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Zhemgang: Harvesting the old way
Separating grain from husk by winnowing
Harvesting paddy is not just about cutting ripened stalks and shaking off the grain. Besides the long hours of back - breaking manual work in the sun there is a particular tradition, built through the ages on myth and belief, to reap what is sown.

And in central Bhutan's Zhemgang dzongkhag, as in many other places, paddy is still harvested the traditional way.

On the first day farmers use the sickle to cut the stalks which are arranged in rows and left in the field for the night. On the second day a bamboo mat called pari is spread on the field on which the paddy stalks are stacked in a pile.

On the third and final day three sticks called Kang sum in Khengkha, are tied together and spread out flat on the ground in the shape of a triangle. On the Kang sum is placed the Yang dho (a round and flat stone) on which the paddy stalks is hit to start the process of separating the grain from the straw.

Cloth and sheets of plastic are hung around the Yang dho like a curtain to prevent the paddy grains from jumping out too far during threshing.

The Khengpas of Zhemgang believe that the Yang dho should not be changed until and unless it is broken. Some people own Yang dhos, which are more than around three generations old.

"I use the Yang dho used by my grandparents and I do not lend it to others as we believe that using old Yang dhos gives us a better yield," said Yeshila, 52, from Dangkhar. "We also believe that if we lend it out our yield will be shared by those who borrow it."

When the paddy is threshed the farmers sing a song called Babshi, "God of good yield, grant me better yield"

The threshing process starts with a handful of paddy stalks being hit against the Yang dho. It is then passed around to several people seated close by who hit the stalks in turns with a stick to remove the grain.

Harvesting in Damji (Gasa dzonghag)
By evening, when threshing is done, the grain is covered and left in the field. The process of winnowing, where the grain is separated from the husk, is done the next day by gently pouring the grain to the ground against a breeze. On calm days farmers whistle to call the wind to aid winnowing.

The grains are then packed in sacks and measured in dreys (three kgs equals two dreys) to judge the yield.

Harvesting in Damji (Gasa dzonghag)
The threshing process starts with a handful of paddy stalks being hit against the Yang dho. It is then passed around to several people seated close by who hit the stalks in turns with a stick to remove the grain.

By evening, when threshing is done, the grain is covered and left in the field.

The process of winnowing, where the grain is separated from the husk, is done the next day by gently pouring the grain to the ground against a breeze. On calm days farmers whistle to call the wind to aid winnowing.

Harvesting in Lobesa (near Punkha)
The grains are then packed in sacks and measured in dreys (three kgs equals two dreys) to judge the yield. Before the grain is poured into the big storage containers in the house the farmer burns incense in appreciation for another harvest.

The straw, which are tied in bunches and left to dry in the fields are fed to the cattle during the winters.

Sometimes, paddy is harvested even before it is fully ripened because of destruction by wild animals. The crop is sown in nursery beds in March and transplanted in April - June. It is harvested in September and October.

Paddy is an important cereal for the people of Zhemgang. The grain is also used to make wine and changkoe (a local brew made of rice) for special occasions like the annual rites known as Lochoes.f rice) for special occasions like the annual rites known as Lochoes.nds," he said. "And there are no places to go to from Tshimalakha. Gedu will remain as it is, at least if it doesn't grow."

This article was contributed by Nima Wangdi, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2006

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