Going back to paddy roots
Published on: Sunday, November 13, 2022
By: Sherell Jeffrey
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Youngsters getting their first-hand experience harvesting paddy.
THE grain has a larger role in the sense that even the State Agriculture and Food Industry Ministry aims to increase Sabah’s rice production self-sufficiency level to 60 per cent by 2030 from the current 25 per cent.

The biggest paddy fields in Sabah are in Kota Belud and Kota Marudu, however both are dwindling in size. 

In April last year, former Minister of Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government, Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan said there are 6,000 acres of paddy fields in Kota Belud but only 2,000 acres are cultivated as the other 4,000 are faced with irrigation problems.

In Kota Marudu, thousands of acres are abandoned due to the same problems with data obtained from the Agriculture Department in Kota Marudu showing 6,666 hectares in 2014 and down to 5,484.61 hectares in 2019.

When it comes to crops in Sabah, these fields of golden yellow especially during harvest season, are still some of the most striking.

Pitas-Kota Marudu had the second biggest area under paddy after Kota Belud, until floods struck the constituency between 2013 and 2014.

With that being said, I think it’s best to leave the facts and figures on Sabah’s rice cultivation and production to the experts. 

My focus is more on those of us who own paddy fields but have seldom or never set foot on a paddy field, what more toiled the fields under the scorching sun. 

My late grandmother, Datin Nurie Lumpisau, left us with a paddy field in Kampung Rani, Tenghilan, a quaint village in the Tuaran district, some 45 minutes’ drive from the State Capital.

The paddy field may be small in size, but it can produce enough rice to last our family of 12 the whole year, in fact its harvest is more than sufficient that we are also able to share its harvest with our extended family. 

Now coming back to the part of seldom or never set foot on a paddy field. My first visit to the paddy field was at the age of 10 and all I remember was running around the trenches trying to catch snails instead of working the fields.

My second visit happened only recently, when I am well over my 40s, this time to gather material for my article on how conventional paddy planting is done in this part of the State.

There to guide me was former Kampung Rani Village Chief, Baba Mundai, who also happens to be related to me. 

“We started planting paddy in the 1930s and today there are about 50 acres of active paddy fields in our village. 

“Your grandparents used to work on this field back in the 1960s and it is good to see that this paddy field is still maintained to this day,” he said. 

He said until the early 1970s, water buffaloes are the main animal used by villagers to plough the paddy fields. 

“A hand-held plough made of bamboo with one or more blades fixed in a frame is fastened to the buffalo. 

“The plough is then drawn over the soil to turn it over and cut furrows in preparation for the planting of seeds,” he said, adding that the process requires a great deal of effort from both farmer and buffalo; and could take up to a week or more to get two acres ready for planting. 

Today, many villagers in the area, including Mundai, has opted to replace his buffaloes with machines to get the ploughing job done.

“Back in those days, we don’t think the hand-held ploughing method is a burden because we are used to it, but we are grateful that now we have machines which makes the ploughing work easier and faster,” he said. 

With the machine, he is now able to plough three acres within two days compared to previously where he is only able to get two acres ploughed using the buffalo hand-held plough method. 

The method of reaping the crop year by year however has not changed much.  Villagers still go to the field and reap each stalk one by one with a pair of harvesting tool known as “Linggaman”.

Sickles are also used to reap their harvest, however for those in Rani, the “Linggaman” is the preferred tool.

Mundai holding the harvesting tool known as ‘Linggaman’.

“There was a time in 1989 when we tried using machines to harvest the crop but one paddy company said it was not suitable, so we continued using the traditional tool.

“This tool is still used by a majority of paddy planters here until today,” said Mundai.

Finding the tool today is not an easy task, however it can be easily crafted using the blade of a saw, wood or a polyvinyl chloride (PVC pipe) as the handle. 

The saw blade is cut into the shape of a crescent or the shape of a buffalo horn and fixed to the wood or PVC pipe which acts as the handle.

Why the crescent or buffalo horn shape? Simply because it allows a firm grip while clipping the stalks. 

“The shape makes reaping the stalk one by one much easier since it fits nicely into your hands,” said Mundai while explaining that the index finger and middle finger plays a huge role in clipping the stalks with the Linggaman. 

Naturally the question arises as to whether such method is effective. Mundai said it depends on the manpower and the type of stalks.

“If there is only two people working the fields, it will take up to a month to get an acre harvested,” he said.

Mundai and his wife harvesting paddy the conventional way. 

A teenager getting his first-hand experience at harvesting paddy the conventional way.

Getting one’s feet stuck in mud while harvesting paddy is no easy task. 

He said the weather also plays an important role in rice production, thus, the need for improved water control is the beginning and the end of a successful and bountiful harvest.

The major part of the paddy is rain grown, and no provision exists for getting water on and off the land; the latter is just as important, if not more important, than the former. 

“Poor drainage and irrigation works will cause our fields to be flooded and destroy our crops in the process,” said Mundai.

He noted that it has been two years since the drainage and irrigation system in their area has been maintained by the relevant authorities, the Drainage and Irrigation Department in particular.

Then comes the question of rituals, especially since paddy planting is generally known to start and end with some kind of ritual among the paddy planting ethnic community in Sabah.

In Mundai’s village however, rituals commonly accustomed with paddy planting is no longer in practice. 

He recalls the rituals his mother used to practise before and after the harvest. 

“She will do the “Majalud” which in Dusun means when the paddy stalks start to mature and turn yellow, she will take a chicken and the komborongoh (dusun word for talisman) will slaughter it.

“She will place polod leaves at the site where the harvest will take place and sit there while reciting the ritual,” he said.

Such rituals are no longer practised after religion came to the village.

Coming back to my visit to the paddy fields, my three teenage nephews also came along and got their first-hand experience out in the fields.

They did an impressive job at harvesting paddy – despite constantly getting their feet stuck in the mud while trying to balance themselves in the slippery field while harvesting the paddy stalks.

Paddy harvesting is no easy task and despite the challenge they managed to harvest a basket full of paddy, with help from Mundai and his wife of course.

As we made our back to the city, I realised the significance of celebrating a bountiful harvest. It is not about consuming alcohol beverages and getting heavily intoxicated and neither is it about the much anticipated annual Unduk Ngadau competition.

It’s about ensuring there is sufficient rice to feed not only one’s family, but also one’s nation for years to come.

It’s about uniting families in preserving the practice of conventional paddy planting which may possibly disappear if left unchecked due to the accelerating growth in modernisation. 

Hopefully, rice production continues to have a place in the hearts of the people, young and old, in view of the competition from other rival crops such as rubber, coconut and oil palm.

But one thing for sure is when it comes to crops in Sabah, these fields of golden yellow especially during harvest season, are still some of the most striking.


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December 20, 2014