Kanekes - The Baduy of West Java

Less than 3 hours from bustling Jakarta lives a community isolated in time and space, as they’ve lived for hundreds of years.

The Baduy, who call themselves Kanekes, are a traditional community living just a three hour drive west of Jakarta, in the hills near Rangkasbitung. Their population counts just over 10,000 and their homeland consists of a 50 square kilometre hilly enclave in the province of Banten. Ethnically the Baduy are Sundanese; they speak a Sundanese dialect and most of their art forms are also Sundanese, including dance and their traditional angklung music. The main difference is the Baduy way of live, which sets them apart from any other ethnic group in Indonesia: the Baduy are forbidden to adopt anything from the modern world and as a result their way of live has not changed in centuries.

Baduy religion is mostly animism and they worship the spirits of ancestors. This animism is mixed with Hinduism, and more recently some Buddhist and Islamic elements. Animism still determines most of their belief though. The Baduy also observe many mystical taboos. They are forbidden to kill, steal, lie, commit adultery, get drunk, eat food at night, take any form of transport, wear flowers or perfumes, accept or touch gold, silver or money, or cut their hair. Other taboos relate to defending Baduy lands against invasion: they may not grow sawah (wet rice), use fertilisers, raise cash crops, use modern tools for working their ladang fields, or keep large domestic animals.

The Baduy are divided into two groups: the Baduy Luar (Inner Baduy) and Baduy Dalam (Outer Baduy). The population of about 400 Baduy Dalam live in three villages in Tanah Larangan (forbidden territory), where no stranger is permitted to spend the night. They are the purest Baduy and strictly follow a rigid taboo system. They have made very little contact with the outside world and are considered as “People of the sacred inner circle”.

The Baduy Luar make up the remainder of the Baduy population, living in 22 villages and acting as a barrier to stop visitors from entering the Sacred Inner circle. They do follow the rigid taboo system but not as strictly as the Baduy Dalam. They are more willing to accept modern influence into their daily lives and many Baduy Luar now proudly wear colourful sarongs and shirts. In the past the Baduy Luar only wore their homespun blue-black cloth, and were forbidden to wear trousers. Other elements of civilisation (toys, money, kitchen utensils, batteries) are rapidly infiltrating especially in the villages to the north.

For my favourite selection of photos of the Baduy click here.