The Baduy: Technology vs. Peace of Mind

By Ritueli Daeli - March 12, 2019

“And where do the kids go to school?” I asked Kang Narsan, my host, after dinner.
“No Baduy attends school unless the person wants to be dismissed from the Baduy community.” He explained to me how strict the rule is. “There is no school here.” 
“So, every Baduy is illiterate?” I asked more
“Only a few of the Outer Baduy are able to read, but the Inner Baduy are totally illiterate.” 

The Baduy, an isolated tribe of 11 million living in the jungle mountains just a few hour-drive from the modern metropolis of Jakarta, resist any new influences from outside the might affect their community.  Influences include education, social concepts, beliefs, and modernization. Sophisticated technology is strictly prohibited in this area. No single change is allowed to modify their traditional customs. They are determined that their beliefs and customs will remain the same for all time, despite the rapid changes in the outside world. 

As a result, there is no school, no hospital, no transportation, no mobile, no electricity, no internet connection, nothing in the form of a machine. Even basic household equipment must be handmade. 

However, a few of the Baduy are not as strict in preserving this tradition. They have made small changes: some wear sandals, buy household equipment from markets, take public transportation to town to sell honey and crops, and allow tourists visiting their villages to bring personal technology like mobile phones and cameras. Because they have broken with tradition, they call themselves the Outer Baduy (Badui Luar)and wear clothing in shades of black and blue. Those who uphold the strict traditions -- people who are willing to walk miles rather than take transportation -- are called the Inner Baduy (Baduy Dalam), and wear white clothing.

From the bus terminal, I trekked for an hour up and down the hills until I saw some small houses at the top of a hill. I took a little break to gather my courage before stepping onto a bamboo bridge swaying across a stream. I was excited because crossing the stream meant that I was getting closer, and I couldn’t wait to meet my first Baduy.

Even though the climb up to the village had been panting, completely out of breath, my reaction was amazement. What I saw did not match what I had imagined about the tribe. I had thought the people would be primitive, but they are not. Their bamboo houses were well constructed and organized. The village streets were paved in stone, comfortable for walking. The extensive stonework in the village streets and buildings was remarkable as it was clear that the builders understood how to set stones together without using cement as adhesive. The design of the village showed a model of a society that had defined customs. 

It was about 4 p.m. I walked through the village, keeping my eyes open to my new surroundings. All was silent. I didn’t hear or see any people, and I wondered what they were doing. The usual sounds and smells of cattle and other animals, always present in Indonesian villages, was missing from this small Baduy village.

A few minutes’ walks I arrived at the house of my host family. Kang Narsan, my Outer Baduy host, welcomed me and two friends warmly. I was glad that Kang Narsan understood Bahasa Indonesia so I was able to communicate with him to acquire more information about the unique Baduy. 

“Kang Narsan, how many villages are considered Baduy?” I asked
“There are about 60 villages of Outer Baduy and three villages of Inner Baduy” he replied.
“The same construction design is used for all the houses?”
“Yes, sameness is very important for Baduy. Everyone wears the same color, and settles in the same type of house.” 

When a young man gets married, he either lives in the same house with his parents or moves to a new house. The Baduy construct their houses using the bamboo materials available in the forest. They build their villages near the river, and if a village becomes full of houses, a new village is formed along the river.

In these villages, the Baduy do not permit cattle or any other four-legged animals. They don’t eat four-legged animals, but they do eat chicken, although not on a daily basis. For the Baduy, chicken is special, prepared only on special occasions such as weddings and local holidays.

“Is it possible for a Baduy to marry someone from a non-Baduy tribe?”
“It’s impossible.” 
“How do people make money?”
“Baduy people depend on natural resources, and we plant and reap the harvest. If we have more than we need, like fruit and especially honey, we sell them at the market. Women usually weave and make crafts for the village, and for sale to tourists.” 

Kang Narsan collects the locally produced crafts and honey from the villagers and brings them to Jakarta to sell. That's why he has learned Bahasa Indonesia: he can act as a bridge between the Baduy people and the outside world.

After bathing in the river, a minute's walk from the village, I prepared my sleeping space, a floor mat woven from plant leaves. Slowly the dusk turned into dark. It was a peaceful night, with no sound from any direction, or from any living being. So quiet. 

Before I slept, we had dinner prepared by Kang Narsan’s wife. It was tasty. I noted that she cooked the rice in a way different from how I learned to cook rice. Instead of boiling the rice, she steamed it. Once it was cooked she pounded the rice to make it softer, then fanned the rice with her hand while her other hand stirred the rice. She informed me that rice prepared in that manner can be safely stored for up to two days. 

The night was without light or mobile phones. I was aware of my body and my thoughts, without any distraction from others. It helped me find peace in myself. 

My friend and I slept outside, on the veranda. The night grew cooler, and I was glad that I had brought a cover to keep me warm. Some things I most appreciated about this village was the fact that mosquitos don’t exist there, perhaps because the villagers keep their environment clean.

In the morning the village was on the move, with everyone walking to their farms. I saw groups of three or more people, both kids and the elderly, went to the farms. With no entertainment to keep them at home, work on the farm was a community activity. 

To satisfy my curiosity I trekked up a nearby hill to see another village. Kang Narsan was right: in this second village, I found the same stone pavement along the river, up and down the hill, and saw that the construction of the village houses was the same. 

“How do you live with other Baduy? Do you sometimes fight?” I asked Kang Narsan.
Kang Narsan explained how they live in harmony in simple lifestyles. “Fight for what? We equally have the same, so we are always at peace and happy,” 

For some people, happiness means possessing many things. Others are happy when they have more than others have. The biggest lesson I learned from visiting the Baduy people is that happiness and peacefulness are not determined by what we have, but by what we can make and by how we share with the people surround us. (9 March 2019) ~ Ritueli Daeli


















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6 comments

  1. Loves the writing and pictures as wel

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  2. Glad to read ur writing, Well. My insight into the tribe of Badui finally changed. Not as scary as I though.😊. Your pictures are awesome..

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    Replies
    1. I’m happy to hear that. Thanks 🙏🏻
      Anyway I feel you. I had so many “what if....”s few days before I came here.
      Even my friend texted me “be careful they might eat you!” So horror!

      But they are genuinely nice. They have peaceful lives there. 😊 no competition

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  3. very informative! I like it.

    ReplyDelete