A Kumbura or Ketha is the land on which farmers cultivate paddy. Rice is the staple food of Sri Lanka and as such, paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka is given utmost importance in the agriculture industry. Ancient and traditional farmers were self-sufficient in rice production and ancient Ceylon is said to have been among the foremost paddy exporters in the world. Paddy production in the country flourished during the reign of Sri Lankan kings, who fostered and nurtured production in various ways including, most notably, the supply of water through the construction of large scale irrigation tanks – Ceylon was popularly known as the ‘The Great Barn of the East’ during the reign of King Parakramabahu who is renowned for his hydraulic construction and renovation in aid of agriculture.
Ancient and traditional paddy cultivation practices were completely organic and did not induce any harm to the surrounding environment or health.
The Structure of a Kumbura
A Kumbura is a portion of a ‘Kumburuyaya’ or a large paddy tract that belongs to an individual farmer; i.e. the Kumburuyaya is divided into separately owned Kumburu. The paddy tract divides into discernible square areas of land called ‘Liyadi’ where paddy is grown. These are surrounded by ridges known as ‘Niyara’. An opening is made in the Niyara called ‘Vakkada’ which supplies water into the Liyadi. Areas of land, comparatively smaller than Liyadi, known as Kanati are constructed to regulate and manage the water flow into the Kumbura. Two Kanati are located at the two ends of the Kumburuyaya; these portions, called ‘Kurulupaluwa’ are dedicated to birds for feeding. Ancient farmers believed that by providing these feeding grounds to birds, their threat to paddy would be minimized.
Kurulupaluwa is one of many altruistic methods practiced by ancient farmers. Much of the agricultural practices of old worked harmoniously with nature, inducing very little (these were reversible) to no damage to the environment and wildlife.
Types of Kumburu
There are two types of Kumburu: Godakumburu and Madakumburu.
Godakumburu are cultivated without a permanent water supply, instead paddy is cultivated here with the aid of rain water. These types of Kumburu were not popular among farmers, due to the unpredictability of rainfall. Madakumburu were much more popular as these had a permanent water supply by way of an irrigation tank or stream.
See Sama (Harrowing)
See Sama is the process of harrowing and preparing land prior to paddy cultivation, which is done using a Nagula (plough) and oxen. See Sama was performed ceremoniously during the reign of kings in a festival called ‘Vapmagula’. Many religious rituals were also observed by traditional and ancient farmers before harrowing commenced.
Once harrowing is complete, paddy seeds are sown or saplings are planted in the ground.
No chemicals or toxins were used to enrich the soil of paddy fields. Ancient and traditional farmers used manure, fallen leaves and decayed hay to fertilize their land. These organic fertilizers improved microbial activity in soil. The yield from this method of fertilization was high and absent of harmful toxins.
Poru Gama (Leveling)
Poru Gama is the process of leveling the paddy field with the use of oxen and a tool known as the Poruva. Poru Gama is generally done a few weeks after harrowing and fertilizing paddy fields. This process ensures that there is uniform water flow from one Liyadda to another.
Caring for Bovines
Bovines (oxen, bullock, cows) who help the farmer in the many stages of paddy cultivation are an invaluable asset to him. Thus, farmers treat their working animals with utmost love and care. They are never induced injury by the Kewita (a stick used to drive and direct the bovines) during See Sama, Poru Gama etc. The animals are never over-worded and are provided plenty of food, water and rest in a timely manner. At the end of a working day, the bovines would be bathed and cleaned and provided forage. The animals are never employed the entire day (they are only worked around 5 to 6 hours a day) and are never worked under a harsh sun (this was especially during the day and at noon).
They were even referred to lovingly using names such as ‘Amma’ (mother), ‘Appa’ (father) and ‘Vahudaruvo’ (Calf children).
Sowing Seeds and Planting Sapling
Following the initial preparation, farmers would elect to either sow paddy seeds or plant sapling.
Weeding is chiefly performed by women. Rhymes called ‘Nelum Kavi’ are generally sung together during the process to cast off weariness and boredom. Weeding an entire Kumburuyaya often takes a fortnight.
Safeguarding the Kumbura
A wooden fence called the Danduvata, made by stacking and tying fallen and trimmed tree stems and branches, is set up around the entire Kumburuyaya to prevent wild animals from raiding crop. In addition, a scarecrow (Pambaya) is erected and a Takeya (a rough bell-type object) is hung to scare away birds and tiny animals. Farmers would keep watch over their Kumbura throughout the day and night in rough-hewn watch huts called ‘Pela’ to chase away raiding animals.
Ancient and traditional farmers tilled their land according to the Kanna (period or season) systems, which avoided pest invasion. They also employed organic pest control methods.
It was also common to pray to religious faiths to protect the crop.
Paddy was harvested when they turn light gold in color. Farmers would harvest their crop together while singing ‘Goyam Kavi’. The harvest is temporarily stored in the Kamatha (threshing floor) before it is taken home.