Monday, June 29, 2020, when you open the Google search engine, you will see a picture of a farmer sitting in a hut. His eyes lead to green fields. Google Doodle displays an image with the tagline “Celebrating Cultural Heritage, Subak”.
Subak is a tradition of the Balinese, Indonesia. When you visit the countryside in Bali, you will see a fields at the foot of the mountain with neat watering. The Subak irrigation system is able to accommodate the socio-technical dynamics of the local community.
The contours of the mountainous land in Bali make irrigation very difficult, along with the dense population. So water resources must be managed with the principles of justice, openness, harmony and togetherness, distributed in accordance with the benefits for the people. By combining all of these elements, Balinese farmers succeeded in managing the most efficient agriculture in the archipelago.
Reporting from Historia, written information about the practice of farming the Balinese people was first found in the Sukawarna Epigraphlisted to 882 Çaka (Çaka Era began in 78 AD). In that epigraph there is the word ‘huma’, which at that time was commonly used to refer for moving fields. Then in the Trunyan Epigraph dated 891 Çaka, the word “serdanu” was written, which means the head of lake water affairs.
The history of Bali Subak is also recorded in the Bebetin Epigraph (896 Çaka) and the Batuan Epigraph (1022 Çaka). In the two epigraphs, it explained that there was a special group of fields workers in Bali, their expertise is to make a water tunnel. Archaeological evidence shows that the Balinese people have known how to manage irrigation around the 10th century.
In administering the Subak System, the Subak Administrators are guided by customary law which is inherited by their ancestors. Subak Customary Law is based on the teachings of Tri Hita Karana, interpreted as “Three things that cause the prosperity”. The three causes of well-being are the harmonious relationship between human and God, the harmonious relationship with fellow human beings, and the harmonious relationship between human and nature and the environment.
How does the Subak System work?
The Bali Subak system works by using a continuous and rotating irrigation method. In the Subak System, farmers are organized and divided into two or three groups of fields. Each field group receives a fair distribution of irrigation water.
If subak areas are divided into two groups of fields (Group I and Group II for example), then in the rain season (First Planting Season/MT I) both groups receive irrigation water. Whereas in the dry season (MT II), group I planted rice and group II planted crops. Then in MT III, group I planted crops and group II planted rice. That is an example of the practice of the rotating method (in the local language called “nugel bumbung”).
If the fields are divided into three groups, in the rainy season all groups receive irrigation water, but in the dry season the upstream group ( fields in the upstream) receives the first water, then in the next growing season it gives to the group in the middle, and finally the downstream group.
In total Bali has around 1,200 water reservoirs and between 50 and 400 farmers manage water supplies from one water source. This property consists of five sites that exemplify the interconnected natural, religious and cultural components of a traditional system, where the Subak system is still fully functional, where farmers still plant rice in a traditional Balinese way, without the aid of fertilizers or pesticides, and where all landscapes are considered to have sacred connotations.
These sites are the Highest Water Temple of Ulun Danu Batur Temple on the shores of Lake Batur whose crater lake is considered the origin of every spring and river. Then the Subak Landscape in the Pakerisan River, the oldest known irrigation system in Bali. There is also the Angga Batukaru Chess Landscape with a terrace mentioned in the 10th century epigraph as the one of the oldest in Bali and the first example of classical Balinese temple architecture. Next, Taman Ayun Water Temple, is the largest and has a unique architectural shape.
This property fully covers the main attributes of the Subak system and the significant impact that own by Balinese landscape. The processes that shape the landscape, in the form of multilevel irrigation agriculture managed by the Subak system, still last for thousands of years. Agricultural areas are planted sustainably by local people and their water supply is managed democratically. therefore, UNESCO has declared Subak as one of the world’s cultural heritages.
As a World Cultural Heritage, we must protect and preserve Subak. The government has a mission to succeed food sovereignty, must be seized in policies pro to farmers, especially for those that produce our food. Farmers must prosper, so the young generation does not embarrasses to be a farmer.