Mud baths and face­plants: Run­ning buf­faloes Thai style

Muscat Daily - - WORLD -

Chon­buri, Thai­land - Lan­guidly plough­ing flooded paddy-fields, Thai­land’s buf­faloes don’t usu­ally strike peo­ple as the quick­est of beasts. But farm­ers in east­ern Thai­land on Sun­day showed off their fastest bovines in a unique, muddy speed test.

The race is the high­light of an an­nual rice plant­ing fes­ti­val in Chon­buri, two hours east of the cap­i­tal Bangkok, where a small group of lo­cal farm­ers try to keep the tra­di­tion alive even if most of their fields are now ploughed by trac­tor.

Through­out the day pairs of buf­faloes at­tached to a wooden plough thun­dered down a flooded field as hu­man driv­ers at­tached by a rope des­per­ately tried to keep up be­hind their charg­ing beasts. “To win, the buf­falo and the racer need to pass the fin­ish­ing line to­gether,” ex­plained Jai In­drama­porn, a wiz­ened 73 year old buf­falo owner. “If the racer falls, then he’s dis­qual­i­fied.”

Many rac­ers found them­selves face­plant­ing into the mud, spark­ing cheers and laugh­ter from the crowds. But for those who stayed at­tached and won, glory awaited.

For cen­turies Thais re­lied on wa­ter buf­falo to plough their rice pad­dies, pro­vide trans­porta­tion and even de­fend vil­lages dur­ing war, but with mech­a­nised farm­ing the an­i­mals have seen their im­por­tance di­min­ish.

Lo­cal of­fi­cial Sa­mart Suk- sawang said the fes­ti­val was about re­mind­ing young­sters of the cru­cial role beloved bovines played for farm­ers in what is one of the world’s great rice grow­ing na­tions. “I want to pre­serve it so that the new gen­er­a­tion can see that in the old days, to do rice farm­ing we used buf­falo to plough and rake the rice fields.”

Lo­cals say the idea to race buf­faloes be­gan gen­er­a­tions back as a way to blow off steam af­ter the ar­du­ous plough­ing sea­son. Now rac­ing buf­faloes are specif­i­cally bred for the sport, taught to obey the com­mands and whis­tles of their own­ers. The most suc­cess­ful can sell for up to 300,000 baht (US$8,800).


A farmer rides on the back of a wooden plough tied to a pair of rac­ing buf­faloes dur­ing the an­nual Thai rice plant­ing fes­ti­val in Chon­buri on Sun­day

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