Rice is the staple diet of the Balinese and a great deal of effort goes into sustaining this vital food source. Past generations of farmers have painstakingly transformed pockets of natural landscape into the most intricate network of rice terraces and canals.
One of the most important elements of the entire rice cultivation process is a shared irrigation system run by an organization called Subak. This collective basically refers to a group of farmers who have adjacent fields and the organization ensures that each piece of landscape receives fair distribution of the precious water that is sourced from a local spring. These farmers also cooperate to repair aqueducts and dikes, prevent theft and invariably attempt to solve the minor problems that arise between neighbours.
Any farmer owning rice terrace land in Bali must become a member of the Subak. There is periodical voting amongst the constituents to elect a head of the organization. Although being chosen as the head of the Subak is an unpaid role, it is often compensated by extra water supplies if required. Each Subak committee holds regular meetings to decide plantation and harvest dates as well as what insecticides to use and when to perform certain ceremonies to bless the land. In addition, every Subak cooperative maintains a small temple in amongst the rice fields where the deities of rice and water are worshipped.
In the region of Tabanan, which is Bali’s most fertile rice growing district, there is a unique Subak Museum that is dedicated to the entire rice growing process. It houses a collection of tools and equipment that have been implemented by farmers over the generations. The museum is a legacy that delves into the ancient Balinese Hindu philosophy and ideology of rice growing.