The three pairs of royal oxen looked unsteady on their legs as they were driven to plow Meru Field in Phnom Penh on Friday. They were put to work for one hour before two of them were presented with seven types of food on golden trays; tradition has it that their choice of meal would foretell the condition of this year’s weather and crop.
They ate only three items and did not touch the water, which made the royal astrologer predict “a fair amount of rain for farming, and no serious flooding.” But 72-year-old Keo Peanh, who had come to hear the astrologer’s words, was not so positive. “If there’s to be enough rain as the astrologer has predicted, the oxen should have drank some [water],” she said.
King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Norodom Monineath attended the plowing ceremony in spite of the stifling heat, along with Prime Minister Hun Sen, National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Senate President Chea Sim and other government officials and diplomats.
Since the oxen ate 80 percent of the soybean, 60 percent of the corn and 20 percent of the rice, ignoring water, alcohol, sesame and grass, the astrologer said, “the forecast for the Year of the Snake should be fairly good for soybean, corn and rice crops.”
“But since the royal oxen didn’t eat grass and sesame, my forecast is that there’ll be worms on them,” he added.
Earlier in the day, thousands had gathered to watch Chan Sarun, who drove the plow, get carried on a sedan chair from the Royal Palace to the field. His wife was carried in a hammock.
Chan Sarun, undersecretary of state for agriculture, is considered the official most likely to replace Minister of Agriculture Chhea Song, who passed away earlier this year.
Two grandchildren of the King, Prince Sisowath Chivannariddh and Princess Rottana Devi, drove the plow at last year’s ceremony.
Among the spectators were about 100 farmers from Takeo and Kompong Chhnang provinces who came dressed in black and wore kramas around their heads and necks. Hun Hat, who represented farmers from Kompong Chhnang province, was thrilled to be there. “I can see this gorgeous event with my eyes. Before, I had only seen it on television.”