Kecamatan Cisolok, Sukabumi, Abah Asep Nugaraha, Seren Taun, Save Soil
My Visits to Sundanese Kampung Adat.
The first time I was getting in touch with a Sundanese desa adat (a traditionally-run village) was when I visited the isolated Desa Adat Baduy Dalam at Cikeusik Hamlet, in Kanekes Village, Leuwidamar Subdistrict, Lebak District, Banten Province in 2017.
My short encounter with them was like a wake-up call. My one-night stay at the Cikeusik Hamlet has triggered my consciousness. I was impressed with the Baduy Dalam people who have lived intimately and peacefully with nature for ages. Returning from Cikeusik Hamlet, I tried to revisit my routine and my life in general while thinking of how undisturbed the life of Baduy Dalam people could be from the external factors and how deeply intimate their relation has been with nature.
Desa Adat Baduy Dalam is no longer accepting outside visitors so I consider myself lucky to have been able to witness their traditional and natural way of life, even only in a short time.
About one year after visiting Desa Adat Baduy Dalam, I had the chance to pay a visit to another Sundanese Kampung (kampong) Adat, Cireunde, at Cimahi, West Java. Kampung Adat Cireunde is not as isolated as Desa Adat Baduy Dalam, but its people have had an impressive way to manage their food security in a natural manner. They also have followed consistently their indigenous faith, Sunda Wiwitan
My curiosity towards the life of Sundanese Desa Adat was getting stronger. I would like to know more about their history, philosophy and culture. However, the Covid19 pandemic prevented me from visiting their locations. When the pandemic slightly subsided last year, I was happy to be the guest of a Sundanese Kampung Adat Urug in Bogor Regency where I learnt about their wisdom, agricultural system and village organization under the chief who is called Abah Ukat.
Recently I made a visit to another Sundanese Desa Adat Sirna Resmi in Sukabumi District, West Java, where I learned about their food security and sustainable and natural paddy plantation system from its chief Abah Asep.
I must admit that all my conversations and talks with the Kampong adat chiefs or intimately called Abah were inspiring and even mind-blowing. All these Abahs have something in common. They radiate positive vibes, consistently commit to perform their tradition, and have a strong sense of belonging to the people they lead. Most of all, they are very natural in the way they perceive what is going on. They highly respect any kind of life and see life as the way it is.
Kampung Adat (Kasepuhan) Sinar Resmi
To access Kampung Adat (Kasepuhan) Sinar Resmi from Cikembang Beach in Cisolok Subdistrict, Sukabumi District, my travel companions– Inge and Madyo– and I needed to go through about 25 km- declining and inclining road. We passed segments of the road sandwiched with soothing green paddy fields and lined by the woods. On the most elevated points, the waters off Cikambang Beach were visible. In addition, we also went through several villages and residential areas.
Kasepuhan Sinar Resmi is one of the seven kampongs in Desa Sirna Resmi, Cisolok Subdistrict, Sukabumi District, West Java Province. Desa Sirna Resmi stretches on an area of 4,917 hectare land covering also other Kasepuhan namely, Kasepuhan Ciptagelar and Kasepuhan Ciptamulya.
Geographically Kasepuhan Sinar Resmi is situated on the border between Banten and West Java provinces. The road accessing Kasepuhan Sinar Resmi was on a slope.From the elevated site; we could see the village complex and its neighboring terraced paddy fields. The surrounding land was hilly and mountainous. Our car had to make a sharp, declining U-turn to reach Kasepuhan Sinar Resmi. Indeed, it was not an easy drive.
The traditional community of Desa Sirna Resmi is culturally and traditionally known as Kesatuan Adat Banten Kidul (Union of Traditional South Banten). This community lives in Sukabumi and Bogor Districts in West Java Province and Lebak District in Banten Province.
By the big yard where some cars were parked we saw the main house (imah gede) of Kasepuhan Sinar Resmi. Imah gede has become a center of activities of the communities and a place to stay for the visitors. The long house was entirely made of natural materials such as wood and bamboo. The traditional two-story house has pillars with porches both on the first floor and on the ground floor. Attached to the long house is a smaller house that has a separate roof. The house is the residence of Abah. The two stilted houses have roofs made of rumbia (coconut leaves). On the other side of the yard, there is another smaller stilted hut that is dedicated to keep the harvested unhusked paddies. The hut is called leuit sijimat, where natural varieties of unhusked paddies of Kasepuhan Sinar Resmi have been stored.
Although there was no formal event, the main house looked occupied with youth. “Sampurasun (a common greeting used by the Kasepuhan communities literally means excuse me),” I greeted the crowds who sat on the terrace of the house. “Rampes,” they replied. I asked them if there is anyone who can show us the village and explained it a little bit. One of the youths directed us to a small hut on the back of the longhouse. There, we found three men working and one of them was willing to guide us around the village.
The gentleman led the three of us to see the residential area. The residential houses were located on uneven landscape and connected by a narrow cobblestoned and earthen footpath. All houses were stilted. Most of them were made of natural materials, and a few of them were made of a mix of natural and non-natural materials. The traditional and simple architecture houses were located relatively close to one another.
As we were walking in the area, we needed to be careful to step on the narrow slippery earthen path after the rain fell. Some houses had balong (fish ponds) by their houses. On the corner, we saw a two-story wooden house that is bigger than the others. “That’s the house of one of Abah’s sons,” said our guide. The small residential area was surrounded by a green environment. It directly bordered with paddy fields and gardens of vegetables and plantations.
“I welcome anyone who wants to visit Kasepuhan Sinar Resmi without seeing his/her ethnicity, religion or race background,” said Abah. His visitors have ranged from pre-school level to professors who want to know more about the paddy of Kasepuhan Sinar Resmi.
Abah never worries about the number of visitors. “Although I have hundreds of visitors, I just considered the total number to be two,” he said. “What do you mean?” I asked him curiously. “No matter how many there are, there are only two, male and female,” he answered seriously with a smile. Abah seems to view the situation and condition simply but in a responsible manner.
While we were there, the visitors who stayed at imah gede were mainly students who did their survey and research. “If imah gede can’t accommodate them, they are distributed in the houses of the residents,” Abah added. During the fasting month, Abah also welcomes the visitors. He also had international visitors. A few years ago, he had visitors from France and the Netherlands who stayed in Kasepuhan Sinar Resmi for several months. Abah’s openness to anyone is reflected in imah gede whose all doors don’t have any locks.
As the Chief of Kasepuhan Sinar Resmi, Abah Asep Nugraha has the task to keep carrying out the heritage of his ancestors, among other things is the agriculture system. He proudly said that his Kasepuhan has kept 68 local paddy varieties that were naturally hybridized. In 2016, he received the Adhikarya Pangan Nusantara Award from President Joko Widodo for his effort in the food security that he has conducted in his authorized area.
The way he and his community view nature is also very unique. They see the earth as the mother and the sky as the father. As such they treat the earth (soil) as the mother. The community in Kasepuhan Sinar Resmi plant paddies only once a year, therefore they harvest paddies once a year. “No woman delivers a baby twice a year,” Abah Asep analogizes the practice of once-a-year paddy harvesting. The practice is also to balance nature.
Abah and his community observe nature before initiating the paddies planting. “When we see bintang kerti (kerti star) and bintang kidang (kidang star), then we’ll start to plant paddy,” said Abah, explaining that the stars are submissive creations of God, therefore they are always on the track. In addition, Abah believes that there are male and female paddies. “I am the one who symbolically initiate planting the two male and female grains of paddy,” he added. The paddy planting goes on with rituals.
Although the community of Kasepuhan Sinar Resmi never uses the term organic farming, they have practiced natural and organic farming for ages in respect to Mother Earth. No machines are used to plant paddy and to process it into rice. They only plant their own varieties of paddies and employ buffaloes to plow the land. “Some of our paddy varieties can be as high as two meters, “ Abah added.
They neither use the manufactured fertilizers or pesticides. In addition to the dung, they leave the stalks of harvested paddies on paddy fields which function as natural fertilizers. In response to the pests like rats, they never kill them. In the cycle of paddy planting, after harvesting, they just leave the paddy fields empty for six months. This is actually to cut the food chain in the paddy fields where the rats die naturally since they can’t get the food.
The initial harvesting of paddy is also symbolically performed by Abah. Their unhusked harvested paddy (gabah) are kept for years in the leuit.“The unhusked paddies in the leuit can be 40 years old. Unhusking paddies are pounded using lumpang and alu. The husked paddies cannot be directly cooked, they are eaten one week later. The whole cycle from paddy planting to pounding the unhusked paddies has steps and rituals. This entire phase of paddy planting and harvesting is sealed with Seren Taun, a ritual to thank God for the paddy harvesting.
Abah and his community at Kasepuhan Sinar Resmi are the defenders of the earth who have kept nature in balance using their cosmological and ecological approach.