The rhythmic sound of the loom as a young girl weaves outside our house. The sweet and sour taste of warmed velvet tamarind juice. The soft creak of a bamboo bridge under our weight. The nimbleness of the young Baduy men leading us barefooted through overgrown paths and long grass. Swimming in the cool, clear river in the territory of the outer Baduy.
These are the memories that have endured since our overnight visit to the Baduy in June. Our small group left the early morning market chaos of Jakarta to travel by train to Rangkas Bitung, where we ate lunch and then transferred to a small bus. The journey itself was interesting, as we passed villages carpeted with drying cloves, rice in various stages of production, sand mining operations, and many other diverting sights.
The Baduy (or Kanekes) number between 6000- 8000 (depending on source materials) and are divided into Baduy Dalam (Inner) and Baduy Luar (Outer) communities. As foreigners we are permitted to visit only the Baduy Luar, but even that is enough to get an appreciation of the simplicity of the Baduy lifestyle, and the constant forces of change pressing on their borders.
The Baduy believe they have a sacred responsibility to guard the environment and spiritual heritage of their ancestors from change. For the Baduy Dalam in particular, this means an adherence to old customs, and a rejection of many aspects of the “modern” world such as electronic devices, motorized transport, and formal schools. Baduy children are educated by their families and community, learning conservation, farming and other survival skills.
Education and the influence of the outside world (from the litter visitors leave behind to the less-tangible impacts of tourism) were perhaps the biggest questions our short time with the Baduy raised. Our organizer, Merry Kho was good enough to organize for a spokesman from the Inner Baduy to talk with us in a discussion that really challenged our views about ‘development.’ His message was simple, “saling menghargai satu sama lain,” or “respect one another.”
That discussion was one of many highlights of the weekend. We also visited a bustling traditional market, ate simple meals of tempeh, tofu, raw vegetables and broth, learnt how the knives found strapped to the waist of Baduy men are made, admired village architecture, and listened to a local musician play on a zither-like instrument . We visited right after the Tamarind Harvest, which occurs only once every seven years.
The Baduy are not consumers. We were, in a modest way, returning with small bags of velvet tamarind, some simple weaving, and bottles of honey. That honey is amber-colored and heavily fruity, and every time I taste it now in Jakarta, I’m transported for a moment back to those quiet hills in Baduy Luar.