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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2862

Under the Shadow of Lakegala: Of Their Paddy Cultivation

By Sudath Gunasekera

I still remember, as a small child, how I once got scolded by my father when he saw some cooked rice grains from my plate strewn on the ground. He wanted me to pick them up and put them in a suitable place so that they will not get trampled.LakegalaLakegala

This is because, both cooked and raw rice are considered as sacred items. This is the high respect and honour, social custom has given to rice in this village. The main economic activity in this village is paddy cultivation and rice is the staple diet. Paddy fields here are spread on either side of the Meemure Oya and its tributaries. The total acreage is around 150 and this is spread over thirteen Yayas. There is very little room for any further expansion due to lack of water.

Most of these fields are cultivated only during the Maha season, October to May. The acreage that is brought under the plough during Yala season is less than 35. Few families own the paddy fields and others work on them as tenants.

Paddy cultivated in this village is confined to traditional varieties. The most common varieties are Heeneti, Hondarawalu, Mutttusamba, Halsuduwee, Suduwee and Balawee. Balawee is usually cultivated during the Yala season when the water supply is poor. No agricultural extension service is available in this village. The farmers in this village have never seen an extension officer in their lifetime. These villagers do not know the so-called modern extension know-how and services either. They also do not use artificial fertilizer. This is mainly due to their not knowing about them. Therefore all the fertilizer used is organic. Most paddy fields collect much fertilizer during the fallowing time as all the village cattle graze during the daytime and spend the night in these fields. Besides this source these fields also get considerable fertilizer from the forest above the fields with the onset of the first rains as the streams bring down a lot of organic material. They also use cow dung collected from cattle yards and kitchen waste from the household.

All fields are hand sawn. There is also no transplanting done here. Modern insecticides and weedicides are unknown to these farmers. Instead they use simple traditional methods like Yatukarma and mechanical and biological control. All fields are worked on attam basis (labour sharing). As such no paid labour is employed. The yields are low. It is around 20 bushels per bushel (half an acre). The owners usually have enough paddy for the whole year and the excess is often sold to purchase other household items, books for children, clothes and even new lands. Ownership of land is a symbol of power and social status. Those who have paddy fields belong to the upper strata of the village elite and those who do not have land usually depend on their landlords. Thus one can see the typical social stratification operating covertly within this system. The rich often say “Api tunwelama bathkana minissu” (We are people who eat rice for all three meals). Thus eating rice for all the three meals is regarded both as a status symbol and a sing of affluence in terms of the village economy. Nevertheless their savings are negligible

The paddy field not only provides the main source of income but it also form the very foundation on which the destiny of this village rests. If these fields were to be abandoned for some reason or the other, say for example lack of water that will mark the end of this historic village.

How they work their Paddy fields

As stated before, there are two cultivation seasons in this village namely, the Maha (major season) and Yala (the minor season). During the Maha they cultivate the entire acreage where as in Yala only about 1/5th of the total area is cultivated. Therefore the Maha season is more important both from the point of view of scale and income.

There is a clear sequence in the activities of cultivation. Vanatha suddakirima (clearing a narrow strip around the field), Kandadu bediima (repairing the damaged parts of the bunds- niyara) and Elapaeyeema (repairing and clearing the canal that brings water from the stream) are the activities that fall in to the first category. The owner usually does the first two items and all the shareholders of the yaya collectively attend to canal work. There are two activities involved in canal work namely mending the Amuna and clearing and repairing the canal from the amuna to the fields. They also attend to the repairs of the amuna (anicut) on the same day and very often conduct water as well. An amuna is built by blocking the Oya with a semi-permanent stone structure built across the stream supported by earth and straw. In doing so they take care not to divert all the water. They only divert what is actually required for a particular yaya. The rest is allowed to escape for down stream fields.

Once the water comes to the fields and the liyadi get filled they start cleansing the lower side of the bunds. (niyara seheema). In addition to the water that comes from the stream, the rainwater that is collected in the terraces is also made use of. Cleansing the bunds become difficult when they are too high.

Fields with such high bunds are called kandeti. Usually field’s asweddumized on sloping lands have this characteristic. Like all other activities cleansing the bunds are also done according to an auspicious time they get from the temple.

Before the farmer cut the first sod he keeps the mammoty on the ground with the handle upright and worships the mommoty as well as the good earth and then do the first cutting looking at the correct direction prescribed by the monk. Once all bunds are clean weeded, the terraces are allowed to flood before ploughing. That makes ploughing easier and also the decomposing of grasses faster.


Ploughing in this village is done entirely with buffaloes (meeharak). Only the male animals are engaged for this work. The first ploughing is called Binneguma (turning the soil), the second dehiiya and the third madahiiya or tunhiiya. Besides the draught animal, the Nagula (plough). Viyagaha (Yoke), Heelanu (ropes), Amutubana (a piece of twisted rope used as a device to connect the plough bar to the yoke) and the kevita (driving cane or goad) compose the main items used in ploughing. All these items are locally procured and turned out by the farmers. These items are procured and kept ready long before the ploughing season begins. Ploughs and yokes made in the previous year are also used for the next season. The plough consist of five major parts namely the (nagula) plough, (nagulliiya) ploughing bar, heevala (the piece of flat iron fixed to the angular edge of the horizontal bar of the plough to facilitate easy ploughing), kada enaya (the bolt that is used to fix the bar to the vertical handle of the plough) and finally Nimunkurulla (the piece of wood that is affixed to the top end of the vertical shaft of the plough to hold the plough). The plough proper has two distinct parts namely the ata (vertical part) and the nawa (the horizontal part). In turning out a plough it is important to select the branch with the correct formation (the one with the correct angle and the measurements) and the size. There are two different kinds of ploughs in this village namely, the Eknagula (single plough) and the Niwun nagula (twin plough). In the ek nagula both the vertical bar and the horizontal bar form one unit, whereas in the case of twin nagula the upper part of the handle is a separate piece.

They resort to this method when they find it difficult to obtain a branch of a tree whose vertical portion is not long enough. In this case the upper part is used both as a handle and a kada enaya to fasten the bar to the plouhg. The handle is driven from the rear in place of the kadaenaya used in eknagula to fasten the bar. In both type of ploughs the horizontal part is about 2 ½ feet long and the vertical about 3 feet.

The commonest woods used to turn out ploughs are Pihimbiya and Mora and the plough bar is Ankenda or Korakaha. The yoke is made out of some lighter wood like Damunu and ropes are made out of the bark of the Damunu tree. The Amutubana described above is a twisted device about two feet in length with two nooses at either end to clip or join the nagul liya to the yoke and is made out of Kalawel – a strong wild creeper available in the village forest.

The kevita is used to whip the animals and direct them in the required direction. There are some special types of shrubs like Ankenda, Jabara or yabara and Kukulmessa that are used for this purpose. Usually the farmers collect these goads while they are engaged in slashing their hen in August in early September.

How many exponents of modern technology who condemn this traditional plough as primitive and inefficient know that it does a far superior job in paddy cultivation than the so-called modern plough which is more appropriate for dry farming that does not need water retention for plant growth unlike paddy. In the first place it does not cut deep in to the soil as the modern iron plough or the tractor. Its cutting is limited to the optimum depth required by the paddy plant. Secondly, the shape of the bottom of the horizontal part automatically seals off the water pan as it furrows forward. This acts as an effective protective seal against seepage and thereby it prevents percolation of water below. This provides an automatic mechanism of economic water management.

Ploughing day is a big occasion. Once the date is fixed the owner of the field arranges for the animals and tools and goes round the village and invites the required number to come. Those who occupy high position send round word through a messenger. Once these preliminaries are ready the housewife with the help of other women gets ready for the big occasion. The meal is simple but lavish from the local standard and usually comprise of rice, Pumpkin, Pipinnga, (cucumber) cooked with venison and dehi ala or a dry fish curry. In this village they don’t use she buffaloes and need cattle for ploughing. Most people have at least one male buffalo and two or three she buffaloes. These animals are brought to the village only during the ploughing and harvesting seasons. Rest of the year they are corralled in the patana. Patan are natural grasslands found on the mountain slopes and highlands around the village Patan are also a gift of nature to these people as they provide natural grazing lands with amazing protection for their animals. People from far away villages like Poddalgoda (about 20 miles away) also bring their animals to these patina lands during the off-season. Often there are intermarriages between these villages and those links make these transactions easier and mutually beneficial.

On the appointed day the buffaloes owners, ploughmen and those who work with mammoties all gather at the field early morning. Once the animals are tied to the yokes and the ploughs engaged and ready for the big occasion water is usually strewn on the animals and then the leader lead with his plough with a ho-ho-oho-oho along the liyadda from one end to the other, backward and forward several times until the soil is fully turned and muddied. The leader usually starts with a long andahera (a form of singing used in ploughing and threshing). But it should be noted that the lyrics used on each of these events are different. Halfway through they stop for tea and after resumption they only stop for lunch. The lunch is usually brought to the field by the womenfolk and served on plantain leaves in read mats. This meal is called muttettuwa.

Before they retire for the mid day meal they remove the ploughs from the yokes and animals are also left to rest usually under a shade. These animals are also served with their ‘lunch’. Their noon feed comprise of some straw or grass. Once the ploughing resumes after the mid day meal they go on until they finish the job for the day. While the plouhgmen do the ploughing others repair the bunds to facilitate water flooding in the terraces. The field is left in this condition for about two weeks for settling down before they start the second ploughing. The second round requires fewer draught animals and is not so difficult as the first one but it requires more men to mend the bunds. After the second ploughing (deheeya) the terraces are kept well flooded for about a week before the last ploughing (madahiya). The last ploughing is called porugaema. It is done with a special kind of plough called poruwa. The poruwa is a device used for muddying and leveling. It consists of a horizontal plank fixed to a ploughing bar that is split in to two at the plank end and riveted to the plank and a vertical handle mounted on to the plank. After porugema mommoty men do up the bunds and they also do the leveling (udellankiriima). Final leveling and draining outlets from udawata to the wakkade (water outlet) is done with a device called goi lella. This consists of a plank about 6 x 24 inches mounted on a long handle measuring about 8 feet. The plank used for this is usually lunumidella and the handle is made out of velan, both light woods. The mommoties used are locally made. These farmers have to go to distant places like Poddalgoda or Udispattuwa to get this item and the heeval as there are no black smithies in this village.

Now the liyadda is well leveled, drained and ready for sawing the seeds. Germinated paddy called paelamul is then broadcast evenly on the terraces. This is a skilled job and not all who can do the sowing. The germinated seeds are put in a receptacle called watapettiya or a kuruniya, which is either hung on the shoulder with the help of a belt or carried on the hand and the seeds are broadcast evenly on the liyaddas. Usually these receptacles are made out of either cane (wevel) or Bamboo (bata) procured from the jungle.

It would be interesting to know how the seed paddy is germinated. First of all specially selected seed paddy is put in wetake or dunuke petti (baskets) and soaked in water for about 48 hours. Thereafter these receptacles are taken out of water, drained out and the seeds are heaped on banana leaves and then covered with alakola leaves to keep it warm. Then it is covered with mats and a weight is kept on it. It is kept like this for about 3 days until they are germinated. On the day of sowing mixing with hands by women separates the germinated seeds and thereafter it is taken to the field for sowing.

On the third day after sowing the outlets (wakkada) of each liyadda is blocked partly with a hand full of mud that was kept on the bund when the outlets were cut on the day of sowing. This handful of mud kept on the bund is called isnamketaya and actually the process of partial blocking of the outlets is called isnambendeema. Usually this process they begin from the top most liyadda and the water cascades down to the successive ones below as sufficient flooding takes place in each terrace. Within the first few days precaution is taken not to allow too much of water to get in so that the tender paddy plants will not get washed away. Isnambendeema is usually done for three days. Thereafter normally water is allowed to remain continuously at a sufficient level until the paddy is ready for harvesting. Apart from the need for the growth of the plant water is also used as an effective weed controller. Normally water is cut off one week before harvesting.

Weeding is done three or four weeks after sowing. It is done by women. Since these farmers do not use artificial fertilizer or insecticides or pesticides caring is less complicated. Stem borer (Kokkanavo) is the commonest pest attack I have seen here when the plants are very young. They use kitchen ash to control this pest.

As the paddy plants begin to flower caring becomes more difficult as the plants become more susceptible to pests and diseases. However, the farmer’s task is made easy by a wonderful biological control system that operates here. There are numerous types of farmer friendly birds, lizards and spiders that thrive on these insects. Besides these natural controls farmers also adopt mechanical methods like rope drawing. In this method two men walk through the paddy field with a long rope combing the paddy plants thereby chasing the flies away. Lighting of fireplaces in the night in selected places also drives away both pests and animals like wild boar. There is another method that is related to rituals. This is called Kemkireema. This is done usually by the village kapurala. How it is done is described in Chapter V1.

As the paddy reach the early stage of maturity called kiriwedeema, birds like Goyamkurullo (paddy birds), Giraw (parrots), Alukobeiyyo (ash doves) and Walikukulo (Jungle fowls) and wild animals like wild boar begin to damage the crop. There are many devices adopted to protect the crop from such damages. The first is making a hedge, either with stones or jungle timber. They also resort to a process called weti demeema (making a temporary hedge of live branches of trees which is renewed every two three days. This process is called pengirikireema. The aroma of newly cut twigs makes the animals to feel that the man is around the place. In some cases they also draw some twines soaked in gunpowder round the field, the smell of which keeps the animals away. Hanging arecanut sheaves, coconut fronds, some bottles with few stones tied on to them here and there also frighten away the wild animals. There is also another very popular devise called the Diyaholmana or Diyadongaraya (a kind of a water drum some call it ‘Water Ghost’) that is used to scare away the animals in the night.

They use another special way to drive away the birds. This is done with the help of a simple device called takaporuwa (a rattling devise made out of wood). This is made out of some hard wood like Kahamilla. All what you need for this is a plank about 12 to15 inches in width and two and half to three feet long, two sets of short pieces of hard wood and a piece of rope. The two sets of pieces of sticks braided to a rope are tied on either side of the plank and then this plank is hung on a branch of a tree or some improvised structure in the middle of the field. A long rope tied to a hole made in the center of the lower side of the plank is extended up to the pela (watch hut) from where the watchman keep the vigil by occasionally pulling the rope. The sticks rattle against the two side of the plank every time the rope is pulled as the plank swing to and fro and it makes the noise required to chase away the birds or animals as the case may be. Usually small boys and sometimes girls are engaged to do this job. They have only to pull the string now and then and shout hoi-hoi to chase away the birds during the day. This of cause makes many children to keep away from school during this season and it often affects their education.

-Asian Tribune –

Also Read:

1. Under the shadow of Lakegala

2. Under the shadow of Lakegala

3. Under The Sadow of Lakegala : Meemure

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