Under the project Living with and in the Forest in Northern Thailand, 17 young members of the Karen community in Huay Hin Lad Nai village form the research team that aims to collect data on a number of key community issues, including the historical background of their community, the villagers’ local knowledge on forest classification and their customary use of natural resources. These notes by young researcher Nong Daojai describe the traditional practices and rituals on during the planting of upland rice.
The season begins to change, from hot season into rainy season. When I walk through the forest, I can hear the sound of a frog (Kwakwa). After my field was burned a month ago, the rain has washed away the ash. Today, my family has breakfast together, and my father suggests to start planting rice on May 13, 2018.
Before we plant upland rice, we have to prepare water for the villagers who will support us in farming [. . .]. The day before we plant, my mother, my older sister and I cook together, and then my brother-in-law carries the food to the field. One the previous day, my father has already taken bamboo cups and a bamboo bowl to boil tea.
On the morning of May 13, we wake up early and to prepare the things that we have to take to the field. Before we eat, we will remind each other to take Kao Hua (the upper layer of rice, or Meko in Karen), i.e. newly cooked rice that no one has eaten from yet. We will offer it to the spirits. My mother will help to take care of the seeds to be planted with rice today. It is not only this year that mother will prepare these seeds, she is the one in charge of this task every year. Today I have a duty to carry food. And since we are the owners of the field, we have to go there first to invite the villagers to rest and to drink water before work.
When we arrive at the plantation, we have to prepare rice seeds together with seeds of cucumber, sesame, and tomato. We tie Howo (a kind of lemon grass) to the tip of the hoe. Today, my father is not very well. He thus asks my elder brother to help with praying during Chaelokue, or the ceremony before sowing rice. Today, at our field there is an unmarried man, Nong Chae, and two unmarried women, Nong Teelee and Nong Pet, who will help dropping rice. [. . .] We have prepared a rectangular area. The single man will start the planting by digging 7 or 9 holes within the square. Nong Chae digs 7 holes, and then continues digging around the nearby farm hut. Afterwards, the villagers can start sowing rice. They will proceed with planting from the lower end towards the upper part of the plantation, so that the soil from above will close the holes further below in which the farmers have planted rice seeds already. Around 08.35 a.m., rice is sown in half the field already. The helpers drink some water, and then start planting rice again. Meanwhile, I boil tea in a bamboo bowl until 10.30 a.m. My father starts preparing the things needed for the ceremony to pay respect to the local guardian spirits. Only men can worship them. [. . .] The offerings for the spirits will be placed on a stump within the field. They have to include chicken, pork, or fish, but it is forbidden to use duck meat. We have to wait for the men to pay respect to the spirits before we can eat. Today, many people have come to the field, so there is not enough space for everyone to eat in the hut. Some villagers thus sit outside the cottage. After eating, people rest together, chat and drink tea. They talk about whose field they will work on the next day. Everyone can rest for a while. Then rice planting starts again around 13.40. After planting, the single men and single women have to take part in another ceremony before they can return home. They have to drop rice in 3 more holes, and the remaining rice has to be placed in a bamboo tube that the field owner has prepared. Then they go back to their houses, but the owner still has to conduct another ritual (Juemabo). He will take the handle from the hoe that the young unmarried man has used during the morning ceremony (Chaelokue) and cut something from the end of the handle. Then he removes the grass that sticks to the bamboo that was cut off. Thereafter, he puts the handle into the bamboo tube and then turns the end of the handle in the direction of the Dao Chang (elephant, a star constellation). He takes the water he has prepared and pours it into the bamboo cylinder. The remaining water will be splashed as a prayer for rain. When the planting ceremony is over, the remaining rice will be used to make rice whisky (Buechaekli). When the owner of the field has prepared the alcohol, he has to invite all villagers to drink together. It is very important to invite the Heeko (traditional leader) to drink as well.