[FOUNTAIN]Supernatural riceRice has long been a staple of mankind. While it varies from one region to another, it is generally known that mankind started to cultivate the grains of rice plants and consume them in about 7,000 B.C.
Indians first raised rice plants. Chinese people did not consume the grain for another two millennia. Koreans started to eat rice in about 2,000 B.C., when the grain was imported from China.
Rice types are broadly divided into Japanese rice and Indian rice. Japan, Korea, China, Brazil, Spain, and California produce the Japanese variety. Indian rice is mainly cultivated in Southeast Asian countries, Southern China, India, and the southern part of the United States. Rice is now grown all over the world.
But rice is consumed mainly by Asians. Ninety-two percent of global production comes from Asia. For non-Asians, rice is a secondary cereal grain, but in Asia, rice is the single most important grain and is an indispensable resource for life. Rice is not just another grain; it is a culture, a life and history. There are hundreds of legends and myths about rice.
One of the Southeast Asian myths claims that rice originates from the body of a dead woman. Along with millet, coconut palm, and sago palm, rice was born from a human body. The myths consider rice as an individual with a soul, and therefore people handle rice with care. Southeast Asians do not throw away or waste rice because it has a spirit.
The Lao people of northern Thailand and Laos are well-known for exceptional respect for rice. They believe that rice cultivation is not an economic activity but a supernatural religious ritual. Another tribe, the Lamets, also believe that there is a rice spirit, and if the spirit leaves the village, the rice bins will be empty out and the village will suffer a famine.
In Cancun, Mexico, a World Trade Organization meeting has just ended.
The meeting and its aftermath will determine the fate of the culture, legends, and business of rice. The Lamets and Laos did not send representatives to the WTO meeting. They do not understand why the fate of their culture and survival is being discussed at the meeting.
Instead of taking away and destroying the culture and legends of Asian people, would it not be possible for the World Trade Organization to create a globalization of hope for all mankind.
by Kim Seok-hwan
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.