of almost four months. For me, the start of my curiosity about rice fields and a small photographic project to document the process. Four months of observing, waiting, asking questions and photographing.

This time also allowed me to form a connection with the farmers in the fields around me. Ketut, a man of about 70 years old, is the owner of the terrace in front of my house and through my window we greet each other from afar or we wish each other good morning by exchanging a “selamat pagi”. I met Wayan one morning in my sunrise walk, while he was planting his field and I was photographing the process. Now he greets me with a big smile every time we see each other in the fields or pass by on the street.

Rice for the Balinese, in addition to being the basis of their diet, is an integral part of their culture and daily life. They eat it with all their meals, including breakfast; Komang says that it is the only thing that truly fills. The activities of a rice field are always carried out in groups and a single terrace can feed several families during the year. For generations, rice has been a bond that unites the community.

In the Balinese worldview, Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice and fertility, and Dewa Wisnu, the god of water, are believed to be the ones who make this process possible. In gratitude and in prayer for a good harvest, rituals are performed to these gods before planting, during growth and at the end of the harvest.

Rice plays a very important role in daily spiritual life too, being a central part of rituals and ceremonies. Day by day, it is placed inside the offerings or Canang Sari, which are placed at the entrances of houses and temples.

On special days, the entire community gathers in temples where prayers are made with flowers and incense. The prayer is sealed with rice soaked in water and placed on the forehead, neck and head. For this, only the best rice is selected to symbolize the seed of positive thinking, speaking and acting.

As the days went by, I witnessed the growth of the grasses in the middle of the rainy season, observing the change from green to yellow and how the rice began to appear. Soon the birds arrived in search of food and the farmers had to do different tricks and noises to scare them away.

Little by little, the fields around began to be cultivated and so, exactly 112 days after the plowing of the land, a group of about ten people arrived at the field in front of my window, with their typical straw hats and harvesting tools. They cut and gathered what they had patiently waited for months to become food, and for hours they carried piles of grass to be processed with a system of nets and baskets.

Prepare the land, plant the little grasses, wait and take care of it, wait a little longer. Cut, collect, process, and then burn what's left. Eat it, sell it or use it in ceremonies. Start over. Four-month cycles, with three seasons a year and two very important moments: planting and harvesting. Months of teamwork, where members get together at dawn and through the day to care for the rice; tasks divided through the days and finally coming together to cultivate the fruit of community effort.

I arrived at this house and days later this process began and with it, my cycle in this place. The first season of witnessing rice in all its phases ended with the harvest of the field and that day after photographing the last phase of the journey, I began to write these words, inspired by everything I saw and the metaphor with the cycles in life. But I wanted to learn more, to observe more, so I left the words on draft; just like the grass, they needed time to mature.

The field was empty for a while, waiting for the seeds of a new beginning, a pause between harvest and plowing; between the end and the beginning. And then the cycle began again; mornings of preparing the land and planting it; small sprouts waiting for the days to pass to become rice. Fast growing grasses that remind me of the passage of time and show me the force of nature that moves it all.

This earth is made of cycles. Cycles that begin and end; that begin again. The seasons, the phases of the moon and in this case the rice cycle, connect us with the cyclical nature of life and remind us that everything has a beginning and an end; that change is natural and constant, and that we are cyclical too. They invite us to move with the constant flow of life and to honor each of its phases.

Wherever we are in our own cycle: preparing the ground, planting something new, working for growth, waiting patiently for the fruit, harvesting and enjoying, or burning to let go and start over; let us remember that it is all part of a larger journey. Let us be present for it and honor it, because it will pass.

Everything is in constant movement, ever changing and flowing. If we pay attention we can see that everything is part of something greater; one more phase of the great cycle of life.

During those months of observation, I recorded small videos from my window to see the growth of the rice, this is the result.


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