National Plowing Ceremony

Plowing Ceremony, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

Have you ever sat and watched paint dry? Or grass grow? Needless to say, it is a long boring, slow moving process.

I am not making the analogy that the plowing ceremony I attended yesterday was like watching paint dry. Admittedly, more happened, but the reference is still there. Also, the reference might be more appealing to me, except I did watch the plowing ceremony not from within the heat drenched crowd of 3,000 peasants, royalty and military; but rather while eating a home cooked breakfast in a beautiful apartment with a breeze and a view overlooking the ceremony. The analogy I am sure would not be appropriate if I understood more of what was going on or what the speakers were saying.

I digress. Plowing ceremony was yesterday! And it’s a holiday for plowing day on Monday—this is a big holiday—people have off from work. So, like groundhogs day in the states where people wait to see if the groundhog sees its shadow and gets spooked to predict the length of winter, the plowing ceremony in Cambodia is when a different animal, cows, predict the year’s harvest.

The ceremony started at 6am—I arrived just before 8am. It consisted of a lot of people bowing to the king, and 8 cows plowing around the circle where spectators were sitting. The cows moved in a parade with people and plows around the circle three times. It was not a fast parade; here is 15 seconds of it:

The parade actually didn’t start until after almost three hours of speeches and bowing to the king. Due to my lack of Khmer and our distance from the speakers—I have no idea what was said.

After the procession two cows were led to bowls of vegetables and grains. What they chose to eat signified a good harvest. Apparently, one cow ate some corn thus symbolizing and average yield, while the rice went untouched! You can see how in a country of farmers whose staple food is rice this could be upsetting.

The ceremony was closed with the words: “May all almighty things guarding Cambodia pour down like the rain and save her from all natural disaster.

Needless to say, my understanding of the ceremony may be lacking (Cambodians reading this are free to post more information in the comment section). However, I would like to share one common piece of misinformation spread throughout the community of foreigners (or maybe its correct information—really, I don’t know). But, I have heard (several unreliable sources) that it is not just the food the cows eat that is important (in some cases this was not the point at all) but rather where they chose to “take a dump” and how much. [side note: is there any polite way to say that in such a public forum?]. Having said this, I also was too far away to report of whether or not this happened.


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