THE SACRED RICE TERRACES AND WATER TEMPLES OF THE SUBAK

LOCATION | Bali

TYPOLOGY | Terracing
SYSTEM | Subak
PEOPLE | Subak

On a mountainous island of the Indonesian archipelago, the combined forces of tourism and globalization are threatening one of the world’s oldest Coupled Human-Nature Systems (CHANS). The Balinese Subaks are both the rice terrace systems unique to this region and the self-governing associations of farmers who share irrigation water and coordinate their planting schedules by means of calendrical rites in water temples. There are approximately 1,200 of these associations across Bali, each made up of 50 to 400 farmers. Traditional Subak rice paddies are the most biodiverse and productive agrarian systems known to man. The local cycles of nutrient dispersal and seasonal precipitation are cleverly adapted into the subak system, which has been producing rice for thousands of years without pesticides or fertilizers, at the scale of watersheds. While underground water transfer tunnels honeycomb the island’s interior, rice terraces reform the island’s rugged volcanic terrain into a terraced topography. When these terraces are flooded in moonlight, the reflecting planes of the terraces resemble a multi-faceted diamond.

Illustrations by Cathy De Almeida and Despo Thoma

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© 2019. Julia Watson Studio

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