PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Cambodia’s royal oxen predicted a plentiful harvest of rice, the country’s biggest crop, at an ancient plowing ceremony on Wednesday.
King Norodom Sihamoni presided over the televised annual ritual in which two oxen are given offerings after plowing a field, marking the start of the rice-growing season in the Southeast Asian country.
Dressed in ornate robes and colorful headdresses, the oxen ate 85% of the rice and beans on offer and 90% of the corn in decorated bowls – indicating a bountiful harvest.
Palace astrologers make their predictions each year depending on the oxen’s choice of crops and the amount they eat.
“I pray … for seasonal rain and regular weather,” Korng Ken, a Brahmin priest dressed in traditional white robes, said at the ceremony in Takeo province.
He prayed that “Cambodia avoid any natural disasters that would destroy the agriculture harvests which are the lives of the people and country.”
The good omen will be welcomed in Cambodia after the European Union imposed tariffs in January on rice from Cambodia and Myanmar in a bid to protect EU producers. Cambodia has since seen a surge in rice exports to China.
Royal Ploughing Day
Although there are various other scientific methods to forecast the weather and to determine harvests, Cambodians have their methods to foretell the future. Through traditional rituals that are often ceremoniously celebrated nationwide, Cambodians are warned of calamities, assured of good harvest and so forth.
The Royal Ploughing ceremony, or Pithi Chrat Preah Neanng Korl in Khmer, is such a ceremony. Predictions gleaned from this traditional ceremony for the coming year are taken very seriously.
The Royal Ploughing Ceremony predicts the weather, epidemics and farming conditions.
By observing what feed the royal oxen choose after the Royal Ploughing Ceremony, Cambodians believe they can predict a range of events including epidemics, floods, good harvests and excessive rainfall.
This year, the Royal Ploughing Ceremony will be held on May 22 on a football field in Takeo province’s Daun Keo city.
At the end of a symbolic Ploughing procession before His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni, the royal oxen are relieved of their harnesses and led to seven golden trays containing rice, corn, sesame seeds, beans, grass, water and wine to feed.
Farming and weather predictions for the following season are interpreted through what, and how much the oxen eat.
Every year, Cambodian farmers anxiously await the predictions at the end of this ritualistic ceremony, which they observe with strong faith and belief. Most Cambodians today still consult traditional manuals before making any major decisions regarding business matters or meeting important persons, etc.
The Royal Ploughing Ceremony has been observed for many centuries at the initiative of an earlier Khmer king who had paid great attention to farming conditions of the people. Traditionally, the Pithi Chrat Pheah Neang Korl is performed in the month of the Khmer calendar and marks the beginning of the rainy season in Cambodia.
When asked, most Cambodians stand staunchly by these traditional methods of predicting the future and vouch for their accuracy. It is comforting to believe that the angels are still watching over us. As they say in Cambodia, long live the Khmer traditions. Long Live Cambodia.