The farmer walked into the newly planted paddy field with two narang fruits in one hand; they were cut and inserted with a worm each. On the other hand, he held a pot of coconut ash; and tucked between his waist and cloth, was a bottle of Mee oil. It was sunset. He placed the narangs in the coconut ash and stood looking at the sky reddening above. The kem ritual mantra for a good harvest free of pests was to be repeated silently—hundred and eight times precisely—without parting the lips. Both intentions and seedlings drew life in the refuge of silence—he knew. Then, he poured the Mee oil into the pot and sprinkled it throughout the paddy. As the last sun rays disappeared, he walked back, careful not to utter a word to his family—guarding the quiet for the seeds.
The paddy farmers and their immense body of inherited knowledge have been the foundation of Sri Lanka’s agrarian culture since 800 BC. Since colonization when other crops were given more prominence and bread was introduced, paddy farming changed for good. With the engineering of fast-growing seeds and chemical pesticides, the image of the sacred paddy farmer faded in popular culture.
✺ This original woodblock print by Sri Lankan artist Dhammika Perera depicts a paddy farmer using slow, traditional methods to harvest. A teacher at the University of Visual and Performing Arts in Colombo, Dhammika has an amazing ability to draw out the soft intricacy of nature and rural lives through mediums like woodblock and screen printing that usually lend to solid, distinct forms. This piece by him reminds us of the time when our paddy farmers regarded the rice plant with divinity, and were masters at using natural farming and practices like ‘kem rituals’ that controlled diseases and pests without contaminating nature’s sanctity. It reminds us of what it means to support the few farmers who retain these practices through our purchasing decisions.
Sacred farmer: framed woodblock art
H20.5” x W16.5”, framed.