A field of corn is what it is, but Bali’s rice fields (called sawah) are fascinating for their beauty and the rich lore of rice-growing. Because the topography of the land is steep and hilly, the fields are terraced and contoured to perfectly fit the shape of land, allowing cultivation on steep slopes. The carving out of the sawah is done by hand with little more than a hoe. Along the rim he plants grass, whose root system helps keep the shape. The grass is regularly cut with a hand-scythe as fodder for the rice farmer’s buffalo, who pulls the plow.
Most of Bali’s paddy rice is grown with a system of natural hydraulic irrigation. This means that there are no pumps or machines — simply the force of gravity as water flows from mountain springs through a network of small dams, weirs, and tunnels. A complex system of water-sharing through subak associations ensures that surplus water is diverted to downstream farmers at precisely the right stage of the growing cycle.
Bali’s tall, lovely native strains of rice produce a yield once every 210 days, a cycle reflected in the ritual calendar. First the fields are plowed and then flooded. The bottom of the flooded field is leveled, usually by an oxen-drawn plank, to produce a firm planting base. Seeds are planted in nurseries in a corner of the field. When the shoots are the proper age, they are carefully transferred and planted by hand, one handful at a time, in the flooded field.
During the growing phase, the fields are weeded from time to time. A special ceremony is carried out when the rice comes into grain. (In Balinese language, the rice is said to be pregnant.) As the harvest approaches, the rice is vulnerable to scavenging birds, and the fields become lively with scarecrows and wind rattles to chase the birds away.
At the harvest, the stalks are cut with a small knife concealed in the palm of the hand. The Balinese say that this is so as not to frighten the rice goddess. Traditionally, harvesting is the work of women; men gather the rice into bundles to be taken away for later threshing. Modern strains of rice are threshed directly in the fields.
The Balinese venerate the rice goddess with numerous ceremonies in the fields, where a small shrine is erected, and in the household with little offerings after the daily cooking.
At Komaneka Bisma, guests can see the resort’s own rice fields in various stages of the growing cycle, even as they sit in the restaurant, Seneng Kitchen. The restaurant is named after Pan Seneng and Mek Seneng, a married couple who take care of the rice fields in the valley below the resort.