The Baduy of Indonesia
Location of Baduy area
The Baduy, who refer to themselves as the Kanekes, are a small group of ethnic Sundanese (the second largest ethnic group in Indonesia) that went into seclusion in the 16th century, rejecting foreign influence in order to preserve its view of traditional Sundanese society and values. The Baduy, with a current population estimated at roughly 12,000-13,000, live in a cluster of some 40-50 villages in a 50 km2 remote area in the Kendeng Mountains in Banten Province in western Java.
The Baduy attempt to preserve life in the manner in which they believe their ancestors intended. According to Marlina (2009), there are two overriding principles which guide them. The first is a belief in a single god, Batara Tunggal, who is said to live in the Kendeng Mountains, holy ground which humans are forbidden access to. The second is to protect the relationship between humans and the natural environment, the goal being the preservation of a sustainable society. As described by Iskandar (2007:115), among the traditional laws guiding Baduy life are: “The hill should not be destroyed…The valley should not be damaged…What is long should not be shortened…What is short should not be lengthened…” As a result the Baduy are proscribed from reshaping the land, which encompasses many more specific taboos, including prohibitions against wet rice cultivation (using only dry field cultivation), plowing the soil (planting is done with bamboo poles), digging wells, using fertilizers or pesticides, and so on. The Baduy use no inorganic materials in work, clothing or housing. To minimize impact to the land, houses rest not on the ground but are constructed on rocks that are not anchored in the earth but rest on rocks, which serve to protect the Earth and also level the platforms (Marlina 2009). There are a large number of other taboos, including prohibitions against wearing sandals or shoes, taking any form of conveyance, domesticating animals, using modern technology and electricity and more, all designed to retain harmony with the forest and rivers and avoid violence and confrontation.
There are two principal groups of Baduy: the Baduy Dalam, the ‘Inner Baduy’, and the Baduy Luar, the ‘Outer Baduy’. The Baduy Dalam number roughly 1,150 and live in tangtu telu kampung, the villages of Cibeo, Cikertawana, and Cikeusik. The Baduy Dalam adhere strictly to the traditional way of life; they are considered protectors of the balance with nature, caring for the forests, rivers, and mountains so that humans may live in harmony with the Earth. Historically they have had extremely limited contact with non-Baduy people. The Baduy Dalam wear white shirts and head coverings (a sign of purity) and gray skirts. The Baduy Luar, identifiable by their black clothing and characteristic blue batik, live in some 40 surrounding villages which provide a buffer, protecting the sanctity of the Baduy Dalam from the influences of the outside world. While still living in remote, rugged terrain, the Baduy Luar adhere less strictly to traditional culture, engaging the wider world in ways designed to help sustain the Baduy Dalam.
Recent economic developments have resulted in the Baduy having increased contact with the outside world, largely in the form of ecotourism. Additionally, business interests have designs on the resource-rich Baduy territory, posing an imminent threat to the Baduy and their way of life. The accompanying video is compelling statement by Ayah Karmain in which he expresses his worry about the survival of nature and the traditional Baduy way of life.
The video is part of an ongoing research collaboration project with faculty at Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia (Indonesian Education University) in Bandung, West Java. The first phase of the work was by the US Department of State through a Fulbright Research Grant and the University of Iowa through an Arts and Humanities Initiative grant. The members of the research team include: William Davies, Eri Kurniawan (who received a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Iowa in 2013), Che Retty Insendes, Hernawan, Ruswan Dallyono, R. Dian Dia-an Muniroh, and Temmy Ruyadi.
For the English transcript of the video, click here.
Marlina, Endy. 2009. Traditional community of Baduy, West Jawa: Toward architecture sustainability. Ms., Yogyakarta University of Technology.
Isklandar, Johan. 2007. Responses to environmental stress in the Baduy swidden system, South Banten, Java. In Roy Ellen (ed.), Modern crises and traditional strategies: Local ecological knowledge in island Southeast Asia, pp.112-132. Berghahn Books.
Project team with Ayah Karmain from left to right: Hernawan, Ruswan Dallyono, Eri Kurniawan, Temmy Ruyadi, Che Retty Isnendes
Baduy Dalam with project team