Pounding the Grain

If you live in a remote rural village.  If you have a cash-strapped budget.  If you plant and harvest your own rice for family consumption.  If you don’t have a large family to help to the chores of the home; then you have no alternative but to use a “pilón” or rice pounder if you want to calm your hunger.

In some small villages in the countryside, farmers called “campesinos” still remove the chaff from clusters of rice using a wooded instrument called “pilón de arróz”—rice pounder.  A rice pounder is a solid piece of wood hollowed in the middle where the clusters of rice are placed and a woman or child uses a pounder to manually pound, and pound and pound the rice until the chaff is totally removed.  Some of these peasants are so skilled in the use of a pilón, that they can do it with only one hand.  The rice pounder is used in several African countries and in Southeast Asia as well.

Below are a couple of pictures of a typical Panamanian pilón still used in some back road villages of the countryside.  Here we go.

Snapshot of a "pilón" (rice pounder) with several pounders on the top. They are extremely efficient and don't need to be connected to the power grid. Photo ©Omar Upegui R.
Snapshot of a Panamanian "pilón" on display at Mi Pueblito in Panama City, Panama. Photo ©Omar Upegui R.

4 thoughts on “Pounding the Grain”

  1. I grew up on the old family farm in North Texas. My grandmother made lye soap in a big black pot. They made do with what they had. We were potato people. I really wasn’t around rice until I moved to Houston. Now I eat about the same amount of rice as I do potatoes.

  2. Hello Old Timer:

    Now that you have lived in Panama, you already know how much rice means to us. If there’s no rice in a meal, you haven’t eaten.

    We still eat potatoes, but they are not essential. I understand potatoes are a must in Ireland.

    Best Regards,


  3. Hello Omar,

    This picture reminds me of my great grandmother who, once upon a time, gave my older sister and I this command:

    ¡Niñas, a pilar! (in that case, corn…)

    As children, we didn´t have enough energies to lift a pilón’s pounder (Spanish, “hand”). So, my sister raised her eyebrows and we ran away laughing…

    No doubt the story generated by that picture has made my day!

    Thank you,

  4. Hello Hilda:

    I can understand your reaction. Those pounders sure look big and intimidating. My wife told me she used to “pound the grain” when she was a child. Most of the tough work at home was performed by women; men were off to the fields at daybreak and returned at dusk.

    I’m glad you are enjoying the stories and pictures.



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