Bali as a child farmer by Sangtu

I remember Bali as a child farmer and I smile.

I saw this farmer last week-it pulled my memory back to the Bali of my youth, 30 years ago in the 70s & 80s where we would all see farmers everywhere in the countryside tilling the land after harvest with their helper, the precious cow or buffalo. I remember following my dad and our cow as a boy, collecting abundant eels and snails.

Leading and riding the cow when ‘Melasah’ (cultivation) was lots of fun even though my butt would be sore at the end of the day. We would buy a baby cow and when it was one and a half years old, my uncle or father would teach the cow how to help cultivate the soil. In that time, the cost was almost free because farmers and families would partner and share and every one would help feed the cows, who helped cultivate. We would bring ‘nasi bungkus’ (rice meal ‘take-away’) to the farmer with cooked eels and snails we caught while he tilled the soil. Each farmer in that time was very important.

The name of the tool on the cow in Balinese, is Metekap. I wonder if this tool and other tools may sound strange to the ear of the young generation now. Our farmers in Bali use the cow and buffalo less and less now; they use a Japanese cow called a ‘tractor’. I remember in elementary school, we learned and used these words because our teachers included them in our lessons of Balinese history. I see our world is in an interesting change of extremes (maybe positive or negative), even with the cow. As a Balinese I want to retain and protect our heritage, so at Bali Silent Retreat we use the old fashion buffalo to cultivate the soil. We think it’s beautiful to watch and beautiful to respect the old ways. There’s no pollution; no noise. We add the cow poop to our compost for organic vegetables.

The words about Metakap and Melasah have almost disappeared. These words of farming, I want to be remembered. So I have written about them here: “Metekap” is cultivating the soil using a cow or buffalo and being lead by a human. For turning and tilling the soil the farmer only uses uga, kalung, keranjang, singkal, and pecut.

  • “Uga” is the wooden harness on the cow which is handed down within a family from generation to generation.
  • Under the uga is a “Kalung”, rubber necklace with a rope.
  • “Keranjang” is the basket on the mouth, so the cow can focus and not stop all the time to eat grass.
  • “Singkal” is the tool used for turning the soil.
  • “Pecut” is the small whip to remind the cow to keep moving if it gets stuck and doesn’t move.

Melasah is when the farmer makes the soil flat and smooth, which makes it easier to replant the rice paddies. The tools the farmer uses are almost the same, but add the tengala and lampit.

  • “Tengala” is one long wooden or bamboo piece attached to the Uga, separating two cows pulling at the same time.
  • “Lampit” is a piece of board connected to the tengala to make the soil smooth and level.

When it’s time for melasah, the farmer tries to avoid full moon or dark moon or Kajeng Kliwon or any ceremonies near by the area, because during those times, the energy is really strong and the cows just don’t want to work or move, or sometimes they work for while and then suddenly just start running. I remember this happened one time when I was a boy and what a wild experience it was!

Volunteers plant organic heritage rice for SRI farming, a dry rice farming method. (This crop yielded 15% more rice, than the conventional chemically fertilized and weeded system.)

Volunteers plant organic heritage rice for SRI farming, a dry rice farming method. (This crop yielded 15% more rice, than the conventional chemically fertilized and weeded system.)

After melasah is finished, it’s time to replant the rice paddies. Sometimes at Bali Silent Retreat our volunteers get to experience planting rice babies, just like a Balinese farmer – ha!

Special Balinese words for talking to the cow and telling it what to do and where to go:

  • “Kenebot” is left position.
  • “Kenawan” is right position.
  • “Hagel” is shouted when the farmer turns either right or left, along with using the nose string, in case sometimes the cow gets tired doesn’t listen so good.
  • “Sissss” says the farmer when he wants to go straight.

These are the memories of my childhood brought to life again at Bali Silent Retreat, when the farmer brings out the handsome buffalo and tills the soil.

I watch the guests smile too.

Watch here how the Balinese farmers utilizing the super hard-working buffalo to turn soils prior planting in Bali Silent Retreat’s ricefields: It was so serene and amazing, just like the old days: