Rice in Burma

man plowing the rice fields
Fr. Jack Nuelle, M.S.: As we celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the La Salette Missionaries beginning our ministry in Burma (Myanmar), we dip into our archives to republish an article which Fr. Charles Gendron wrote in Burma in 1973. He explains to friends and family how rice is planted and harvested. Over one-half of the world’s population has rice as a main diet, and among them are several countries where La Salette Missionaries live and work – Myanmar, Madagascar, India and the Philippines. In these countries rice production by small farmers still seems to be basically done the same today as it was when Fr. Charles wrote his letter.
Fr. Charles Gendron, M.S.: Rice is a very good basic food, but it is strange in a way. It needs so much water – and needs it at the right time! Here in Burma, from the last part of May much rain is needed for plowing the fields. Plowing is done with bullocks or water buffaloes right in the water and mud. Small rice beds are plowed first. These become nurseries where rice grains sprout into small plants. Meanwhile the rest of the fields are plowed. 
When the plowing is finished, each field must be divided by small mud dikes into manageable paddies whose size and shape vary according to the contour of the land. Now abundant rain is needed to flood the rice paddies. The system of small dikes allows water to flow evenly and be channeled from one paddy to another.
When the nursery plants are big enough, men dig them up, place them in bunches and bring them to a group of women who transplant them into the paddies. Often they can split the original plant and get several shoots to transplant.

An Interesting Side Note

man sowing rice
In Arakan, a section along the Bay of Bengal coast, planting is done simply by broadcasting seeds onto the flooded fields. Remember the Gospel text in Matthew 13:3-9 where Jesus tells the parable of the sower who sowed seeds in this manner? Therefore in that section of Arakan, women do no work in the fields at this time.
When it is ripe for harvesting, men go back into the paddies; all harvesting is done by hand. Mature rice stalks are cut, tied into sheaths and brought to a place near a village where the threshing is done. On a clean, smooth area prepared as the threshing ground, the sheathes are placed in a circular mound. Two bullocks are then walked around in a circle over the rice sheaths until all the grain from that particular mound has fallen onto the ground. The straw is then piled to one side, the grain is gathered and put in another place. This process is repeated until all the rice has been threshed. Now the women take over winnowing the rice, to get rid of the excess chaff. 
two bullocks threshing rice
Some rice is kept for local consumption. If there is a rice mill nearby, people might take it there to be milled and polished. But most likely they will do their own milling and polishing by hand. The rest is sold to the government which mills it and stores it in large warehouses.
Why is it important for a missionary to know about rice planting? For one thing it’s good to know where his next meal comes from! But most importantly, the cycle of plowing, planting, reaping, threshing and milling keeps people away from their villages. So it’s not a good time to think about spending long stretches with them. If he should need to visit them, he can hear confessions and offer Mass, but only at night around eight or so when people are free and at home. During the planting season breakfast is very early. At the crack of dawn, people are on their way to the fields.
Fr. Jack Nuelle, M.S.: I was privileged to be among La Salette Missionaries who took part in a few celebrations in Burma (Myanmar). In November 2005, five La Salettes were invited to return to Myanmar to minister to the Catholic population; in November 2012, thirteen native Myanmar La Salettes commemorated the 75th anniversary of the initial La Salette arrival in 1937; that same celebration was marked when seven young men who became La Salette Missionaries by the first profession of religious vows, and who now continue their formation and education toward Ordination.
La Salettes gather in front of Sacred Heart Church
in Akyab: front row (from left): Mike Blumm,
Steve Dressell, Jim Hogan, Jim Noonan, Bp. Newman
(seated), John O'Reilly, Lou Perpete, Joe Kettner
and Doc Lucy; back row (from left): Bro. Chit HIaing,
Charlie Gendron, John Good, Bro. Christopher David
(first Indian La Salette brother), and one Burmese brother.
Today all the North American (of U.S. and Canadian origin) La Salette Missionaries who ministered there have gone to their eternal reward. Like his fellow La Salette Missionaries, Fr. Charles Gendron, M.S., (knew the value of being with his people. Even after having been forced out of his ministry in Burma by an overbearing military government, his heart remained with them. This was evident from the stories of his adventures – and misadventures – which were always on his lips and ever imprinted on his heart. 
Fr. Charles was compelled by age and illness to follow the preparations for the return of La Salette Missionaries to Burma – which took place on November 18, 2005 – from the confines of the La Salette retirement residence in Hartford, CT. He talked so often about his desire to re-visit once more that enchanted land with its lovely, warm-hearted people. His constant prayer was that he would live long enough at least to celebrate that return together with other fellow Burmese missionaries – Steve Dressell, Mike Blumm, Doc Doherty and Charlie Rukus – who were also still alive in early 2005. 
God, however, had other plans for Fr. Charles. Instead, he was graced to celebrate the event with other deceased La Salette Missionaries who had ministered in Burma and who have also gone to their eternal reward: Bishop Thomas Newman, Frs. Wienczyslaw Weselak, John Doherty, Phil Gardner, John O’Reilly, Edware O’Sullivan, Arsene Proulx, Joseph Labonte, Adrien Des Marais, Francis Lucey, Charles McElhinney, James Mannering, James Noonan, Casimir Peredna, James Hogan, James Droney, Raoul Pronovost, Louis Perpete, John Good, and Joseph Kettner. 
All those zealous La Salette Missionaries forged paths and opened up roads so that the Gospel could be preached in Myanmar. May their celebrations of the return of La Salette Missionaries to this land that they loved and of the increase of their native vocations, be joyous ones that will last for eternity! May their intercessory prayers for the success of evangelization in Myanmar strengthen the young native La Salettes who, today, minister to their own people!
May the La Salettes who served in Burma in the early years and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.

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