The Baduy Ethnic Tribe: West Java

Its not very often you come across a tribe who are keepers of their traditions and national heritage and are still surviving today. In a developing country like Indonesia, one such tribe lives far removed from the influences of the western world.

The Baduy: Keepers of tradition, natural heritage
Adji Kurniawan, Contributor, Banten

The Baduy ethnic tribe live in a territory located only around 165 kilometers west of Jakarta, in Banten province. As such, information obviously has easy access to the area, along with all its impacts. Moreover, the two nearby cities of Cilegon and Serang are growing rapidly, encroaching ever closer to the Baduy’s ancestral lands.

Even so, the Baduy community continue to observe their traditional way of life, through a strict and loyal adherence to their age-old customs.

The Baduy territory is divided into Baduy Dalam and Baduy Luar, or inner and outer districts. Visitors wishing to enter Inner Baduy have to travel through several villages, including Cijengkol in Outer Baduy.

This village is about three hours’ walk from Simpang Koranji, the last public transport terminal before reaching Baduy territory. The terrain leading to Cijengkol varies from rocky ground, hilly tracks and farmland to paddy fields. A white board and a field of pineapple bushes serve as a boundary between Baduy and non-Baduy territory. From here onwards, the rows of hills and woods adorning the territory are clearly visible, though the Baduy settlements are curiously obscured by dense foliage and hills.

Cijengkol has about 10 imah, or stilted houses, one of which belongs to Sarmin, 50, known to provide stopover facilities and lodging for tourists.

The village is made up of modest homes with wooden pillars, woven bamboo walls, palm-fiber-lined sago leaf roofs as well as wooden and bamboo couches in front. Using only local materials, the dwellings are built without nails or pegs, and are unpainted. Yellow plastic twine, however, is used to fasten the roofs.

“Palm fibers are now more expensive than plastic cords,” said Sarmin.

At night, Cijengkol is dark, as the neat and well-arranged homes have no electricity, and light comes only from wood stoves and small oil lamps. It’s so quiet that only the sound of bamboo trees rustling in the breeze can be heard.

The Baduy people, according to Sarmin, embrace the faith of Sunda Wiwitan. Baduy’s custom and heritage chief, who is also the head of the indigenous religion, is called pu’un. There are three chiefs in Baduy Dalam.

“Members of the Baduy community go on a fast, or kawalu, every year,” Sarmin said.

Kawalu ends with a feast day led by the pu’un called ngalaksa, the equivalent of Idul Fitri at the end of the Muslim fasting month, Ramadhan.

Sarmin said that the Baduy had refused the government’s cash aid for the poor in compensation for the fuel hike. The designation “poor” had prompted locals to turn down the assistance, because they thought many people were more disadvantaged than they. “If the aid had used a label other than “poor”, they might have accepted it,” he added.

Why were the Baduy people bold enough to reject cash aid? It is because the Baduy are already self-sufficient in food, clothing and shelter within the structure of their modest lifestyle.

This is reflected in the daily diet of Baduy families, comprising rice, fish, tempeh, tofu, salad and sambal (chili sauce). Most of the food — including cooking oil — come from their farms, while fabrics and clothing are locally produced except salt and fish, which have to be purchased. Their income mainly originates in the sales of vegetables, fruits, honey and handicrafts. In other words, the Baduy people are not consumers.

Beyond the bridge

Visiting the Baduy would not be complete without entering Inner Baduy, whose residents are the Tangtu. From Cijengkol, the terrain is no less challenging, with natural paths, farmland, woods, rivers and undulating tracks.

A bamboo bridge spans Ciujung River, which separates Inner and Outer Baduy. About 10 meters long, the bridge was built by binding bamboo stems with palm fiber ropes. Two big trees on opposite banks serve as supporting pillars, making it solid and safe, though it may be simple in appearance.

Cikartawarna is one of three villages in Inner Baduy. It is deserted during the day, because most villagers are working on their farms and in the woods. The rows of stilted houses are built atop rock-packed foundations to make them resistant to landslides.

The next village is Cibeo, an hour’s walk from Cikatawarna through bamboo copses, several outdoor “showers” made from channeled springs, and granaries. The interior set-up of its houses is not very different from that in Cikatawarna. For instance, in the tepas, or sitting room, of villager Sanif’s home, no modern furnishings like chairs, tables and mattresses are to be found, let alone a radio or a TV, and only a stove and utensils made of wood or bamboo are found in the kitchen.

Inner Baduy residents who have never left the district are generally reticent and inclined to be visitor-shy, perhaps due to their rare interaction with outsiders. But some of them are fairly fluent in Bahasa Indonesia and more open to guests, like 24-year-old Sanif. He claimed to have walked to Jakarta and other areas several times.

“I’ve got some acquaintances in Jakarta,” he said.

The Tangtu and Panamping

The Baduy, or Urang Kanekes, as they prefer to be called, live around valleys, hills and Kanekes River in groups made up of the Tangtu and the residents of Outer Baduy, or the Panamping. As inhabitants of Kanekes, the Panamping are part of the community and must thus obey all the rules imposed on them by the pu’un.

This community has its own way of resisting the various elements and forces of modern culture.

Tangtu men are usually dressed in a white, hand-sewn, long-sleeved shirt without collars or buttons and match black sarongs below, while the Tangtu women members wear a white kebaya (traditional blouses) and black cloths that are wrapped around to form skirts.

Their Panamping male counterparts, in contrast, are clad in black, with Panamping females wearing black or dark blue blouses. The other Baduy characteristics are headdresses and daggers strapped to the waist, and they walk without any footwear, even on long treks.

Cikartawarna, Cibeo and Cikeusik are the three Tangtu villages that are inhabited only by those Baduy who obey the entire set of customs, including traditional prohibitions. Among others, prohibitions include smoking, committing crimes like fighting and killing, divorce and traveling by transportation — they must walk barefoot when going to Merak, Jakarta or Bandung.

Tangtu customs also ban several kinds of modern commodities like electricity and electronics. The Inner Baduy believe that if they possess prohibited goods, they will become mamala, or cursed.

All houses are searched periodically for forbidden goods by the Baduy’s “security officers”, called baresan, as ordered by the pu’un.

Meanwhile, the Panamping are found in the western, eastern and northern parts bordering Inner Baduy. Their customs are more lenient than the Tangtu’s.

For example, they are not banned from traveling by car when going to a city. But both Tangtu and Panamping members are not allowed to go to school. In their view, schooling makes them intelligent, and smart people sometimes become greedy, justifying any means to become wealthy and finally rejecting the Baduy custom and heritage. Thus, the knowledge the Baduy hand down to their children is limited to ngored, or farming skills, conservation and wise utilization of resources.

Any violation of customary prohibitions is liable to verbal warnings and punitive measures, with total banishment from the Baduy region as the severest verdict.

Preserving a way of life

Prohibitions are also applied to non-Baduy visitors: Mongoloid, ethnic African and Caucasian people are banned from entering Inner Baduy. In other words, international tourists are only permitted to visit Panamping. If this custom is breached, it is the Tangtu themselves who will face kuwalat or pamali — retribution for disrespectful conduct.

Visitors are also only allowed to stay for one night.

Guests are denied entry to Inner Baduy during the kawalu fasting period. Taking pictures is also forbidden in Inner Baduy, and those who are photographed in this area must fast the whole day. Even among the Panamping, some Outer Baduy members refuse to be photographed, so visitors should seek their permission first.

Rivers are Baduy’s main source of fresh water for cooking, washing and bathing. The Baduy care very much about river conservation so the use of polluting products is banned, including soap, detergent, shampoo and toothpaste.

Also, flashlights should be used minimally when going to the bathing springs or walking at night, and speech, laughter and joking must be controlled so as not to cause a disturbance.

While these rules might be a deterrent, visitors should remember that they are guests of a unique culture and a people who have maintained their traditional way of life, even against the intense wave of modernization.

Travel tips

From Jakarta, visitors can go by car or public transport. The most economical way is taking a train from Kota to Rangkasbitung station, where minibuses take passengers from the terminal to Simpang Koranji, the last village accessible to vehicles.

Among the gateways to Outer Baduy most frequently used by tourists are Ciboleger and Simpang Koranji. The route is more difficult from Ciboleger due to its hilly terrain, whereas the route from Koranji is easier but longer. After trekking from Koranji, visitors may spend the night in Cijengkol, the farthest point international visitors are permitted. Cijengkol is a good place to directly observe the Baduy custom and communal life. Local tourists can continue their hike to Inner Baduy the next morning.

Wear shoes or sandals designed for trekking, and sweat-absorbing clothing like cotton T-shirts. Hats, flashlights, and rain coats or ponchos are also indispensable, along with sleeping bags and personal needs such as medicine, food and drink.