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Art of Rice: Symbol and Tradition in SE Asia

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Art of Rice: Symbol and Tradition in SE Asia

"The Art of Rice: Symbol and Meaning in Southeast Asian Village Tradition" by Rashaan Meneses from the UCLA Asia Institute provided an insightful account of a talk given by Dr. Eric Crystal on June 1, 2004 detailing rice as being sacred and part of traditional. After reading "The Origin of Rice Cultivation," it struck me that rice symbolized life. It is so obvious, and yet, I am so used to thinking as bread symbolizing life.

I found the article to be extremely interesting and it would be a vital tool to use in my class as we discuss symbolism. Often asking the question, what does______ symbolize?, gets me plenty of blank stares from my students. I think that this article would be extremely useful to have students read before reading "The Origin of Rice Cultivation". It would also be useful for a discussion on the importance of tradition, and the use of symbolism in literature.

To respond to the article, I thought it was extremely interesting to learn how harvesting rice is "associated with women and fertility" and is considered to be part of a religious ceremony. The fact that a rice mother is a part of many rituals in Southeast Asia again alludes to the idea that rice gives life. Not only, does rice feed as many as "three billion people," in the world, but it is associated with a female deity. Women seem to be repressed in many parts of Southeast Asia, and yet there is attention paid to the fact that they give life as seen by worshiping this goddess. It would seem that women can become empowered by the worshiping of the rice goddess.

I also thought it was interesting that as advanced technology is used to harvest rice, the precious ecosystem of the rice field is dying out. The rice field , like the tradition of worshiping the rice mother, is in jeopardy due to fact technology used in harvesting the rice is changing. It use to be a place where year after year life was rejuvenated. The rice field continued to feed the people by providing eels, fish, frogs, and ducks. Now the need to feed, is destroying a tradition that has gone on for thousands of years. I think this is the essential point of this article. As we become more savvy and rely more on advanced technology, we lose a link to our past. We let go a bit of tradition because we don't have time or we just don't care.

It makes me sad to think that this is happening and that there doesn't seem to be a movement of people who want to save our traditions and our past. People just rather surf the internet. Lastly, it is sad that we allow technology to destroy vital ecosystems and the environment. We seem to ignore the reality that the mother earth that we know is not the one our children will see.
This article illustrates the importance of hanging onto tradition and remembering before it is too late.
What do you think?

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I completely agree with you. I just try to describe the recent situation in my country, Indonesia, more specifically among the Javanese. As you have mentioned, technology used in agriculture somewhat isolates us. Traditionally, we gather with our neighbor to grind harvested paddy together using lesung. I can stil remember my grandmother and women in her neighbor helped each other in grinding the paddy. In this social gathering, women also talked about community issues (see how women influenced community decision making started from this social gathering and other women's gatherings).
But, it's not only technology... Food globalization also degrades the value of rice. People in my generation seldom know about Dewi Sri, the fertility goddess, which reigns over rice. Rice is not highly valued anymore. They can find many alternative food as a substitution. They can eat pizza, mashed potatoes, pasta, bread.. they even tend to value "western" food more than rice. Even farmers do not value rice as they used to, because of our government policy to set the price of rice as low as possible, which --in my point of view-- takes sides with urban people but neglects rural people. (I actually don't really know whether the paddy field was still owned by village people's or big companies').

Any other opinion?

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Message from tnguyen

Agreed......But even though the value of rice has deflated, it's contribution to agriculture is still vital. Rice, in reality isn't just sold as grains; don't forget about other products made from rice. The value of those products in many ways make up for the deflation. Correct?? Maybe... Rice is producing many other products not as substitution, but for creativity in rice. I don't think rice has lose it's value, it just have other alternative to grain; especially to meet the needs of younger generations.

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Message from rrustamzadeh

Very interesting, and yet very sad as you noted. I feel sad too when I see that the sound of heavy machinary is silencing the sound of nature, the birds, the river, and even human beings.

It is interesting how similar this rice culture is to the way rice is looked at and lived with, in Iran. There too rice is a women thing. They are seen in rice plantations more than men. Rice to some families is more important than bread (my family being one). But rice is not a symbol for anything. Bread is still the element of life ( There is a good terminology for this in English, PLEASE HELP). In the north of iran ( I have heard) that people (or at least some) use rice even for breakfast.

Persian rice is most dear and most expensive to persians. Imported rice is looked down upon, and is purchased by those who cannot afford persian rice. It is cooked differently from the rest of the world. I have found it to be most aromatic. I used to travel hundreds of miles to buy my rice directly from the farmers. To put it simply, Persian culture is a rice culture. They eat more rice than Chinese do. I just don't know why they are famous for their carpets and not for their rice! I thoght I'd share this with you, after all Iran is in asia. [Edit by="rrustamzadeh on Sep 20, 12:24:22 AM"][/Edit]