As dusk falls in Langthel, three couples, who are sowing paddy on dry land, make haste.

They are sowing paddy in Pemba’s 70-decimal land on a gentle slope. A large expanse of freshly burnt land before them remains to be sown.

It is a unique way of cultivating kamja or upland paddy.

Unlike the usual paddy cultivation that requires water, the kamja is cultivated with men holding a four meter-long bamboo stick with a sharpened wood tied to its tip, women hang a bag filled with paddy seeds over her neck.

Men and women work in pairs.

Men dig the ground to make deep hole with the stick at a fast pace. Women sow with paddy seeds from the bags.

The number of men and women depends on the size of the field. The farmers make sure that every hole is filled. They try to maintain equal distance between each hole.

Pemba has sown 15 dreys of paddy seeds that day. He has about five dreys left. Drey is a traditional grain-measuring instrument that weighs little more than a kilogramme. He is sowing them in more than an acre of land where he cleared for tseri, a slash and burn cultivation.

Pemba cultivated kamja since he does not own enough wetland. The government developed new paddy fields for the villagers but they are yet to receive the irrigation.

“We are also in the process of clearing stones from the new paddy fields,” he said.

Lemo, 38, from Thrathpong also sowed 16 dreys of kamja in about an acre. She cultivates kamja every year since she doesn’t have much wetland.

Lemo said unlike before not many cultivate kamja today. “It is because the government was discouraging slash and burn cultivation and imported rice are easily available.”

Sangay Dema from Barsa village also cultivated 13 dreys of paddy seeds recently. She said farmers preserved seeds for the subsequent years. They had to borrow from their neighbours otherwise.

Recalling her experience, Lemo said many such practices have vanished although some people continue to cultivate them. Those days, the couples competed with each other.

“If a man hit the woman’s hands with the stick, he was penalised with a bottle of locally brewed liquor. The woman faces the same fate if the man slipped because she have pulled off the stick,” she said. “This no longer happens.”

Pemba said the practice of cultivating kamja is unpopular today as it used to be.

“People used to maintain their own bamboo sticks and carried them along whenever they went for kamja cultivation,” he said. Today, farmers prepare the sticks only when needed.

Farmers slash and burn forests for kamja cultivation annually. They do not till land. Instead they can bore holes and sow them. They have to sweep the field once they finished sowing so that the seeds are covered. This will save them from birds.

Village elders said the owner of the land should build a hut in the middle of the fields and there should be a container of bangchang or locally brewed wine. Workers drank bangchang as and when they hit the top of the fields starting from the bottom.

Ugyen Norbu said men bored holes in to the bamboo stick and put small stones to produce rattling sound and irritate others.

“This is no more happening today,” he said.

Nima Wangdi | Trongsa