Everybody who was anybody was there to watch Sunday as the palace oxen performed the colorful Royal Plowing Ceremony in front of the National Museum.
The King, the Queen, Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh, as well as the parliament and the diplomatic corps, ignored the stifling heat to take part in the ceremony.
Even the oxen sparkled, from the golden cloths draped across their massive backs to their horns sheathed in scarlet. Fortunately for the nation’s farmers, all that splendor gave them a hearty appetite.
To be specific, after plowing their furrow the oxen ate 97 percent of the rice, 95 percent of the corn and soy beans, 65 percent of the sesame, washed down with 50 percent of the water. They sniffed the wine (but didn’t drink) and ignored the grass entirely.
It all means a good harvest for farmers in the year ahead, according to the royal astrologer.
Thousands watched the stately march from the Royal Palace to the parade ground, where two of the king’s grandchildren—Prince Sisowath Chivannariddh and Princess Norodom Rattana Devi—marched around the field with three pairs of oxen.
The prince is the son of Minister of Culture Princess Bopha Devi and an undersecretary of state for tourism. The princess is the daughter of Prince Ranarridh, president of the National Assembly.
The gorgeousness of the pageant, from the gleaming gold silks to the jewel-colored banners fluttering in the breeze, turned downtown into a huge street fair, drawing together vendors and students, soldiers, street urchins and the occasional tourist.
The King invited farmers from districts surrounding Phnom Penh to attend. Noth Chea, 52, from Kandal Stung district in Kandal province, said he was encouraged by the good forecast.
His neighbor Sao Kong, 51, said he wasn’t so sure, because farmers in his area are already having trouble with rats eating the dry-season rice.
Preb Chhorn, 67, from Chbar Mon district in Kompong Speu, said he hopes the forecast turns out to be accurate. His neighbor Ouk Sorn, 51, said she was thrilled to see the ceremony live.
“Since I was young,’’ she said, “I used to only watch on TV.’’
She noted that the King’s organization also gave her a krama, mosquito net, blanket, sarong and 20,000 riel. “I am very happy,’’ she said.