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adat kona ba natar (Baucau)/rice and irrigation rituals

Description
To enable their cultivation of the terraced fields around Baucau town, water-sharing farmers come together in cross village co-operatives to appoint irrigated rice water controllers known as kabu bee (or wai kabu in Waima'a and ira kabu in Makasae). These people enforce and police the annual allocation of water between sections of a particular water channel and between the rice farmers themselves. Each land owning village will have several kabu bee appointed at a meeting of the community of rice farmers connected to one particular channel. As Bahu is the older brother in the sibling relationship between the villages these irrigation co-operative will meet to appoint the various kabu bee at the Bahu village head's office. The water allocation for the annual rice growing season rotates each year between the various channels and villages and is determined by meeting of the village and sub-village heads in consultation with kabu bee and the rice farmers.

The position of the kabu bee is held until retirement or ousting due to a failure to properly fulfill their responsibilities. Payment for their services is made up by the collective contribution of a small portion of the rice harvest from each of the farmers in that area. The kabu bee is responsible for organizing the irrigation cooperative to painstakingly clear and clean the several kilometers of water channels which feed into the shared named blocks of rice fields[i][i]. These water channels are fashioned from mud, clay, rock, lime and in some places reinforced with concrete. Annual repairs include cleaning away grasses, tree and vegetation roots and rehabilitating channel wash outs with mud, rocks, and whatever other materials are at hand. At the same time the work team will close off the many smaller water diversions to non-rice growing areas. 

The kabu beealso co-ordinates the rituals for water dividing and sharing. Meanwhile water 'opening' ceremonies are carried out by particular ritual leaders at springs and theserituals ensure the ancestral spirits will send the waters down the channels to the rice fields. Immediately or shortly after this ceremony tosend the waters, a water sharing/dividing ceremony will take place at the fork in the main water channel above where the rice fields are to be irrigated in that year. During this ceremony, which involve ritual leaders, village and sub-village heads the kabu beeand the male and female community of rice farmers, a goat will be sacrificed.[ii][ii] The ritual leader will invoke the ancestral names of Wono Loi, Tai Loi and Leki Loi, amongst others, in order to receive and give thanks for the water. The names of other ancestors connected to the named blocks of rice fields below the water division will also be invoked so that they in turn will receive the water. The water in the channel is divided by the placement of rocks in the middle of the water channel. The measuring of this division will be done by the kabubee with the village heads and subheads witnessing that the placement reflects the pre-agreed division. Next to the rock division will be placed a wooden stake hung with small branches, the public signal that water sharing arrangements are in place and that from now on no-one other than the kabu bee is authorized to make changes affecting the water irrigation. Anyone that does will be penalized with the fine of a goat or in extreme cases will have the water supply to their fields shut off.[iii][iii] Following the water sharing ceremony a communal feast is held in the rice fields nearby. 

Democratically elected, the office of the kabu bee is essentially secular. While he is directly accountable to the rice co-operative members he is also in some respects an agent of the village or sub-village head. However, it is also clear from the process outlined above that his own and the irrigation co-operatives' work cannot be carried out without the active support, participation and religious knowledge of local ritual leaders, as well as the living human custodians of the springs. In some communities with less extensive irrigation channels the spring custodian will carry out these tasks of water allocation and dispute resolution. 

Once irrigation waters are received by each individual rice farmer they too will carry out rituals in their own rice fields. The most important of these are those carried out when the 'body' of the rice first forms and again after harvest when the 'first rice' is transported back to the farmer's sacred house. This rice must be transported back to the sacred house by a female member of the lineage[iv][iv]. This ritual, known in Makasae as rau wai ('good blood'), culminates at the house in the ritual washing of house members bodies with water collected at the spring associated with the house. After this ritual, water from any of springs which has fed the fields will be collected and sprinkled over the remainder of the rice before it too is carried home. 

All of these planting, harvest and water sharing practices and rituals are believed to be critical to the growth and fertility of rice crops and individual lineages. As we saw in chapter four, these ritual practices and relationships also extend upwards from the marine terrace zone to the custodians of the underground water on the Baucau plateau. A further component of the relationship between the ria p'obo (W: wet ground) and ria mhare (W: dry ground) communities is said to be the contribution to the house of Ledatame Ikun of one lata[v][v] of unmilled rice per rice farmer. The kabu bee is charged with collecting and delivering this 'tribute'. The gifted rice is then consumed by Ledatame Ikun in the ritual feasts for their twice annual ceremonies alternatively celebrating the harvest of dry rice and maize. Ritual leaders from Bahu are also invited to attend these feasts. The Ledatame ritual custodians of the water say that they do not demand this tribute, stressing rather that these are gifts which the coastal rice farmers choose to make. While it is unclear for how long this particular practice has been carried out it seems that the process has always been done under the auspices of the village of Bahu. The elders of Wani Uma state that: 

Recently the Liurai of Bahu asked us to take 50 lata (tins) of rice to Darasula. But we at Wani Uma have never gone there to do this. The smart people go. We ignorant and stupid people just follow what they say. 


[i][i] Failure to participate incurs a fine, usually a goat, although if a farmer or landowner (with labourers) is unable to participate a representative can be sent or alternatively a contribution can be made to feed the working team of men.

[ii][ii] Depending on size of rice fields each rice farmer contributes a small sum of money ($1-2) for this sacrifice. 

[iii][iii] Non-participation of rice farmers in the water dividing ceremony may also attract the fine of a goat.

[iv][iv] A similar set of harvest rituals is described in detail by Correia (1935: 92-98, cf. 64).

[v][v] Timorese use bulk not weight measures 'Lata =20 litre oil tin equiv 12.8 kg of unmilled rice' (Metzner 1977: 129).

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