Subak, Indonesia

Subak - The Cultural Landscape of Bali, Postcard by Ministry of Education and Culture Republik Indonesia with support of UNESCO and World Culture Forum Bali, Postdated July 2016

Subak – The Cultural Landscape of Bali, Postcard by Ministry of Education and Culture Republik Indonesia with support of UNESCO and World Culture Forum Bali, Postdated July 2016

 

Cultural Landscape of Bali Province: the Subak System as a Manifestation of the Tri Hita Karana Philosophy

The cultural landscape of Bali consists of five rice terraces and their water temples that cover 19,500 ha. The temples are the focus of a cooperative water management system of canals and weirs, known as subak, that dates back to the 9th century. Included in the landscape is the 18th-century Royal Water Temple of Pura Taman Ayun, the largest and most impressive architectural edifice of its type on the island.

The subak reflects the philosophical concept of Tri Hita Karana, which brings together the realms of the spirit, the human world and nature. This philosophy was born of the cultural exchange between Bali and India over the past 2,000 years and has shaped the landscape of Bali. Thesubak system of democratic and egalitarian farming practices has enabled the Balinese to become the most prolific rice growers in the archipelago despite the challenge of supporting a dense population.

A line of volcanoes dominate the landscape of Bali and have provided it with fertile soil which, combined with a wet tropical climate, make it an ideal place for crop cultivation. Water from the rivers has been channelled into canals to irrigate the land, allowing the cultivation of rice on both flat land and mountain terraces.

Rice, the water that sustains it, and subak , the cooperative social system that controls the water, have together shaped the landscape over the past thousand years and are an integral part of religious life. Rice is seen as the gift of god, and the subak system is part of temple culture. Water from springs and canals flows through the temples and out onto the rice paddy fields.  Water temples are the focus of a cooperative management of water resource by a group ofsubaks . Since the 11th century the water temple networks have managed the ecology of rice terraces at the scale of whole watersheds. They provide a unique response to the challenge of supporting a dense population on a rugged volcanic island.

The overall subak system exemplifies the Balinese philosophical principle of T ri Hita Karana that draws together the realms of the spirit, the human world and nature. Water temple rituals promote a harmonious relationship between people and their environment through the active engagement of people with ritual concepts that emphasise dependence on the life-sustaining forces of the natural world.

In total Bali has about 1,200 water collectives and between 50 and 400 farmers manage the water supply from one source of water. The property consists of five sites that exemplify the interconnected natural, religious, and cultural components of the  traditional su b ak system, where the subak system is still fully functioning, where farmers still grow traditional Balinese rice without the aid of fertilisers or pesticides, and where the landscapes overall are seen to have sacred connotations.

The sites are the Supreme Water Temple of Pura Ulun Danu Batur on the edge of Lake Batur whose crater lake is regarded as the ultimate origin of every spring and river, the Subak Landscape of the Pakerisan Watershed the oldest known irrigation system in Bali, the Subak Landscape of Catur Angga Batukaru with terraces mentioned in a 10th century inscription making them amongst the oldest in Bali and prime examples of Classical Balinese temple architecture, and the Royal Water temple of Pura Taman Ayun, the largest and most architecturally distinguished regional water temple, exemplifying the fullest expansion of the subak system under the largest Balinese kingdom of the 19th century.

Subak components are the forests that protect the water supply, terraced paddy landscape, rice fields connected by a system of canals, tunnels and weirs, villages, and temples of varying size and importance that mark either the source of water or its passage through the temple on its way downhill to irrigate subak land.

Integrity and authenticity

The property fully encompasses the key attributes of the subak system and the profound impact that it has had on the landscape of Bali. The processes that shaped the landscape, in the form of irrigated, terraced agriculture organised by the subak system, are still vibrant and resilient. The agricultural areas are all still farmed in a sustainable way by local communities and their water supplies are democratically managed by the water temples.

None of the component parts is under threat but the terraced landscape is highly vulnerable to a range of social and economic changes, such as changes in agricultural practices and increasing tourism pressures. The management system will need to provide support to sustain the traditional systems and to provide benefits that will allow farmers to stay on the land.

Furthermore the setting of the various sites is fragile and under pressure from development particularly associated with tourism. The visual setting for the five sites extends beyond the boundaries and in many instances beyond the buffer zones. In a few cases some adverse development has already occurred. It will be essential to protect the wider context of the sites to avoid further loss of visual integrity. The management of water is also a critical element in maintaining the visual quality of the property.

The authenticity of the terraced landscapes, forests, water management structures, temples and shrines in terms of the way they convey Outstanding Universal Value and reflect the subak system is clear.

The overall interaction between people and the landscape is however highly vulnerable and, if the sites are still to reflect the harmonious relationship with the spiritual world and the ancient philosophical concept of Tri Hita Karana , it will be essential for the management system to offer positive support.

The village buildings have to a degree lost some of their authenticity in terms of materials and construction, although they are still functionally linked to the landscape.

 

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