Newsletter Vol-4

The Change in the Farming Tools of Rakhine

It is the month of Kason (May-June), the monsoon season has started, and the 45-year old U Han Myint is preparing his field for the planting of rice. Two kinds of land figure prominently in Ywathitkon village for the cultivation of crops: lè, for the growing of rice,and kaing, for the growing of peanut and chilli. Rice is the staple food but peanut (from which oil is extracted) and chilli are also important in the diet. Ywathitkon has a total of 216 acres of land used for various agricultural purposes; of this, 152 acres or 70% is lè, 11 acres or 5% is kaing.
The preparation of lè for the growing of rice takes nearly a month. In the old way, three implements are used: the te (plough), tun (harrow) and the kyandon (levelling log). The tun has five teeth, the kyandon is just a wooden log All the implements are made mainly of wood, with some parts made of bamboo, the only metal element being the tethwa (ploughshare). This means that the implements are made locally, with only the tethwa being bought.
In the first step of preparing the lè, it is ploughed over once with the te to break up the ground. This is followed by eight harrowings with the tun, with a few days’ interval between each. The harrowings are done in different patterns, so that the combination of the eight or shitsat results in the earth being well broken up and having a smooth texture. A 70-year old villager explained, “The word shitsat has passed into a Myanmar saying, shitsat le de meaning everything is very well mixed.” Finally, the kyandon is used to level the surface, and the field is now prepared for transplanting the 28-day old 18-inch high pyo (seedlings).
U Han Myint uses another implement in addition to the te, tun and kyandon. This is the setton, which takes the form of a wooden log studded with iron teeth. The setton is used much like the tun, but there is a better effect and after the first harrowing with the tun, the later harrowings are done with the setton. The setton had been introduced from the Ayeyarwady region and had been in use in Rakhine for some fifteen years. U Han Myint has been using the it for seven years, but there are still some households in Ywathitkon which do not have the setton.
Kaing is usually submerged by the inundation of the river during the rainy season and the preparation of kaing for the planting of peanut and chilli comes at the end of the rainy season in the month of Tazaungmon (November-December), about the time that the kauklat or middling variety of rice is harvested.
U Ta Bo, a 72-year old villager, describes the way that kaing is prepared using just two implements, the te (plough) and the kalagyan (crusher). Their use goes together, although it is on separate days. First the te is used in the late afternoon, and then the kalagyan in the early morning of the following day. This is repeated six times.
The peanut seed is sown after the seventh use of the te in the afternoon, and the use of the kalagyan the next morning is for covering the seed with soil. Earlier, in using the kalagyan, the farmer stands on it to crush the soil, but in the last use to cover the seed, he does not stand on it at all. As for chilli, the 30-40 day old seedlings are transplanted after the sixth use of the kalagyan, when one or two men stand on the kalagyan to make the soil more compact.

A 34-year old villager, Ko Kyi Lwin, uses two more implements in the preparation of his plot of kaing—the tun (harrow) and the daleinton (roller).He uses the daleinton following the use of the kalagyan on the second morning, and the tun following the use of the te on the third and fourth afternoons in order to remove weeds and grasses.
Like the setton, the daleinton is a new implement in Rakhine, introduced from the Ayeyarwady delta region and in use for about twenty years. Although there are 28 households which have a kalagyan, only four households other than Ko Kyi Lwin have the daleinton.
The setton and the daleinton are not the only new farming tools which are in use in Rakhine. The te which is now in general use and is very much a part of farming life is also a new farming tool in Rakhine. Describing farming practices in the early 20th century, the Sandoway District Gazetteer noted:
“The Burmese Te only just being brought into use in the district, the plough in common use is called an At. This is an implement which, as its name implies, has a narrow, pointed, needle-like shape, but in its more modern form there is an inlay of iron on the upper part of the point. Ploughing with the At is a longer and more laborious process because it only digs into the soil and does not turn the clod over as the Te does. When an At is used the land has to be ploughed twice, the second time crosswise to the first.”
There is no evidence of the at in Ywathitkon. U Soe Myint, a 57-year old man from a neighbouring village, said that the at had been used both in lè and kaing, but had gone out of use thirty years ago. An at was found at Kyaungtaung village, a 30-minute drive away from Ywathitkon. U Tun Maw, a 70-year old villager there, said that the te came to the village before his marriage which took place 40 years ago, and that in the old days they used to call the te “kalate” (Indian te) because they bought it from Indian merchants.
So what is “traditional” in Rakhine rural life? A casual visitor, seeing U Han Myint preparing his field thinks he sees a timeless scene—rice has been cultivated for centuries, and U Han Myint is farming just as his father and forefathers did. In reality, the “traditional” has changed. The setton and daleinton are new implements which were introduced twenty years ago, the te was still new fifty years ago. Whatever notions outsiders might have of the “traditional,” the villagers of Ywathitkon have, on their own initiative, adopted new farming tools and new crops to create a sustainable livelihood for themselves. Perhaps outsiders should learn what meaning the “traditional” has for villagers so that they can work with the villagers in the improvement of their livelihood.


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Last Modified : 10 Feb 2011 (NWA)

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