Hundreds gathered to watch the Royal Plowing Ceremony in front of the National Museum on Monday, but many left disappointed by a royal no-show and an ominously indifferent pair of oxen—traditionally considered a bad portent for the coming rice harvest.
The two royal oxen were tempted with a traditional smorgasbord of beans, corn, grass, sesame, rice, water and wine, each presented in a golden bowl. But only one ox would eat; the other strolled away to seek shade under a nearby tree.
And while consuming about nearly all the beans, the hungry ox turned its nose up at rice, eating about a third of the bowl it was offered. According to white-robed royal astrologer Kang Ken, this foreshadows a poor rice harvest but a strong bean season. The five other delicacies on offer were sniffed at and ignored, he said during the ceremony.
In the absence of King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Norodom Monineath, who are in Beijing, the annual ceremony was presided over by Senate President Chea Sim and attended by members of parliament and the diplomatic corps.
The crowd included schoolchildren, Scouts, members of the military, vendors and motorbike taxi drivers. All watched solemnly as Oum Em, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of the Royal Palace, marched around the field behind the oxen, followed by Second Vice President of the National Assembly Ngoun Nhel and his wife, Teng Lov, undersecretary for the Ministry of Agriculture.
Farmers from Kompong Speu and Kompong Chhnang province were invited to attend the ceremony by Chea Sim this year.
Chin Yen, 63, a farmer from Kompong Speu’s Odong district, was worried by the oxen’s poor appetite for rice. “The beans had a good result, but beans are not important like rice,” he said.
“This year, the rice is not enough,” agreed Hok Kim, 58, a farmer from Kompong Chhnang. “I listen to the plowing ceremony on the radio every year, but this year I came to the ceremony. I am very happy, although I did not see the King,” she said.
Kim Korn, 64, also from Kompong Chhnang, said the results of the ceremony portend hard work for the farming community. “It means rice production is going to be low in the coming year, so we need to grow other plants to help our living conditions.”
At last year’s ceremony, gluttonous oxen gobbled up nearly all the rice they were given—predicting a highly fruitful harvest. But due to extremes of drought and flooding, last year’s harvest was poor, falling an estimated 140,000 tons short of an average year’s yield.