My Stay in Badui Dalam: Indonesia’s Local Wisdom

I never got a strong impression of a place as much as after I visited Cibeo, Badui Dalam settlement. It is a small, secluded and isolated hamlet in Banten Province, Indonesia. Although I only stayed one night,  there have been a lot of lessons that I gained since I had stepped into their area. The lifestyle of the people has also opened both my eyes and my mind about how to be friendly to nature.

Badui Dalam people (Urang Badui Dalam) live in the hamlets on the foot of Kendeng Mountains in Kanekes, Leuwi Damar Subdistrict, Lebak District, Banten Province, Indonesia. It is about 52 kilometer from Rangkasbitung, the District’s Capital. The people who live in Kanekes are called Urang Kanekes or Urang Badui. The ethnicity groups into Sunda ethnic and the people also speak Sundanese language.

Urang Kanekes or Urang Badui is divided into two groups:  Urang Badui Luar and Urang Badui Dalam based on their lifestyles. Urang Badui Dalam live in three dusun/hamlets: Cibeo, Cikuesik, and Cikertawana. Urang Badui Luar live outside those three hamlets. The distance between their settlements is about three to four kilometers apart.

THE DEPARTURE

Rangkasbitung, the closest town to Kanekes, is accessible by the train from Tanahabang Train Station, Jakarta. It is a small town that has lost its character. Only a small part of the town that still keeps its historical buildings. Its bus terminal is very dirty and in a bad shape. The garbage hampered everywhere.  Its asphalted road had many holes. It was the worst bus terminal in Indonesia I have been to in my last two year’s trip. But, it is the gate to my destination, Kanekes.

At Rangkasbitung Train Station, Banten

We went as a group of 10 people led by the tour guide, Sartono. From the bus terminal, we chartered a small minibus.  After about one-hour driving we stopped at a small warung (kiosk) for lunch. It was the last available warung that we spotted.

Then, we were into an ugly part of the trip. The road to Kanekes was damaged. We rode on a red earth road in half of the journey to the destination. The asphalted road has deformed because of much frequented by heavy vehicles. We needed to tightly shut the windows so the clouds of dust from the road would not get it. The road was up-and-down too. We had to get strong sitting bones as the car was bumping all the time. There was not much to see as I was struggling to hold my hand on the grab handle when the car was driving on the bumpy road. It was an exhausting ride.

After a one-hour drive, we finally reached our destination Kanekes. It is a meeting point between the outsiders/visitors and Urang Badui.  There are some small kiosks, public toilette, and a small mosque. This meeting point could have been neatly ordered to look better. Visitors can have a quick rest here before entering the area of Urang Badui.

At Kanekes of Urang Badui Luar area, the starting point of the walk.

URANG BADUI DALAM

There, ten of  Urang Badui Dalam had waited for us when we arrived. It was my first encounter with them, the youngest was seven years old, the oldest was over 50 years old. To my surprise, they all have fair skins. They are all calm and polite.

Their appearance had something in common wearing a white turban (iket) on their heads. White color symbolizes purity as they have an uncontaminated culture from outside influence. White iket differentiates between Urang Badui Dalam and Urang Badui Luar.  Urang Badui Dalam have two types of iket, koncer and telekung.  Young people wear koncer that covers all or part of their head.  Old people wear telekung that should cover all head. Iket on the head symbolizes tying or controlling one’s desire. Urang Badai Dalam can only wear either white or black clothes for both men and women. They should not wear modern clothes. Their shirts are collarless and without buttons. The women wave the fabric and sew the clothes with hands.

Koncer, an iket worn by young people of Urang Badui Dalam.

Each of our hosts got the task to carry our backpacks and logistics. Before starting to walk, our guide told us the do’s and don’ts during the trip. There are three bridges over the river that we would go through. They are within the area of Urang Badui Luar. After passing the third bridge, we would enter Badui Dalam area. We should walk on foot to reach Cibeo, our final destination. It took about two hours. During the walk, we needed to follow the rules: no vituperation, no negative thought, and no fighting.

Passing the first bamboo bridge, we reached Badui Luar area as our starting point. Being barefoot, all Urang Badui Dalam carried our belongings without any problem. It is obvious that the soils have been the friends of their bare feet since they are born. Urang Badui Dalam should not take any mode of transportation when traveling. They always go barefoot in small groups, 3 to 5 people. When traveling they carry knives with them.

Two young Urang Badui Dalam walk barefoot and carry our backpacks

My sneakers swept the red earth soils as we walked the inclining and declining path. For sure, for ages, none of the vehicle wheels has touched the path we stepped on. Under the clear, blue sky, I began to sweat and feel thirsty.  But none of our Badui Dalam hosts sweated and drank water.

While we were still in Badui Luar area, the group took a lot of photos. I asked my guide what happened when someone breaks the rule by taking a photo in Badui Dalam area. “Well, something bad will happen to that person, believe it or not, but it happened once,” he said.

LIVE AS NATURE WANTS

The best part of the walk is being close to nature. The wild grasses and the tall trees reflected green color in contrast to the blue sky.  The inhaled air was so refreshing to my nostrils. It was silent. I heard only the songs of birds and sounds of the leaves of tall trees blown by the winds.   We met Urang Badui carrying firewoods on their heads or on their shoulders. Urang Badui Dalam cook with firewood only.

The view in Badui Luar area on the way to Cibeo

We also saw two people who were working on slanting land. They were preparing for huma. Urang Badui Dalam don’t use animals or machines to plow the land. They plant paddy on unirrigated ricefield and rely on the rains for the irrigation.  This kind of ricefield is called huma. So, they plant paddy seeds near the rainy season in October. The tools for planting and harvesting paddy include sickle, bamboo, and ani-ani (small knife for harvesting rice). They start to plant paddy seeds when their spiritual leader (pu’un) has done so. Usually, they pick a certain good day that they have identified to plant paddy.

To make the tradition sustainable, Urang Badui Dalam take their children to the rice paddy field. This is a learning process to introduce their tradition to the young ones. Pesticide and fertilizers are out of their method, they choose a traditional and biological way for pest control. Besides, they have rituals which they have followed for ages before starting to open the land, planting the seeds and harvesting paddy.

As we were approaching the third bamboo bridge, I started to feel tired because of the heat. We had gone through the unshaded path. Contrary to my condition, the young boys looked persistent. No wonder, they all have strong and slim legs. It is normal for them to walk back and forth from Kanekes to their home in Cibeo several times in one day.

Unshaded path on the way to Cibeo

“We are now entering Badui Dalam area, please keep all your electronic belongings. No photos at all, please remind silent” said Sartono.

We were near to Cibeo when I saw some rice barns (leuit) in a cluster. The traditional design of these rice barns is excellent. The rice barn has four poles that stand on the stones. Urang Badui Dalam don’t plant wooden poles into the lands. This is to prevent the poles from the wetness and wood termites. They pick up special woods from the forest to build leuit. They keep paddy in leuit that can survive up to fifty years and it is still in a good condition for consumption.

Ahead of the steps, I saw thatched roofs of the houses. It was a relief that we had completed our walking journey and arrived in Cibeo. Leaving the city and technology behind, I was ready to absorb the lifestyle of Urang Badui Dalam.

Leuit, the rice barn to keep paddy for years (taken in Badui Luar area)

LET IT BE

Urang Badui Dalam hold the basic concept of their rule: Lojor heunteu beunang dipotong, pendek heunteu beunang disambung (What’s long cannot be cut and what’s short cannot be attached). The concept means: leave anything as it is, nothing is modified. This is clear in the layout of their houses. Some houses are situated on an elevation higher than the others because of the contour of the land. The local people leave it as it is.  They do not modify or change what nature has given.

The concept is also reflected in building the houses.  They take the constructing materials from the forest like the bamboos and the woods.  Tools like the saw, hammer or nails are not in their dictionary. They believe that the house has a neutral power, which is between the Lower and Upper World. Thus they construct stilted houses. For the foundation, they use the stone that they get from the river (umpak).  As a consequence, the poles of one house are not in the same length.

The roof is not made of clay roof tile as clay comes from the earth element. Instead, they use the sheet of woven coconut leaves as the roof. They replace it periodically when it’s worn out. The house doesn’t have windows. The holes on the wooden floor and woven bamboo wall (gedek) function as ventilation. The houses face to the north or the south in order to get the sun rays that light the rooms in the house. As a communal community, they build the houses together.

The sheet of woven coconut leaves for the roof (taken in Badui Dalam area)

We spent the night at the house of the jaro, the leader in Cibeo. Above jaro, the leadership is held by pu’un. Pu’un is a figure who advises and counsels the community about daily or spiritual matters as well as the community’s event.

The house is big enough for more than 10 people. The entire house floor is covered with woven Pandanus (tikar). There is no furniture. We sat on the front part, which is to receive the guests and where women usually wave the fabric. We slept in the middle part, which is for family and sleeping. The back part is for the kitchen.

We brought presents such as sugar, noodle, salt, snacks, dried fish for the household. And we had dinner together with the food they prepared in the kitchen. I didn’t see any kitchen utensils made of plastics. All are from nature including the glass for drinking, which is made of bamboo. They use a plate for eating. On daily basis, Urang Badui Dalam eat rice and dried fish. They eat chickens only on their traditional festivity.

River as a source of living is everything for them. The settlement area is usually near the river. It is their source of water for drinking, cooking, washing, and bathing. Washing and shitting are also on the river. To protect the water they divide the zone in the river where to bath, to take for drinking, and to wash. They never use chemical soap and shampoo to protect the river.  Alternatively, they use leaves of certain trees as soap and shampoo.  They have practiced the tradition for generations.  It is a very modest and decent lifestyle.

END

Spending the night in Cibeo, for me, is the best part of the trip. There is no electricity in the entire settlement. There, the night is young as people go to bed by 9 pm.

It was cold at night.  The breeze came from any holes on the floor and woven bamboo wall.  I understand why the sleeping area is close to the kitchen. At night, the heat from the embers in the kitchen radiates warmth in the house. When I went out I was bringing the flashlight with me.  While trying to find a way to the river, I looked up to the sky. It was a starry night! And the silence was extraordinary.

The seclusion and the isolation of Badui Dalam settlement are a blessing in disguise, no need to doubt it. They have treated nature given by God with ultimate respect. Urang Badui Dalam are the frontline protectors of nature. For ages, their pearls of wisdom and their rules of life have generated a lifestyle that preserves the environment. Humbleness and simplicity in life are the core of their lifestyle. They don’t accumulate things nor exploit the lands. They just take a little from nature what they need for a living. I hold in high esteem Urang Badui Dalam for unlocking and dismantling my ignorance and unwoken consciousness.

Sahabat Budaya makes excursion to Badui Dalam area.

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