Adventure In Baduy Land, Java

A Hike into Baduy Land and a Shower with the Chickens

I was living in Jakarta, an intriguing city of about 15 million people in Indonesia.  First impressions were of a city in chaos, hopeless gridlock, soaring toll roads, piercing skyscrapers erected next to swampy slums, pollution trapping everyone within.  Imagine living in Jakarta on Java, the most populated island in the world, with 145 million people!  Can you feel the energy, the assault on the senses, the relentless pace? In Baduy Land, however, the pace is completely different.

It was by living in Jakarta that I came to hear about the Baduy people or as they prefer to be called, Orang Kanekes.   They have a traditional saying that they live by:

The mountains may not be destroyed, the valleys may not be damaged.

What is long may not be cut short, what is short may not be lengthened.

We must remain faithful to the ways of our ancestors.

The Baduy Dalam: People of the Sacred Inner Circle

Here, time has stood still.  The Baduy adhere to strict ancestral rules, beliefs, and protocols. The Baduy Dalam (People of the Sacred Inner Circle) live in the three villages of Cibeo, Cikertawana, and Cikeusik in Tanah Larangan (forbidden territory) where non-Indonesian strangers are not permitted entry. 

A Baduy Dalam Man with a traditional Bark Bag

They are the purest Baduy as they make very few contacts with the outside world.  They live a strict and simple life in order to protect the waters and the lands.  They live in harmony with the earth and believe, by doing so, prevents disasters such as flooding, volcanic activity and earthquakes. They have a sacred relationship with the natural environment.  It must not be disturbed or modified.  

They are the purest Baduy as they make very few contacts with the outside world. They live a strict and simple life in order to protect the waters and the lands.

The Baduy Dalams are not allowed to learn reading and writing.  The children learn  what they need to know from their parents.  There is no radio or any access to the modern world.   Dress is uniform with very little variation.  The clothes are black, white or blue/black and only in special circumstances is some red allowed.  

They walk with no shoes, barefoot.  Believe me I respect that, when hiking in incessant monsoon rains that result in very muddy paths and slippery rocky surfaces.  Gripping toes really are the safest way to do it.  Our porters were from Baduy Dalam.  The bark bag  is one of my souvenirs!

The Baduy Luar: The Outside Baduy

The Baduy Luar (Outside) live in 22 villages and act as a buffer between the Inner Baduy and the outside world.   They also follow the rigid taboo system but not as strictly as the Sacred Inner Circle and are more willing to accept the modern influence.  Bright colours are added to clothing.  They are also wear a special type of manufactured blue and black batik made especially for them in Jakarta or Bandung. 

Baduy Children

It is no longer unusual for an Outer Baduy to travel to Jakarta but they do so by walking the distance barefoot in small groups. They sell their produce and handicrafts to earn money for some necessities.

A forested area of about 50 square kilometres in the Kendeng Mountains about 125 kilometres  southwest of Jakarta is their home.  It takes about 6 hours by car depending on the road conditions.  Our guide is trilingual and translates for us from their Sundanese-based dialect to Indonesian and English. 

Cipaler-in-the-Kendeng Mountains
The Village of Cipaler in the Kendeng Mountains

Hiking Through the Baduy Lands

After a brief stop for coffee, we trek for approximately 2.5 hours to the village of Lebak Cibedug where we take in a Megalithic site just outside the village before our simple bath.  Lebak Cibedug is not part of the Baduy territory but just outside of it.

We share our brought-along dinner with the inhabitants of our host’s home.  We chat with everyone before making our beds on the floor of the house.  Some of us choose to set up on the veranda where the beautiful stars are visible and the chilled night air makes for better sleeping.

Walking Through the Village of Cipaler

The next day is made up of 9-10 hours of trekking through small traditional villages, primary forest, and beautiful countryside.  If the sun is shining, the women are working in the paddy fields.  Rice is an essential food and is shown below just after harvesting.  It is stored in sheds a short distance from their village.  If a fire should burn down their village, their food for the year is safe. 

Harvested Rice Stored Outside the Village

If it’s raining, we hear a gentle clack-clack-clack resounding throughout the forest as we approach a village.  The Baduy women are at their looms weaving virtually all their own clothing and ceremonial gear using back-strap looms.  They process their raw cotton with traditional methods that are passed down from one generation to the next. 

A Baduy woman Spinning Cotton

Now day two was a day when it rained and rained and rained.  While hiking in the tropics, the sweat does not evaporate into the atmosphere and is trapped under the fabulous rain gear designed to keep me dry.  I was just as wet under my raingear as I was on the outside. With all that trapped sweat, a shower was definitely in order.

Showering in a Mandi

Now, shower is not the operative word.  It’s a mandi.  A palm-thatched roofed hut with walls is raised two feet off the ground with an open door.  The floor is earthen and, with all that rain I mentioned earlier, flooded except for one high dry corner.  No problem. 

A Baduy Mandi or Shower Hut

There was a plank of wood placed in the water, next to the barrel that received flowing mountain water from a bamboo hose.  The barrel drained into a smaller basin that I learned later was used for washing dishes.  That water was refreshing, not nearly as cold as I remember mandies in Papua—a river!  It was wonderful rinsing all that sweat away.   There was a scoop and a nail to hang the towel on.  There was also a crossbeam in the doorway to hang a sarong for some privacy. 

Doesn’t Dance with Wolves, but Showers with Chickens…

Privacy—well, the Baduy fowl do not care about it.  There was a hen with her brood of five cute chicks that decided that they must walk the plank that I’m balancing on.  The rooster didn’t care when he joined us to court the rather uncooperative chicken hoping to seduce her in the one high and dry corner.  There was a lot of squawking and wings fluttering during the chase. 

The Friendly Baduy Hen and Her Chick

Did I mention I was balancing on a plank while having a mandi at the same time?  I have never seen a rooster climax before but now I have and no I’m not talking about Don, my partner!  After all that fuss, a curious single chicken decided to check out the hut and she must have walked round me, at least, three times.  Just when I was beginning to feel accustomed to my feathered friend, I felt a peck on my backside when I bent down!  Really, I swear!

Just when I was beginning to feel accustomed to my feathered friend, I felt a peck on my backside when I bent down!

On our third day, we start early at 5:30 heading out after breakfast to visit a small Sunday market where the Baduy Dalam people do their weekly shopping of dry fish, salt and tobacco.  They are very sweet and very shy yet as curious about us as we are about them.  

Baduy Women Working in the Rice Fields

Throughout the rest of the day, we see how the women weave, pound rice or perform other daily activities.  They are very happy for us to join them in the paddy field with the narrow paths, which we do, and compliment them on their large hats.  I bought one of these hats to wear gardening back home in Canada.

 Just before our last stop for the night, we make it down to the beautiful hanging bamboo bridge that carries us over to Gajebo where we spend the night.

Hanging Bamboo Bridge near Gajebo

Crossing on a Bridge Made from Living Tree Roots

On different trips, I have hiked a variety of trails and discovered such surprising things.  For one, a living root bridge.  It’s found on the outskirts of the Inner Baduy boundary.  Two trees, on either side of the river, have their roots trained to grow in a braided horizontal fashion across the river.  The span of roots also holds a bamboo platform. It’s not as easy as it looks to cross while the river rages below! Visualize a young boy crossing with durians on a wooden pole across his shoulders which weigh more than his body weight.  I had it easy!

Baduy Living Tree Roots Bridge

During the entire visit, we did not encounter one car.  Transportation is by foot.  There is no mechanized equipment, no electricity or other modern conveniences.  It puts us in the moment where we notice the fresh air, the beauty of the natural surroundings, the architecture of their buildings, or are enthralled by the skeins of cotton in black and white hanging outside to dry.  The slower pace gave us pause to reflect on our own lives in the modern world.

There is a serene way of life here reflected in the gentleness and kindness of the inhabitants.  The Inner Baduy have a population of 400 while there are around 7200 Outer Baduy.  It’s quiet here.  The natural world surrounds you as you hike or night over in a village. 

There is a serene way of life here reflected in the gentleness and kindness of the inhabitants.

I’ve barely touched on the many levels to their tapestry of life.   There is a richness you only appreciate by learning about it and experiencing their life with them. They live near the Jakarta urban centre yet they are inaccessible unless you make the effort.  You can discover it during a three-day hiking trip or repeated visits while living six years in Jakarta like I did.  They will welcome you.

Some of Our Baduy Friends

Best of all, I shared my shower with the chickens!   I remember it like yesterday.  I hope you’ve learned something new when reading my personal travelogue of meeting the Baduy people and I encourage you to keep on travelling.  It’s the best education I’ve ever received!                                                                                                            

About the Author

Helen author photo

There’s been no looking back for Helen since her first plane ride at the age of 19. For a Canadian, who at that time, had never travelled outside of her home province, Helen can now be called a world traveller and adventurer.

Travel is the best education she’s ever received and is pleased to have shared the travel bug with her family. Just look for Helen hiking in her famous pink hat somewhere in the world!

Photo Credits by the Author

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