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Subak In Bali Consider as World Culture Heritage

13 November 2009

Subak system in Bali has won many praises. People admire the physical condition (palemahan) of subak engendering magnificent panorama. That is the presence of terraced rice field. Not many countries in the world have irrigation system, emerging an array of complicated twisted rice field but amazing. Parallel instance can only be encountered at small part of Luzon Islands (the Philippines).

Why such nature landscape could happen in Bali? Philosophically, the subak implements harmonic concept (tri hita karana) namely being harmonic with nature. No single social institution in the world apparently implements a concept or humanitarian life philosophy. Subak (and customary village), for instance, clearly applies the philosophy of tri hita karana in its daily practices. Subak would not like to harm hills or mountains cultivated into rice field.

bali rice terrace Unlimited experts from different disciplines came to Bali to learn more about subak system. Some of them are Geertz, Korten, Coward, Hirashima, Suprodjo, Sahid, Sigit, Sudira, Teken, Sutawan and many others. The last ones were Idanna Pocci (Italy) and J Stephen Lansing (USA). Specifically, Prof. Lansing (Arizona University) is now helping Indonesian Government (Bali Government) formulating a proposal in order that subak system in Bali could be accepted as World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO (UNs). Mr.Wayan Windia (Head of Subak System Laboratory at Faculty of Agriculture Udayaya University), together with Dr. Alit (BPTP) and Prof. Parimarta (Faculty of Letters, Udayana University), works with Prof. Lansing. The task is performing a study at several areas of subak in Bali, especially at Subak Jatiluwih in Tabanan, proposed to become a part of World Cultural Heritage of UNESCO.

Determination of an artifact to become a World Cultural Heritage (WCH) by UNESCO has nothing to do with financial benefit. Dr. ldanna Pocci and Prof. Lansing said that such stipulation tended to have more psychological and prestigious aspect provided by world community. Instead, such stipulation as WCH by UNESCO would give financial burden to local government paying more attention to that area so it remains everlasting and sustainable. UNESCO will not make decisions without obvious action plans of local government for the conservation of that asset. For instance, there is an issue mentioning that if the Subak Jatiluwih would be accepted as WCH, Governor of Bali would impose free property and land tax and cover the healthcare expenses of farmers engaged. Meanwhile, children of those farmers are allocated to get free tuition for their education. This policy poses a positive response in the framework of stipulating subak area as WCH. In short, farmers should get assurance that agricultural sector would be beneficial and they are glad to do farming. As a result, transfer of land function would be controllable or never occur.

Theoretically, subak system (rice field and agriculture) should only not be viewed as a medium to produce foodstuff. However, the asset should have invisible function but has significant benefit. For instance, it generates view (nature’s panorama), produces oxygen, controls disease and accommodates excessive water during rainy season. Thus, it would prevent the flood attacking residents at the area. This matter becomes important consideration of UNESCO to make subak into WCH. The subak that has managed its rice field and irrigation system for over 1,000 years (existing up to now) indicates that subak indeed constitutes a part of human cultural heritage. On that account, it is important to be preserved.

By endorsement of UNESCO, subak would have a high prestige and that is why it is worth protecting. Similar matter is now happening to batik cloth that has now been endowed with world endorsement. As soon as batik obtained an endorsement as WCH its prestige increases. As consequence, people feel proud and triggered to wear and protect the batik cloth. Dr. Idanna Pocci said that in Italy there was a housing complex with ancient architectural style that finally became a WCH. Therefore, the complex gets protection psychologically. “Otherwise, the complex may have become a complex of shopping mall,” he said.

Similarly, it will transpire to subak system in Bali. Endorsement of the area as WCH would be able to increase its prestige and psychologically it would get protection from community and government. In the same manner, it is expected that subak would be everlasting. It needs preserving for the sake of future generation. Are you interested to visit Jatiluwih and Bali countryside? We offer you Jatiluwih – Batukaru Tour.

Writed by Wayan Windia, Head of Subak System Laboratory at Faculty of Agriculture, Udayana University, Bali Indonesia.