The Practice of Shifting Cultivation by Our Ancestors

The Practice of Shifting Cultivation by Our Ancestors

The Practice of Shifting Cultivation by Our Ancestors

By Zoensangi Ralte

Nature is a force that we must learn to co-exist with, have respect for the planet that give you livelihood, don’t pluck flowers and plants unless it is for herbal purpose; they are living beings too.

These are the words that our grandparents instilled in us ever since we were young of age. It was understandable in their perspective because their own grandparents have taught them such values; what they might have simple conceive as a cautionary measure for their own grandkids open up the fascinating world and ideas of our ancestors that we can retrace from this generation.

Our ancestors who based their livelihood on the forest that surround their community strictly believe that nature was not only a gift giver but it was also a lifetaker; as such each expedition the young heroes are expose to are planed with caution. Each life taken was given a meaning in regards to their existence and each land they plough and harvest from, they know they must return it to mother nature. A person who work weeks at a time without any break cannot be expected to remain vigorous and vivacious. Similarly, land that is constantly use for cultivation cannot retain its vitality.

The wise elders are the ones who decides on the fertility of the land; they would observe the state of the soil, the condition of the trees and the type of plants that grew in the given areas. They would also check on the spirit of the forest; whether if the area contains any ‘Huai’ which was a bad spirit that could disturbed the family who practice cultivation on the land. If the land was indeed fertile and there was no sign of bad spirits; then our ancestors would claim the land as their own until the day they return it to their tenant, mother nature.

A fertile land is then cleared for cultivation; the plants that grew there were slashed and then burned. Then the seeds were planted and the land provided them with harvest for some years until the land become weaker and the number of harvest decreases. That is when the elders and the young heroes alike set out to find new land for cultivation.

Though the believe system regarding Shifting Cultivation changes throughout the years and the farmers today practice this method only for it’s use and because of an understanding that nature need to reclaim these lands in order to prevent soil erosion. It was indeed a valuable lesson that our ancestors taught us.

There are some cautions that one must take in the practice of this system; if one is not careful then there are often cases of forest fire, the air is always gloomy after clearing the land through fire (it will cause air pollution should this practice be done in a large-scale project or so) and lastly; it is a bargaining with nature. Unless the farmer owns two or more lands that he can shift from, then the land would never truly belong to the farmer for s/he must leave it for nature to regain it. After all, it is a method of give and take. 

The idea of clearing a forest and burning its remains was horrifying for a child who was not even allow to pluck flowers in case of hurting the plants; but years put some reason in the child’s mind and that child learns the idea of give and take; the bargaining between men and nature. Men can never win; they might think they escape the system due to advance in technology but are they winning when the very air they breathe will chokes them?