Art Talk

Warisan Padi Kedah Festival 2016

IMAGINE THIS…  Old style paddy farmers leading dancers, musicians, intellectuals, writers, visual artists, students and a buffalo, Boboi into the “sawah padi” (paddy field). Everyone in unison, rolling up the leg of their pants, bending down to dig and plant a paddy seedling, one by one, feeling a deep connection with nature, specifically the life-giving paddy. This is the Warisan Padi Kedah Festival 2016.

WHY PADDY?  In Asian cultures, paddy milled into rice is the energy-giving, life-sustaining source of food for the majority, and yet nowadays we see a disdain for the “art” and “craft” of paddy cultivation.  Many paddy fields have even made way for the more lucrative use of the land – building of residential housing and shops. Youths aiming for cushy air-conditioned jobs have shied away from paddy cultivation, leaving a once booming agricultural practice to the old generation to reminisce about the good old days.

There is a danger of forsaking this agricultural practice and constantly having to import rice from our neighbours – the loss of valuable paddy cultivation know-how and techniques, its history and a whole heritage may eventually disappear. One man has immersed a lifetime (since 1960s ) into researching, working closely with farmers, experimenting  & writing about paddy.  In the early 1980s his knowledge and implementation strategies managed to eradicate the devastating “penyakit merah” (tungro virus).

He is Ho Nai Kin, an agronomist who worked for MADA (MUDA Agricultural Development Authority)  in Kedah. For his passion & dedication to this crop, he his known as the “paddy expert / paddy doctor”.

He is also an author and poet, often using paddy as a metaphor in his stories.  In 1995 he met Chong Keat Aun, a multi-talented practitioner of the arts and together they dreamt and planned to hold a festival on 30 July 2014, to create awareness and pass on knowledge to future generations; to celebrate paddy and celebrate life!  Sadly, a month later Ho passed away from an illness and now Chong is carrying on Ho’s dream.  


Is the concept and at a glimpse gives us a gist of the various activities to be covered in this festival spanning from April 22 to its climax on September 17, 2016, coinciding with the paddy planting season.
Thus began the arduous process of getting sponsors, mooting the idea of paddy awareness in a creative manner, through the arts, to the locals and getting performers and participants from the surrounding community of Malays, Siamese & Chinese farmers and tapping in to the arts community in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. 

Coming up to Jitra, Kedah, the festival venue will be visual artists, sculptors, dancers, musicians, acapella choir, soprano and theatre performers.  Local performances will include Thai Menora dancers, Dikir Barat, Wayang Kulit, SIlat Gayong, Chinese Opera and Chinese Orchestra.

They are all coming for the “Pentas Tradisi Padi” which  will be from 30 April to 1 May 2016. Two full days of artistic activities - Rumah Seni Padi exhibition;  paddy field life drawing;  paddy field scarecrow exhibition;  paddy field childhood activities;  visit to the rice mill and rice exhibition. In the evening, there will be performances by both local and the visiting performers.

Prior to that, from 22-25 April there will be local workshops on paddy farming and art and drama activities. More workshops on 29 April 2016  too. 

RUMAH SENI PADI :  This ‘house’ was conceived as exhibition pavilion for art inspired by paddy and also an exhibition space in tribute to the late Ho Nai Kin showing his achievements, his books, his research and houses old  tools used in paddy planting and harvesting.

Architect Alan Teh and his team fashioned it from two containers, remodelled in Kuala Lumpur, transported and assembled on site in a paddy field next to Ong Chuan Hin Rice Mill (festival sponsor) in Tanjung Pauh, Jitra, Kedah.

They will be using local materials like bamboo and paddy stalks to create a semi-interactive experience for visitors to the Rumah Seni Padi. 

Many visual artists and sculptors will also be exhibiting their artworks in The Rumah Seni Padi, giving their interpretation of the theme –“Padi” (Malay name for paddy).

COMPILING ORAL TRADITIONS :  Off-stage, from March- July 2016, there will be a team interviewing farmers (Malay, Siamese, Chinese), recording their stories, folk songs & traditional practices and collecting old farming photos and tools. 

THE PADDY HERITOR – PADDY FIELD MUSIC ALBUM :  Songs composed for this festival will be recorded together with the compiled oral traditions and stories about the rice miller into an album to be launched on the last phase of this festival, in September 2016

REAPING AND THRESHING CEREMONY :  As the paddy grows, the festival continues. On 12 Aug 2016, there will be a ceremony to mark that the paddy is now ready for harvesting, through traditional reaping and threshing methods.

FESTIVAL FINALE :  From 15 -17 Sept, many more activities planned including orchestral performance and poetry reading in conjunction with Mid-Autumn Festival, another round of Pentas Tradisi Padi performances for Malaysia Day, culminating in a celebratory dinner on the 17 September, enjoying the rewards of the harvest , called Balik Tuai, Makan Nasi (roughly translated as Back from harvesting, now we eat the rice).

And one more yester-year treat to top it off, the screening of the acclaimed movie “Jagat” in the paddy field!
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely the current opinions of the author and should not be construed to reflect the opinions, policies or positions of any entity other than the author's.