BADUY

BADUY

The Baduy are one of the most unusual groups in Indonesia. Nobody really knows anything about them. Their villages are closed to outsiders especially during their sacred rituals. Practically the only thing they eat is rice and they seem to spend most of their time communicating with spirits. They are throught to have retreated to the mountains when Islam came to their homeland and they fled there to keep their religious customs alive. Generals and politicians sometimes seek them out for their perceived ability to see into the future. [Source: Harvey Arden, National Geographic, March 1981]

Ed Davies of Reuters wrote: “Despite their proximity to the Indonesian capital, the Baduy might as well be a world away as they live in almost complete seclusion, observing customs that forbid using soap, riding vehicles and even wearing shoes. Within a 50 square kilometers (20 square mile) area in the shadow of Mount Kendeng, the Baduy people cling to their reclusive way of life despite the temptations of the modern world. No one is certain of their origin. Some anthropologists think they are the priestly descendents of the West Java Hindu kingdom of Pajajaran and took refuge in the limestone hills where they now live after resisting conversion to Islam in the 16th century. They speak an archaic version of Sundanese, a language spoken by many in this part of western Java.” [Source: Ed Davies, Reuters, November 27, 2008]

The Baduy (or Badui) call themselves Urang Kanekes. Urang means people in Sundanese, Kanekes is the name of their sacred territory, located in the Kendeng Mountain in south Banten, Java. live in the western part of the Indonesian province of Banten, near Rangkasbitung. There are 5,000 to 11,700 of them depending on how they are counted. Their population is centered in the Kendeng mountains at an elevation of 300–500 meters above sea level. Their homeland in Banten, Java is contained in just 50 square kilometers mi) of hilly forest area 120 kilometers from Jakarta. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Ethnically the Baduys belong to the Sundanese ethnic group. Their racial, physical and linguistic traits bear much resemblance to the rest of the Sundanese people; however, the difference is in their way of life. Baduy people resist foreign influences and vigorously preserve their ancient way of life, while modern Sundanese are more open to foreign influences and a majority are Muslims. The Baduy speak a dialect derived from archaic Sundanese. However, modern Sundanese and Javanese influences in their archaic dialect can be heard in their speech. The Baduy are divided into two sub-groups; the Baduy Dalam (Inner Baduy), and the Baduy Luar (Outer Baduy). No foreigners were allowed to meet the Inner Baduy, though the Outer Baduy do foster some limited contacts with the outside world. The origin of the word Baduy may come from the term "Bedouin", although other sources claim the source is a name of a local river. +

Some people believe that the Baduy are the descendants of the aristocracy of the Sunda Kingdom of Pajajaran who lived near Batutulis in the hills around Bogor but there is no strong evidence to support this belief yet; their domestic architecture follows most closely the traditional Sundanese architecture. Pakuwan Pajajaran port known as Sunda Kelapa, was destroyed by invading Faletehan (Fatahillah) Muslim soldiers in 1579, Dayeuh Pakuan the capital of Pajajaran, was invaded by Banten Sultanate some time later. Another theory suggests that they originate in northern Banten; pockets of people in the northern hills still speak the archaic dialect of Sunda that the Baduy use. +

Baduy Religion and Taboos

Ed Davies of Reuters wrote: “Blending ancient Hinduism and animism, the Baduy believe their homeland -- Pancer Bumi -- is the center of the world and that they were the first people on earth who must follow a strict set of rules to prevent disaster striking. Renowned for their mystical powers, Baduy leaders, known as pu'un, conduct rituals in a secret spot called Arca Domas surrounded by megaliths to appease ancestral spirits and gods. On the surface at least their way of life appears primitive, but experts who have studied their farming techniques say they are well attuned to their environment. For example, they are forbidden to use metal hoes, helping to prevent soil erosion, when cultivating a dry variety of rice. Nonetheless, the long list of taboos often appear to make their lives unreasonably tough. School education, glass, alcohol, nails, footware, diverting the course of water and rearing four-legged animals are among some of the long list of things forbidden to the Baduy. "There is no education. Going to the field is an education for them," said Boedhihartono, an anthropologist at the University of Indonesia, who has studied the Baduy for years.[Source: Ed Davies, Reuters, November 27, 2008]

The religion of the Baduy is known as Agama Sunda Wiwitan, a combination of traditional beliefs and Hinduism. However, due to lack of interaction with the outside world, their religion is more related to Kejawen Animism, though they still retain many elements of Hindu-Buddhist religion influences, like the terms they use to define things and objects, and the rituals in their religious activities. According to kokolot (elder) of Cikeusik village, Kanekes people is not adherent of Hinduism or Buddhism, they follow animism, the belief that venerated and worshiped the spirit of ancestors. However in its development this faith is influenced and incorporated Hindu, and to some extent, Islamic elements. [Source: Wikipedia +]

A certain amount of Islamic influence has also penetrated into the religion of a few of the Baduy Luar in recent years (especially in Cicakal Girang village), with some original ideas thrown in for good measure. The ultimate authority is vested in Gusti Nu Maha Suci, who according to the Baduy sent Adam into the world to lead the life of a Baduy. +

The Baduy also observe many mystical taboos. They are forbidden to kill, steal, lie, commit adultery, get drunk, eat food at night, take any form of conveyance, wear flowers or perfumes, accept gold or silver, touch money, or cut their hair. Other taboos relate to defending Baduy lands against invasion: they may not grow sawah (wet rice), use fertilizers, raise cash crops, use modern tools for working ladang soil, or keep large domestic animals. There is evidence that they were originally influenced by Hindu, but retain much of their native animism ancestral veneration beliefs. They have adopted this many centuries before foreign influence including Arab (Islam), European (Christianity) etc. +

Baduy Society

Generally, the Baduy are divided into two groups: The Baduy Dalam and The Baduy Luar. The community of villages in which they live are considered mandalas, derived from the Hindu/Buddhist concept but referring in the Indonesian context to places where religion is the central aspect of life. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The population of about 400 Baduy Dalam consists of 40 families Kajeroan who live in the three villages of Cibeo, Cikertawana, and Cikeusik in Tanah Larangan (forbidden territory) where no stranger is permitted to spend the night. They are probably the purest Baduy stock. The Dalam follow the rigid buyut taboo system very strictly,(see Religion and Beliefs for more information about their taboos) and thus they have made very few contacts with the outside world as they are considered as "People of the sacred inner circle". The Dalam are the only one of these two major clans that have the Pu'un, the spiritual priest of the Baduy. The Pu'un are the only people that visit the most hallowed and sacred ground of the Baduy which lies on Gunung Kendeng, in a place called Arca Domas. Unlike the Luar, the Dalams are hardly influenced by Islam. +

The Baduy Luar make up the remainder of the Baduy population, living in 22 villages and acting as a barrier to stop visitors from entering the Sacred Inner circle. They do follow the rigid taboo system but not as strictly as the Dalam, and they are more willing to accept modern influence into their daily lives. For example, some Luar people now proudly sport the colorful sarongs and shirts favored by their Sundanese neighbours. In the past the Baduy Luar only wore only their homespun blue-black cloth, and were forbidden to wear trousers. Other elements of civilization (toys, money, batteries) are rapidly infiltrating especially in the villages to the north, and it is no longer unusual for an outer Baduy to make a journey to Jakarta, or even to work outside as a hired hand during the rice planting and reaping seasons. Some even work in big towns and cities like Jakarta, Bogor and Bandung. Animal meat is eaten in some of the outer villages where dogs are trained for hunting, though animal husbandry is still forbidden. +

Formal education for the children of Baduy is against their traditional customs. They reject government proposal to build educational facilities in the villages. Even today, despite the ways that Suharto tried to force them to change their lives and build modern schools in their territory, the Baduy still strongly opposed the government. As a result, very few Baduy are able to read or write.

Baduy Isolation

Ed Davies of Reuters wrote: “Their society is divided into an outer zone of villages and an inner heartland of just three villages. Baduy who break the rules are banished to the outer zone. Members of the inner zone of about 800 people, or 40 families, dress in white, as opposed to the black attire in the outer zone, and follow the Baduy traditions much more strictly. Visiting the Baduy requires tough trekking along slippery paths in plunging valleys. Foreigners are allowed to visit the outer zone, but are limited to a few nights, sleeping on bamboo mats in villages pitch black at night due to a lack of power. It is, however, nearly impossible for non-Indonesians to visit the sacred inner villages. High in the lush hills of far western Java, an animist tribe lives a peaceful existence, untouched. [Source: Ed Davies, Reuters, November 27, 2008]

“The outer area acts as a sort of buffer zone and the leaders from the inner Baduy sometimes pay surprise visits to make sure their outer zone compatriots are not breaking too many taboos. They sometimes confiscate radios and other things deemed as pollutants from the modern world. With none of the motorbikes and smoke-belching buses common in most of Indonesia, the villages are tranquil spots where the gentle clacking sound of weaving looms is one of the few noises.” [Ibid]

Brigitte Cavanagh wrote in Cultural Survival Quarterly, “The Badui rely on controlled interaction with the outside world to maintain the tradition of their group and to resist Islamisation. The ability of the Badui to maintain their mysterious image by restricting communication with the outside world is their strength. They are averse to contact with foreigners and are secretive about the nature of their traditions. They are known in Java for having supernatural power, and they reinforce this reputation. [Source: Brigitte Cavanagh, Cultural Survival Quarterly, Summer 1983 */*]

“How long the Badui have lived in seclusion is still uncertain. Little is known of their cultural background, except that their religion reflects elements from both Hinduism and Buddhism. Their story of resistance to Islam is told in various local legends, which place the origin of the Badui in the 16th century, when Padjajaran, the last Sundanese kingdom, fell to Moslem conquerors. According to the legends, the Badui rebelled against Islam, lost, and fled to the mountains where they are today. */*

In 1931, during the Dutch rule, the Badui were saved from abandoning their present homeland by Dr. Mulhenfeld, the director of the West Indies Department of the Interior, who refused to accept a proposal to move them. Their slash and burn cultivation was seen as a threat to the forests of Banten, endangering the water supply for irrigation in the lowlands. However, Dr. Mulhenfeld, after visiting Kanekes, decided that a transfer would prove fatal to Badui culture. Today, in independent Indonesia, the Badui continue to protect their cultural heritage, despite government efforts to integrate them into the larger society through conversion to Islam. The Badui refuse to be victims of change. They believe they have the mandate to maintain the harmony and balance of the universe, which depends on the preservation of their culture. */*

How the Baduy Maintain Their Isolation and Deal with Outsiders

Brigitte Cavanagh wrote in Cultural Survival Quarterly, “To ensure protection, Badui society is divided into two groups. The inner Badui, or holy members of the hierarchy, occupy three sacred villages in the Taneh Larangan or "Forbidden Territory". They protect their community from exposure to external influences in order to ensure purity. Various buyut (tabu) impose seclusion upon them and prohibit the import of any form of technology (except knife blades). The holy members also discourage outsiders from gaining access to their community. */* [Source: Brigitte Cavanagh, Cultural Survival Quarterly, Summer 1983 */*]

“The Panamping, or outer Badui, live in some 28 villages and represent the commoners and the majority of the population of Kanekes. Their villages are located on the border between the Forbidden Territory and the Sundanese settlements. Due to the scarcity of land owned by the Badui they depend economically on the Moslem Sundanese. Although the seclusion has lessened, due to intermingling with the Sundanese community, the outer Badui continue to be hostile to non-Badui visitors. Geographically and politically their settlement is sheltered by the presence of the Moslem community, whose chiefs act as intermediaries between the outer Badui and non-Badui. Formal relations with the government and foreigners in general, are administered by a Jaro dangkas, a Badui hereditary chief who acts as a mediator by controlling direct communication with the Pu'un, supreme chief of the entire Badui society. */*

“While outsiders are forbidden to approach inner Badui land, the Pu'un sends a delegation to a non-Badui city, Serang, the capital of Banten, annually. Fruits from the sacred land are ritually offered to the local administrator to symbolize the bond between the contemporary Sundanese and the supernatural guardians of the Sundanese soil and tradition.” */*

Baduy Secret Rituals

Brigitte Cavanagh wrote in Cultural Survival Quarterly, “Each of the three sacred villages is presided by a Pu'un whose superiority, according to the Badui cosmogony, is based on his sacred descent. The Pu'un are religious and political figures renowned for their supernatural power, inside and outside Kanekes. A Pu'un can read minds, predict the future and influence fortune. The supreme Pu'un represents the 13th generation of Batara Tungall, the upper deity of the Badui. [Source: Brigitte Cavanagh, Cultural Survival Quarterly, Summer 1983 */*]

“Traditionally, the Pu'un have been forbidden to divulge the secrets of the Badui people's rites and customs. Only a few anthropologists have succeeded in gathering second-hand data. What has been disclosed is contradictory, reflecting the effectiveness of their controlled communication. More than anything else, the Badui want to be left in peace and are suspicious when questioned by outsiders. */*

“No outsider has ever been allowed to witness the rituals performed at Area Domas, the sacred place of worship restricted to the Pu'un and other high officials. Area Domas is where the soul of the Badui reunites with Batara Bungall after death. Every year the Pu'un brings back from Arca Domas predictions which shape the destiny of the community. The Badui claim that mysterious forces exist in Arca Domas, and that any intrusion or disturbance in the sacred place of worship would adversely affect prosperity in the world. Although the supernatural power of the Pu'un is accepted as omnipresent, there have been instances when, unaware, he allowed himself to be seen by visitors.

Baduy Fortunetelling and Clairvoyance

Brigitte Cavanagh wrote in Cultural Survival Quarterly, “Many Sundanese still consider the Badui their guide for moral conduct and law. To the Javanese, the Badui are predominantly associated with magical power. The fascination of the Javanese with the Badui's mystical power strengthens the powerful image projected by the Pu'un. As a spiritual leader, a Pu'un will see Indonesian citizens who seek his guidance, but generally one must be recommended by an influential person from outside Kanekes. Visitors are then escorted to the lowest ranking village and are not allowed to stay after consultation. [Source: Brigitte Cavanagh, Cultural Survival Quarterly, Summer 1983 */*]

“Until the 1960s even the leaders of Indonesia valued consultation with the Badui. Under Sukarno, the former President of Indonesia, Badui were given government protection, even the President visited the Pu'un by helicopter on several occasions. He was given a Kris by the Badui when he came to power, perhaps to symbolize the link between the mythical founders of Java and the current generation of the Indonesian people. */*

“Even today many government officials and politicians believe they owe their positions to the Pu'un's power. Yet in spite of the widespread respect for the Pu'un, the survival of Badui tradition is threatened. Recently, there has been government pressure to send Badui children to school. Schooling and Islamic teachings are a means of gradually integrating Badui society into the larger Islamic society of Indonesia.” */*

Efforts to Modernize the Baduy

Ed Davies of Reuters wrote: “Although generally left to their own devices by colonizers ranging from the Dutch to the Japanese, authorities have at times sought to include the Baduy in mainstream society. When the government of Indonesia's long-time strongman president Suharto tried to foist development on the Baduy in the 1980s they sent an emissary to plead to be left alone. Suharto, a deeply superstitious man with a weakness for Javanese mysticism, conceded and arranged for the Baduy to mark out their territory with poles to protect them from outside influence. [Source: Ed Davies, Reuters, November 27, 2008]

Brigitte Cavanagh wrote in Cultural Survival Quarterly, “A Javanese anthropologist wearing the slogan "to research, to teach, to serve" on his T-shirt, explained that people like the Badui should be forced to "progress." He added that it was nevertheless very difficult to enter Kanekes because they (the Badui) are "very strong." When relations with the government are at stake, the Badui turn from mysticism to shrewdness and pragmatism. The Badui do not resort to violence to solve their difficulties, instead they warn that any disruption within their society would lead to disturbance in the cosmos. How long can such a defense be effective? [Source: Brigitte Cavanagh, Cultural Survival Quarterly, Summer 1983 */*]

“The Badui strive to keep one step ahead of the government. An ethnomusicologist and scholar of the Badui reported that to alleviate government pressure, the Badui built a symbolic mosque on their territory. When a population census was being taken, the Badui already had their answers available. Although I was given the figure of 5,000 for the whole of Kenekes, the actual number of their population is kept secret. Aware of the threats to their culture, ten years ago the Pu'un requested a Dutch scholar in Java to record their history. Much to this scholar's surprise, two Badui dressed in white - the traditional color of the inner Badui - arrived in his office. He had never been in contact with the Badui before, and to this day he wonders why they chose to trust him and how they found him. */*

“Despite several cultural changes that other people in Java have experienced throughout the centuries, the Badui have maintained their ancient tradition. Now their future is their major concern. If the government is successful in establishing its educational system, Badui culture will be destroyed. Already, the outer Badui have frequent contact with the outside world. As a result some of them are confused about their identity. The development project of the government is not committed to the welfare of Badui society, but rather is motivated by ideological reasons based on Islam and notions of centralized states. The Badui will not benefit from assimilation into Islam, nor will they gain materially. Java is well known as one of the world's poorest and most densely populated regions (80 million people eking out a living on an island the size of New York State). The present religious, economic and political system in Java cannot offer them a significantly better existence than the one they have established in Kanekes.” 8/8

Baduy Immune to Global Economic Crisis But Money and TV Seep In

In 2008, Ed Davies of Reuters wrote: “ High in the lush hills of far western Java, an animist tribe lives a peaceful existence, untouched by the turmoil of the financial crisis. Villagers stare blankly when asked about events in the outside world. Salina, a young mother, plays with her son on the steps of a thatched-roof hut in this small river-side village. "I don't understand about any crisis," she says when asked about the economic turmoil that has taken its toll on the rupiah which has lost almost 25 percent of its value this year.[Source: Ed Davies, Reuters, November 27, 2008 |::|]

“But it is difficult to keep all things at bay from the modern world. On a recent trip some Baduy children had forsaken traditional wear, one wearing a blue Italian soccer shirt, while the use of formally taboo money has replaced bartering with the outside world. The outer Baduy sell sarongs they make and also travel to nearby towns to sell honey and palm sugar. The cash is used to buy salted fish and other things they can't produce themselves. "Even in the center they already know money," said anthropologist Boedhihartono, who has over years developed what he describes as "a sort of friendship" with the Baduy. He keeps a room free at his Jakarta home for when the Baduy sometimes make unannounced visits after a three-day bare-foot trek since they are not allowed to use transport. |::|

“Asked about whether they had much knowledge of the outside world, he said: "Of course not really, except if they come to my house they watch the TV." While the Baduy are supposed to shun modern medicine, he said the use of antibiotics had helped sharply increase their numbers. The main threats they faced, he said, are from outsiders trying to plunder their land and proselytizing by some groups in the majority Muslim community surrounding them. The Baduy have taken on some outside influences such as circumcision, which is in line with local Muslim practices. |::|

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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