Friday, March 9, 2012, 00:00

Local wisdom shows the way

By Andre Vltchek

Local wisdom shows the way Page 22 young girl.jpg

The sound of Baduy women pounding rice grain can be heard from afar when we walk around the village of Kaduketug. It is a sight rarely seen in other rice-producing villages of Indonesia.

There is no hunger here, says our guide Iwa Sarwan, who was deputed by the local head of government affairs to take us through the Baduy villages. In every village here, there are leuit (granaries) to feed our people.

According to their sacred rules, the people of Baduy can cultivate only un-irrigated rice fields.

The leuit are for keeping rice stocks as well as conserving rice seeds, explains Sentanu Hindrakusuma, an expert on community development and environment conservation based in Bandung, West Java.

During every harvest, they select seeds to be conserved as indung pare (mother seeds). Another local wisdom is their concept of cultivars rotation. They have more than 23 types of rice cultivars. They dont plant the same cultivars consecutively to cut off chains of diseases and pests. They also follow the first in, first out concept in their granaries, so they will cook the first batch of rice that enters the granary. Dont be surprised if you are served rice from a harvest 10 years ago.

According to Prof Robert Wessing from Northern Illinois University, who authored a paper on the position of the Baduy in the larger West Javanese society, the Sundanese people of West Java consider the Baduy as the padoman (guide) to proper behavior.

As the preservers of the sacred rules, the Baduy fulfil two important functions in Sundanese society, Wessing writes. First, they maintain cosmic harmony and second, they serve as an actual example of how the old adat (sacred rules) should be practiced, which explains the interest in Baduy customs among the Sundanese.

But the way the Baduy preserve the tradition of a self-sustained community is not seen in many places in Indonesia any more. Indonesia used to produce enough rice for its own consumption once, but no more now.

When I was young, there were many granaries in the villages in East Java, says Didiek Purnomo, chief executive officer of Wahana Sarana Jati, a mining, trading and engineering company. Now I dont see granaries anymore there. It is interesting that the Baduy people can be self-sustained. Although they refused a grant of Indonesian rupiah 1 billion ($111,800) from the government, they are still able to buy land outside their customary area.

The Baduy people occupy 5,136 hectares, with 3,000 hectares of protected forests. They are determined to keep the protected forests in their area as it means that they also protect 20 points of water springs. When they need more rice to feed the increased population in their villages, they prefer to buy land outside rather than convert the protected forests to fields.

I find their local wisdoms very interesting, says Rachmad Mekaniawan, a civil engineer from Jakarta. The granaries in Baduy are different from those in Karawang. In Karawang, the rice can be consumed or bought by people from outside. In Baduy, it is strictly for its own consumption. For this, the Baduy need granaries safe from theft. The harvesting system and distribution of rice is strictly ruled by their puun (sacred leader).

The Baduy know about ecological footprint, says Susy Nataliwati, a researcher in Japanese study at the University of Indonesia. They understand that one act of damaging the environment will affect a place far from the origin and the results are often unimaginable.

The community adheres to many customary rules about conserving the environment: Not to litter, not to use soaps and shampoos when taking a bath in the river, building houses on stilts as not to damage the land, not to use fertilizers and chemical pesticides for their rice fields.

Architecturally, their dwellings and villages are not as unique as Kampung Naga in Garut, West Java, says Aries Daryanto, an architect from Jakarta. Their houses are too simple in their layouts and the roofing system is not as sophisticated as in Bali. Also, there is no effort to decorate their houses with religious symbols.

But one thing that they dont have in Kampung Naga or Bali is that Baduy houses always have terraces or patios. They use the patios for weaving. This is a very good example of how to be productive while being open to visitors and talking to them.