Phnom Penh – Cambodia’s royal oxen alarmed farmers on Tuesday by snubbing an offering of rice during a traditional plowing ceremony, as part of the king’s birthday celebration that astrologers use to predict the year’s rice harvest.
Royal astrologer Kang Ken said after the annual ritual, which was held in a park near the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, that the oxen ate offerings of beans and corn but snubbed offerings of rice, sesame seeds, grass, water and wine.
‘This means that annual rice production will fall by 30 per cent, but there will be plenty of rainwater this year for agriculture around the whole country,’ he announced to a crowd of more than 1,000 people at the ceremony presided over by King Norodom Sihamoni.
The event is said to be taken very seriously by Cambodia’s rural poor, who make up roughly 85 per cent of the population and are regarded as highly superstitious by city dwellers.
Sim An, a farmer from Kandal Province in central Cambodia, said he was saddened to see the oxen reject the rice offering.
‘This is not good for me because I plant rice every year and unlike other farmers, I grow only one kind of crop,’ he said.
But Nub Sophal, a farmer from the southern province of Kampot, said he was not worried about the prediction.
‘Even after listening to the astrologer’s prediction I am still happy because we always have a good crop in my province,’ he said. ‘But I still wonder why the oxen did not eat the rice or grass because we all know that it makes our harvest much better.’
Prime Minister Hun Sen did not attend the ceremony, but the king was joined by an audience of ministers, ruling party leaders and foreign diplomats.
Hun Sen is pushing for Cambodia to become a major rice exporter after a lifting a ban on exports in May last year.
In January, the premier predicted that rice exports would increase from about 1 million tons in 2008 to more than 2 million tons in 2009.