The Rice Fields of Bali

More than meets the eye

Bali's rice terraces, amazingly built against the slopes of the mountains like giant staircases, remain the focal point of the natural beauty of the island. Time after time, visitors and residents are stunned by the sheer ingenuity of the landscape. Often people wonder how it is possible that simple farmers could design, build and maintain such complex systems of irrigation to flow the fields so they can produce the vital stock for the inhabitants of this blissful island. The answer, as with so many aspects of life on Bali, lies within a close-knit village organization most typical for Balinese villages and called the subak.

These vital cooperation are organized along those areas fed by the same source, such as a canal or spring. In Bali, there are more than a thousand subak and some villages are member of more than one, depending on the local drainage patterns. These societies are the framework, within which generations of Balinese farmers could change the island's landscape, clearing forests, digging canals and terracing hillsides so that Bali was effectively transformed into one of the most efficient rice growers in the whole world. While these subak regulate all matters connected with plantings, water distribution, maintenance of canals and waterways, they also take care of the religious aspect involved. No small undertaking, as one should bare in mind that rivers and streams in Bali flow within deep gorges from north to south and thus the Balinese had to dig tunnels, some more than a mile long. All means were good to get the life-sustaining water to their fields! At the same time, it is the members responsibility to take care of the numerous rites, ceremonies and offerings in and around the subak's temples, which results in an endless cycle of colorful rituals and ceremonies to keep the powers of the Universe in balance...