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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - When bovines divine

When bovines divine

The Royal Cows munch their way through rice, beans, corn, and grass, presaging a good harvest.

F

armers may expect another good harvest in 2006, after the annual Royal Plowing Ceremony,

or Pithi Chrat Preah Neanng Korl-Khmer, predicted that rice, corn and soybeans will

grow well this season.

After a richly colorful, yet solemn, procession around Veal Meng park in front of

the National Museum on May 16, two royal oxen were presented with seven bowls, containing

rice, corn, soybean, sesame, water, wine and grass.

The cows ate 95 percent of the rice, 80 percent of the beans, 75 percent of the corn

and 50 percent of the grass. They did not touch the water or wine.

Each year the bounty of the farming season is foretold by which of these rations

the oxen choose to eat. Rice, beans, corn and sesame indicate a plentiful harvest;

water means rain or flooding, wine means war and grass is a sign of a poor crop.

Before the bowls were offered, National Assembly Second Vice President You Hockry

and his wife, You Teaketnay, with a party of attendants in shimmering shades of scarlet,

orange and purple, drove six oxen, draped in red and gold cloth and with velvet horn-covers,

for three laps of plowing around the park.

King Norodom Sihamoni presided over the Royal Plowing in a lounge suit, rather than the court dress phaamueng favored by his father.

Ranks of soldiers stood at the sides of the field, their helmets gleaming in the

hot sun. In the apartment buildings surrounding the park, locals watched from their

balconies. A group of farmers clad in black and wearing straw hats were seated at

one end of the park, representing the 24 provinces and municipalities of Cambodia.

On the opposite side, tents had been set up on either side of the park's entrance,

showcasing agricultural goods and foodstuffs. Throngs of people were crammed in every

inch of available space.

Meanwhile, under the shade of a richly decorated stage, politicians and dignitaries

looked on. In the center sat King Norodom Sihamoni, celebrating his 53rd birthday.

When the first cow lowered his head to the rice bowl and the second selected the

soybeans, the surrounding crowds began cheering and laughing, many of them saying

that this year they would be planting rice and beans.

Pang Yach , 63, of Sambour village in Prey Veng, said she arrived in the city yesterday

and was renting a house for two nights. This was the first time she had come to the

Plowing Ceremony, she said. Last year she planted a hectare of rice, but her land

was flooded and yielded nothing.

"That is why I came here this year: to see what the cows eat," said Yach.

"If the cows eat a lot of corn, I will change to plant corn. And if the cows

eat a lot rice, I will plant rice."

Som Mann, 65, of R'Peak village in Bantey Meanchey, said he also plants his fields

each year according to the results of the plowing ceremony.

"When I plant the same as what the cow ate most, I always get a good result

at the end," Mann said.

Once the feeding process was over, and the cows were led away from the bowls, animated

crowds immediately leapt over the barriers in a rush to grab the leftovers. Police

and officials attempted to warn them off but their numbers and enthusiasm were overpowering.

Im Sam Ang, 45, of Khan Daun Penh, was carrying a plastic bag full of rice, beans,

corn and sesame which he had collected. Sam Ang said he had been bringing his family

to the ceremony for more than ten years, and they always brought home some of the

remaining grains,.

They would keep the plastic bag on a shelf at home and worship it all year to ensure

the family would prosper, he said.

Dressed like royalty, National Assembly Second Vice President You Hockry drove the Royal Oxen around Veal Meng while his wife, You Teaketnay, followed sowing seed.

"I do believe in it because my family's standard of living gets better from

year to year."

Kim Phoung, 67, of Sangkat Psar Deam Kor in Khan Tuol Kork, said she used the leftovers

she collected to share out amongst her children, who would sow them in their fields.

"If the rice, beans, corn and sesame grow even a little bit, it's a good sign

and means their families will be happy and do very successful business."

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