Date: Wed, 21 Jan 1998 17:17:28 -0500
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From: Alex G Bardsley <bardsley@ACCESS.DIGEX.NET>
Subject: Fwd: IN: Indonesia's 'Amish' Live Outside Economy (CSMonitor)
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Indonesia's 'Amish' Live Outside Economy
By Eileen McBride, The Christian Science Monitor,
Wednesday 21 January 1998 edition
CICAKAL, INDONESIA -- Draped in the beige, hand-woven cloth of his tribe, Diana sits
impassive and cross-legged in a hut here in the remote hills of
western Java, Indonesia. But his curiosity is palpable, betrayed by
his eyes, which dart about, viewing the unfamiliar scene in front of
Diana is anticipating the experience of a lifetime. He has come to
answer the questions of the handful of Europeans seated opposite him,
all keen to quiz him about his unique tribal lifestyle. But it is soon
obvious that Diana is just as curious about them, perhaps even more
so. He wants to know why these foreigners have come.
"You have houses and cars, why do you want to know about us? We have
nothing," Diana says, speaking in his native Sundanese.
Diana is part of the Baduy - a reclusive indigenous tribe that has
lived in isolation since the mid-1500s, when its members fled into the
hills of the Sunda Highlands south of Jakarta to escape the spread of
Islam across Indonesia. Four centuries later, they are still
struggling to protect their way of life.
In the world's fourth-most populous country, where nearly 90 percent
of the people are Muslim, there is pressure on the Baduy to assimilate
into the wider community. There is also a continuing threat to their
land from neighboring groups and authorities who wish to access the
virgin resources in the 12,300-acre Baduy territory.
The meeting with Diana is held inside a traditional windowless Baduy
hut made of bamboo and thatch. The tribe has opened communication with
its neighbors and the government. Tribe members hope that by
facilitating mutual understanding they will be able to preserve their
land and their lifestyle, which is prescribed by their religious
Sometimes dubbed the Indonesian Amish, the Baduy live much as their
ancestors did hundreds of years ago.
Grounded in the spiritual beliefs of their ancient religion,
Sundiwiwitan - said to be a blend of animism and Hinduism - the Baduy
philosophy rejects the use of all modern inventions, including
everything from money, irrigation, electricity, and cars to nails,
soap, and mirrors.
Their huts have no furniture, and their possessions usually extend to
a few utensils and minimal clothing, all of which they traditionally
make themselves. They grow rice for food, and rely only on rainfall
for cultivation. Most Baduy are illiterate because their religion
forbids education. Violation of the most serious taboos can lead to
Despite being less than 100 miles away from the capital, Jakarta, the
Baduy territory has relatively few signs of the detritus of modern
development - the odd candy wrapper, a few scattered cigarette packs,
and soda cans. The trash is still only small blemishes on the Baduy
villages which remain idylls, a natural extension of the unspoiled
forests surrounding them.
The trade effect
But development has had its effects on Baduy culture. The tribe has
relaxed many of its ancient taboos relating to their clothing and,
more important, the use of money, which Diana says is based on need.
"We know money has many functions. We use money to supplement our food
supply and for purchasing clothes and medicine," Diana says.
Ukke Rukmini Kosasih, an anthropologist at the University of
Indonesia, and one of only two anthropologists in Indonesia studying
the Baduy, says trading activities have been a major catalyst for
"To meet their daily needs, the Baduy ... have to increase their
relationship with their neighbors. In these activities ... they often
have to manipulate their ethnic identity as a result of their minority
status in the larger community. In other words to gain a better
position in bargaining in economic activities they have to break their
taboos. Levis and T-shirts are their survival tools in their
relationship with the outside community," she says.
The greater threat to Baduy life seems to lie in territorial issues.
Don Hasman, a local journalist who has had close ties with the Baduy
for 23 years, believes an insufficiency of land has arisen from the
steady increase in the size of the tribe, which currently numbers
6,500. This has led many Baduy families to be lured by government
offers of resettlement.
This government program offers two acres of land in exchange for an
agreement by Baduy families to convert to Islam and to send their
children to school.
But Mr. Hasman says the attempt has been spectacularly unsuccessful.
Of the 80 families that have been resettled, only six remain in the
program. And he says poverty has been the end result in most cases.
"The government wants to 'civilize' the Baduy, but in fact the Baduy
are quite civilized," Hasman says.
Both Hasman and Ms. Kosasih agree that there is a direct threat to
Baduy culture springing from the neighboring community, which, in a
desire to access the Baduy forests, continually moves the border posts
and steals their wood. Trouble erupted a couple of years ago when the
Baduy destroyed a dam a neighboring tribe had built on their land.
But even as the Baduy struggle to retain their land and their culture,
the experts agree that the future of the tribe is nevertheless secure.
The Baduy religion, Ms. Kosasih says, is the "core of their ethnic
identity. The rest is not important.
"As long as the Baduy land is sufficient to meet their daily needs,"
she adds, "I think the Baduy have a strong social and cultural
mechanism for maintaining their ethnic identity."
Diana believes his tribe' s greatest challenge will be to preserve the
system of beliefs that has sustained his people over the centuries, a
threat which he perceives as coming from within.
"I am only a farmer. If you break my rules and my religion, then I
have nothing. When we stop living by our rules, then the system will
(c) Copyright 1997, 1998 The Christian Science Publishing Society.
All rights reserved.