Monday, March 12, 2012, 00:00

Caught in a time warp

By Rossie Indira

Caught in a time warp Page 22 Ms Daisah.jpg

Caught in a time warp Page 22 Part of  Kaduketug village.jpg

Caught in a time warp Page 22 Visitors.jpg

Caught in a time warp Page 22 Main access.jpg

Look at the map and it appears that the Baduy villages are right there, near you, some 150 km from the capital as the crow flies. But try to drive there and everything suddenly changes.

The journey takes at least six hours on the unmarked and potholed roads of West Java, and that is only to reach the entry point.

Indonesian infrastructure is in a shambles: There are no services of international standards along the road, no road markers, no direction signs. We had to use our maps constantly, often consulting our compass on the iPhone, asking for the way to Ciboleger village the gateway to the ancient world of the Baduy people.

So what is this secretive, mysterious culture in the middle of over-populated West Java?

Near the western slope of Mt Kendeng, the 12,000-strong Baduy tribe lives in 52 villages. Three of these are in the inner circle of Baduy Dalam, an area where no foreigner can enter and no photographs can be taken.

The locals say foreigners were banned because the Baduy people had some very painful experience with the Dutch occupiers during the long colonial era.

In both outer and inner Baduy, all modern equipment, including computers and mobile phones, is banned for the locals, although habitually allowed for visitors in the outer part.

Strict behavior codes apply as well as dress codes. There is a long list of taboos: Baduy people are not allowed to marry outsiders; if they do, they are expelled from the area. Children are not allowed to study in Indonesian schools, as a result falling fully under the control of the clan from an early age.

If to reach the Baduy outer villages is almost impossible, the world of Baduy Dalam is almost completely barred to outsiders, both geographically and in terms of access permits. Even if a guide and permit can be obtained for Indonesians, the paths are so steep and muddy during the rainy season that only those with great stamina and in good health can undertake the journey.

The Baduy themselves reject all motorized vehicles. They are also not allowed to wear shoes. As a result, they walk barefoot between the villages. Even if they have to go to the capital, they walk barefoot for days and nights.

Baduy people have their own language, which they call the Kanekes language with some form of archaic Sundanese dialect. They have their own legends, their herbalists, alternative medicine, brilliant weavers and organic farmers.

On top of all that they have their own religion. It is an animist faith, ancient, deep and self-contained. It is the only faith the Baduy people have. However, the Indonesian state recognizes only Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism and since recently, the teaching of Confucius. All other religions are banned.

To make it more complicated, the official religion has to be mentioned in citizens identity cards. It means the Baduy are forced to pretend that they belong where they dont.

There is tension between the Baduy people and the state as the former want to be recognized and accepted for what they are. But their uncompromising stands are not making the situation easier.

The village of Kaduketug is the main entry point to the Baduy universe. It has two parts: The one which borders Ciboleger and therefore the world belonging to the outside with its parking lot, convenience store, workshops and truck repair yards; and the inner one where Baduy customs are implemented.

While Ciboleger has a school and a library, as well as numerous shops and local services, the other one is quiet and serene, with people dressed in beautiful traditional outfits, with no driveways, noise or exhaust fumes.

The jaro pamarentahan (head of government affairs) is Dainah, who, like many Baduy people, has only one name. Dainah says his life is not easy as he has to protect his people and also appease the authorities outside.

I am often torn, he says. I have to fulfill two obligations, one towards my people and the other one towards the nation. Our main goal here is to preserve the legacy, to live in symbiosis with nature.

The 52 villages are located on 5.136 hectares, of which about 3.000 hectares consist of hutan lindung the protected forest. It is all community land; there is no private land ownership. The state is supposed to provide the Baduy with legal protection.

Although foreigners are not allowed to travel to Baduy Dalam, we managed to talk to those who were born and grew up there.

H. Kasim lived in Cibeo village, Baduy Dalam, until the age of 30. Now he is chairman of the Golkar Party in Lebak regency of Banten province. He is also a businessman.

When I was young, there were only four people who could read and write in the entire Baduy area, he recalls. I was one of them. None of us were allowed to go to a formal school, but I was eager to learn and with determination I was able to advance myself in terms of education. My friends and I had to study on our own.

Kasim says that there are tough sanctions for those who dont follow the adat the set of sacred rules.

I took the risk and left, he says. (But) I still respect the people who stayed and think of myself as part of them.

Apart from preserving their adat which includes customs, rituals, obligations and taboos the main struggle of the Baduy is for their own religion, Sunda Wiwitan, to be recognized by the Indonesian state as one of the formal religions that could be listed in their IDs. But it still appears to be an uphill battle, Kasim says.

Houses in Kaduketug are built of wood, with wide patios. In striking contrast with many rural dwellings of West Java, these are almost spotless.

I am very impressed with the cleanliness of Baduy villages, says Rachmad Mekaniawan, a civil engineer from Jakarta. When I was there, I looked around for garbage bins and could not find one. One of the Baduy people who accompanied us told me that in every house there is a sack hanging on the wall especially for garbage.

Women in elegant traditional outfits can be seen weaving manually on the patios.

Sari Arwan, cloth weaver, 35, has a 17-year-old daughter Anah. Anah is now expecting a child. They live in the center of Kaduketug.

I didnt go to school as formal education was not allowed, Sari says. But I managed to learn to read and write. Now weaving is my profession. In Baduy, we are not allowed to use machines, so all our products are handmade.

Another difference between inner and outer Baduy is that, she adds, outer Baduy can use colorful threads for clothes, but the three villages of inner Baduy have to weave only in black, dark blue and white.

Daisah Hideung, a 29-year-old weaver, says electricity is not allowed.

If we want to watch television, we go outside, she says. You can see children gathering at one of the warungs (local stores) to watch television.

The villages get their water supplies from wells or from the river. The head of the village makes sure that there is always public water supply. But in outer Baduy, Daisah says there are rich people who get water using pipes.

We are not allowed to use mobile phones, she adds. But as you can see, some of us are using them.

The world of the Baduy is multifaceted but fragile. If changes arrive too quickly or too forcefully, the entire fabric of this fascinating and self-sufficient society could collapse.

For centuries, the Baduy have been able to defend their own beliefs, surviving almost entirely on their own ingenuity and resources. But perhaps now it is time they begin to negotiate with the outside world. For the sake of their children and the younger generations.