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Balinese 'Water Temples' and the Management of Irrigation

Lansing, J. Stephen: " Balinese 'Water Temples' and the Management of Irrigation.", American Anthropologist, p.p. 326-340, 1987.
Introduction to the Institution
THE AREA: Rice is the main crop. THE ECO-SYSTEM: In the Balinese rice terrace, irrigation water is not merely thought to be absorbed by the roots of plants. Rather, it is used to create an artificial ecosystem. Basic biochemical processes are governed by controlled irrigation. Water alters soil pH, induces a cycle of acrobic and anacrobic conditions in the soil, which determines the activity of microorganisms, provides a range of mineral nutritients, fosters the growth of nitrogen-fixing algaes, excludes weeds, stabilizes soil temperature, and, in the long term, governs the formation of the plough pan and the maintenance of soil fertility. The Balinese do not use storage devices in their irrigation systems. Therefore the succes of irrigation depends heavily on an accurate judgement of the seasonal flow of rivers and springs. Small differences in water depth or changes in timing the alternation of wet and dry cycles can have a major effect on the terrace ecosystem, directly affecting the crop yields. CROP MANAGEMENT: A critical stage of rice is when the plants are 'pregnant'; when the growing panicle causes the rice to swell. At this stage the reproductive phase starts and the rice requires water for developing the panicle and sunlight afterwards. This stage is reached at the end of the rainy season - normally in the beginning of March according to the Gregorian calendar. As the primary rice variety used requires 200 - 210 days before being ready to harvest, harvest will take place in september when the rainfall is low and the sunlight required for drying the rice is present. After the harvest a period of fallow will follow which interrupts the food supply of major rice pests such as insects, rodents, bacterials and viral diseases. After the fallow a secondary crop will be grown of a rice species which only requires 120 days to mature. As this only leaves a short period of fallow, about one month, it is necessary that the whole region harvests, and thus sow, their crop at the same time, to assure that the pests cannot simply migrate from one field to another.
Coverage of the Institution
The system is used all over Bali. The institution is concurrent.
Rules for Management of the Institution
(a) Boundary Rules
SPATIAL BOUNDARIES: The irrigation community and its sub-communities is marked by temples. Taken from the top and downwards, the primary water temple in Bali is Pura Ulun Batur, located along the rim of the crater of Lake Batur. The Temple keeps a list of 204 "subaks", sub-communities, which constitute the primary congregation of the temple. The subaks are all located within the boundaries of four rivers, and they all belive that the godess of Lake Batur is responsible for the gift of water they receive in their fields. Pura Ulun Batur marks the watersource of the entire irrigation system. Where a major canal from the source reach a set of terraces, this is marked by a Ulun Swi Temple (Head of The Terraces). Occasionally, division of waters from the Ulun Swi will be marked by Masceti temples. Where the water is lead into a set of fields, an Ulun Carik (Head of the Fields) temple is placed and each farmer will have their own shrine (bedugul) where the water enters their fields. Finally, Pura Segara temples (Sea temples) are located on beaches or islands in river outlets, where the water from the irrigation system reaches the sea. Thus, the Pura Segaras marks the end of the system.
(b) Governance rules
The different temples each represent a level in the governing hierarchy of the irrigation system. As we have seen, the coordination of sowing, irrigating and harvesting within the region is of utmost importance. The crucial piece of timing is to plant the rice when it is 'pregnant'. This event is marked by a particular ritual called 'nyungsung'. The timing of the 'nyungsung' is very difficult to estimate for the individual farmer. The Balinese farmers use three calendric systems, and 'nyungsung' should take place at the full moon of the tenth solar-lunar month. On the gregorian calendar this date will fall somewhere between the end of february and the beginning of May. The High Priests of the Pura Ulun Batur will decide when the rice i IT IS NOT CLEAR WHETHER NYUNGSUNG OR THE FULL MOON OF THE TENTH MONTH TELLS THE TIME OF PLANTING OR THE TIME TO START IRRIGATING WHEN THE RICE BECOMES PREGNANT When the time for irrigation is up, Pura Ulun Danu Batur will send out an invitation to the Subaks to participate in the major annual festival of the temple, but reportedly the invitation also marks the beginning of the irrigation year. At the regional level, the system is coordinated and governed at the Ulung Swi temples or the Masceti temples. Reportedly there is no fixed relationship between Ulun Swi and Masceti temples. They can both be either superior, equal or subordinate to eachother (It is not reported whether there are any rules or logic which decide the relationship between the Ulun Swi and the Masceti temples.) Subordinated to the regional temples are the "Subaks" or groups of "Subaks" if the number of "Subaks" subordinated to the regional temple is high or if the geographical or physiological features of the area makes it convenient to arrange the "Subaks" in groups. Each "Subak" will have their own temple for worship, but they will all send their leaders to the regional temple to make decisions and rules regarding the planting season etc.(!) In Sukawati village, the "Subaks" meet at the Masceti temple at the beginning of a new planting season if tyhe planting schedule has to be changed. Furthermore, the regional temples will send delegates to the annual festival at Pura Ulun Danu Batur ' MAINTENANCE RULES: Maintenance rules for the entire system are not reported. In the village of Kedewatan, seven "subaks" share water from a single large canal. Each "Subak" takes turns in the maintenance works and the annual rituals at the Masceti and Ulun Swi temples.
(c) Resource Allocation
Rules for resource allocation may vary at all levels throughout the system.In the village of of Sukawati there are 13 "Subaks" divided into three groups of 4,4, and 5 "Subaks". Traditionally all "Subaks" plant twice. One group has sufficient water to plant rice both times. The other groups will alternate rice with vegetables for their second crop, so that in a given year group A will plant a second crop of rice in August while group B plants vegetables (and obtain water only every fifth day). The following year group A plants vegetables and group B plants rice.
Problems Faced by Institution
Studies by foreign consultants have recommended changes in irrigation management. The text assumes that the consultants have not been aware of the scale of the traditional management system , as they tend to consider the Subaks as the highest level of indigenous institutions. This is shown in the report of a consultancy agency from 1981, in which it has been recommended that efforts should be made to enchance coordination between Subaks. But already in the mid-70'es the Balinese farmers were instructed to ignore the temple-scheduling system and plant as often as possible to increase yields. This meant the breakdown of regional fallow periods and rapid increases in the incidents of bacterial and viral diseases, and the insect and rat populations. Imported organochloride pesticides did some damage to the pest populations, but it also killed of eels, fish and even farmers in the fields. Thus, by the early 1980'es, most Subaks debated a return to the water temple scheduling system. Today, the formal and the informal irrigation institutions coexist, but whether this solution is succesfull is not reported.
Other Features of Institution
The question of how and by whom the Balinese irrigation is governed, has been subject to academic dispute. The answer given in this article is that the Water Temples are the main governing institution. Others claim that the system mainly is governed at the subak level by the timing of religous rituals, and yet others, incl. Marx, have argued that it is governed by central authorities within the Government.
Irrigation Management, Pest Control, Soil Management, Soil Preservation.
Date Of Publication
TroB 040496

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