Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Threshing Time

Golden Rice Pours Out of Threshing Machine
Driving along the country roads of Isaan this and last week, you will see many activities in the parched golden rice paddies.  The first indication of what may be ahead as you travel is three to five motorbikes parked along the paved road or just off of the road.

Looking at the paddies beyond the congregation of bikes, you will observe colorfully dressed Lao Loum people cutting rice, stacking sheaves of rice that has dried in the field for about a week, and threshing rice. The people are fully clothed for protection from the sun, dust, and irritation of dry plant materials.

Since the rainy season ended about three or four weeks ago the fields are dry and dusty.  If the farmers are threshing the rice the air is filled with chaff.  To avoid inhaling dust and chaff the farmers typically wrap a soccer jersey around their face leaving just a narrow slot for their eyes.  One benefit to the end of the rainy season is that we often have brilliant blue sky now.  The combination of brilliant blue sky, yellow straw, golden grain and various color schemes of the worker's clothing presents many interesting photography opportunities.

As Children Watch, Rice Is Threshed In the Field
To thresh the rice the farmers contact a person who has a truck mounted threshing machine.  The truck mounted threshing machine go from paddy to paddy all day long with the emphasis on speed.  The farmers typically compensate the owner of the thresher with a share of the resulting rice.  Typically the fee for threshing is one 50kg bag of rice for every 20 bags threshed.  For 100 bags threshed the fee is typically 4 bags.

To minimize the time that the thresher stays at their paddies, the farmers spread a large fine mesh blue net on a flat piece of round.  The rice that had been spread flat out in the paddies to dry in the sun are bundled into sheaves.  The sheaves are gathered and transported to the blue net.  The sheaves are piled high on top of the blue net.  Any rice kernels that separate in the rough handling of the sheaves falls on to the net and at the end of the threshing is bagged.  The threshing machine typically has a two man crew.  One man sits on the side of the machine behind a cantilevered shelf on the machine.  His job is to manually feed the sheaves, that are thrown on to the shelf by the farmers, into the machine.  His partner monitors the various exposed belts and pulleys of the threshing machine to ensure smooth operation.  The second crewman also repositions the chaff shoot as necessary during the threshing operation as well as monitoring the engine.  Together the two man crew sets up and dismantles the machine for transport.

The separated rice grain streams out the end of the threshing machine in a golden flow into 50 kg bags.  The filled bags are carried to the edge of the blue net where one of the farmers closes them and ties them off with thin strips of bamboo.  Once the threshing is completed, the number of filled bags is tallied and the thresher takes his fee before he sets off to his next appointment.

A Woman Ties Off Filled Bags
The farmers then load up the remaining bags of rice on to farm wagons or trucks to be transported to their home.  The bags are offloaded and placed in elevated small storage sheds next to their house.  Eventually most of the rice will be taken to a miller to remove the husk but that is subject of a blog to be written soon.

For some people who have too small a crop to afford mechanized threshing, threshing their rice is done the old fashioned way; by hand.  When Duang was young she threshed rice by hand with her family.

Threshing Rice The Old Fashioned Way
Just outside of Tahsang Village I came upon a man and his wife threshing rice by hand.  I found it very interesting so I stopped to learn about it and to photograph it.  Just as with the farmers who were using a mechanized thresher, these farmers had laid out a blue net and placed their sheaves upon it.  The man used two pieces of bamboo that had cotton rope which connected them together - sort of like "nunchucks".  Two pieces of bamboo connected with cotton string?  I had seen that once before!!  It was during the event that I documented in my blog entry, "Two Funerals and an Excorcism", that I saw young village men using smaller versions of this device to capture the "Phii Ling" (Monkey Ghosts) that had infested their village. http://www.hale-worldphotography.blogspot.com/2011/01/two-funerals-and-excorcism.html  Life can be seen as a serious of isolated events much like the pages of a coloring book with a collection numbered dots.  I still find great satisfaction and joy in being able to connect today's dots to see the depth and magic in current events just as the child connects the numbered dots to discover a hidden picture.  Coloring the ensuing revelation, or in my case photographing it, only adds to the wonder.  Last week's connections of the Royal Barges to the paintings at the Grand Palace and further back to the Thai Epic, "The Ramakian" is another example.

The farmer was very skilled in using the device to select a sheave from the pile, secure the selected sheave, lift the sheave high over his head and flail the sheave four to five times against the ground and growing mound of free rice kernels.  With a quick movement of his wrists. the farmer released the sheave of straw flying to a growing pile of waste.

A Sheaf of Straw Is Sent Flying

The Pile of Rice Grows As Spent Sheaf Is Discarded
Farm Wagon Awaits A Pecious Cargo - Next Year's Food

The normal 40 minute drive from Tahsang Village to our home in Udonthani ended up taking 3 hours on Sunday.  Three great stops to observe the threshing had lengthened the duration of the journey.  The time spent to observe and photograph was for me a worthwhile investment to learn and better understand the life of the Lao Loum farmer here in Isaan.

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