World heritage listing
proposed for `subak' system

The Indonesian government has proposed Bali's subak traditional agricultural system be considered for the World Heritage List, for exemplifying effective water usage and management, an official said Wednesday.

Hari Untoro, director general for historical cultural preservation at the Culture and Tourism Ministry, said at the opening of a conference by the South and Southeast Asia Association for the Study of Culture and Religion (SSEASR), that subak agricultural systems had been successfully implemented by Balinese farmers for centuries.

"Indonesians are very proud to have such an effective system of water management for the welfare of farmers," Untoro said.

Subak is not only a farming system, it also embraces tradition and religion in its practice. Within the subak system, Balinese farmers regulate their water usage for irrigating their rice paddies and plantations in a fair and effective way.

The subak system also incorporates various traditional and religious activities to support the agricultural community of Bali.

However, the rapid development of the tourism industry in Bali has seriously threatened the existence of subak.

Indonesia previously proposed a number of historical and environmental sites in Bali, including Jatiluwih subak rice paddies in Tabanan regency, Taman Ayun Water Temple and Tukan Pakerisan River in Gianyar, as UNESCO world heritage sites.

"UNESCO discovered some shortcomings in our proposal last year, so they named other locations as world heritage sites," he added.

The conference, being held at the Denpasar Institute of Arts (ISI) and the Hindu University (UNHI) from June 3 to 6, features 600 scholars from 63 countries discussing various topics related to culture and religion.

Themed "Waters in South and Southeast Asia: Interaction of Culture and Religion", the forum will highlight the role of water in creating links between various cultures in South and Southeast Asia through river channels, straits and seas.

In his paper, Bal Ram Singh, director of the Center for Indian Studies at the University of Massachusetts, said major faiths that incorporate ritual washing (purification) include Christianity, Hinduism and Islam.

Water has long been intertwined with power (kinship) and political and social institutions in the region. The majority of ancient civilizations were built along rivers, water channels and coastal areas.

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