In har­mony with moder­nity

In­done­sia's 600-year-old paddy-grow­ing com­mu­nity has em­braced mod­ern life­style while pre­serv­ing an­cient tra­di­tions

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - NA­DINE FREISCHLAD | JAKARTA, IN­DONE­SIA @down2earth­in­dia

A com­mu­nity of tra­di­tional rice farm­ers in In­done­sia has ac­cepted moder­nity, but in har­mony with ageold prac­tices

WITH ITS own hy­dropower grid, food sup­plies to last a few decades and a TV chan­nel for en­ter­tain­ment, In­done­sia’s Cip­tage­lar com­mu­nity is in many ways both a model smart vil­lage of the fu­ture as well as a relic of the past.

The 16,000-strong Cip­tage­lar com­mu­nity, liv­ing in a vil­lage inside the Hal­imun Salak Na­tional Park, about 130 km south­west of In­done­sia’s cap­i­tal, Jakarta, con­sider them­selves

adat, a com­mu­nity that has ad­hered to tra­di­tional ways of life. They claim an­ces­tral rights to this land, where they have resided for over 600 years. In ac­cor­dance with In­done­sia’s laws, they are al­lowed to plant rice and cut trees inside the pro­tected area. Their fields are over­flow­ing with man­i­cured lay­ers of rice pad­dies.

The Cip­tage­lar vil­lage com­prises a clus­ter of sim­ple, rec­tan­gu­lar houses with wooden frames, walls made of bam­boo mats and palm-fi­bre roofs. The large open pi­azza is flanked by the house of the adat leader and his ex­tended fam­ily, an assem­bly hall, a tiny mosque, and sev­eral stages that are used dur­ing fes­tiv­i­ties. A visit to the

adat leader’s ve­randa of­fers a new per­spec­tive. Be­hind a small gar­den with pot­ted plants is a small lab where elec­tronic junk is stacked waist-high. Ca­bles and tools lit­ter the ground. The naked screen of a dis­as­sem­bled TV flick­ers with scenes from a doc­u­men­tary on na­ture. This is the work­shop of Abah Ugi Su­gri­ana, the vil­lage’s 34-year-old leader who took up the role af­ter his father passed away in 2003 has made a drone with bits of alu­minium and a re­mote con­trol from an old toy car. It is an ex­per­i­men­tal de­sign that of­ten crashes. He also fixes old phones, TV sets and com­put­ers. His lat­est project is to place sig­nal boost­ers in strate­gic lo­ca­tions to ex­tend the reach of his walkie-talkie sets so that vil­lage res­i­dents can com­mu­ni­cate with relatives in an­other vil­lage.

When Su­gri­ana is in his work­shop, usu­ally af­ter night­fall, sev­eral oth­ers are with him, pick­ing up skills in elec­tron­ics as they dis­man­tle bat­tery packs and gad­gets. He learns mainly from the YouTube, and also dur­ing meet­ings with other com­mu­ni­ties in In­done­sia. While it seems an un­ex­pected hobby for the spir­i­tual head of a vil­lage, he is car­ry­ing the torch of a tra­di­tion.

His father, Abah Anom Su­cipta, be­gan an ini­tia­tive to elec­trify the

vil­lage in the mid-1980s. He col­lab­o­rated with non-prof­its and pri­vate donors to build a se­ries of mi­cro hy­dropower sta­tions, plant­ing the seeds for what is now an en­ergy-in­de­pen­dent vil­lage.

As per the Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nu­san­tara, an indige­nous peo­ple’s or­gan­i­sa­tion, Cip­tage­lar is the first

adat com­mu­nity to use tech­nol­ogy.

Break­ing tra­di­tions

Not all com­mu­ni­ties have gone the Cip­tage­lar way. The Baduy, for ex­am­ple, has cho­sen self-iso­la­tion. Lo­cated near Rangkas­bitung town, 100 km northwest of the Cip­tage­lar, the Baduy have out­lawed change in favour of their an­ces­tral way of life and cur­tailed con­tact with out­siders. They do not wear shoes or use mod­ern tools. They farm, col­lect fruit and honey, and hunt fol­low­ing their tra­di­tional man­date which for­bids ter­rac­ing of land. In con­trast, the Cip­tage­lar be­lief sys­tem is about rec­on­cil­ing con­trast­ing con­cepts. The lit­eral trans­la­tion of the name of their goddess and pro­tec­tor of rice, Dewi Sri, is “two in bal­ance”. At its core, this refers to seek­ing a bal­ance be­tween hu­mans and na­ture, the phys­i­cal and the spir­i­tual world, tra­di­tion and progress, and open­ness to­wards oth­ers and pre­serv­ing one’s own iden­tity.

Rice rules

The plant­ing, har­vest­ing, stor­ing and cook­ing of rice are gov­erned by strict rules. Un­like in most parts of In­done­sia that prac­tice mul­ti­ple har­vests in a year, the Cip­tage­lar peo­ple har­vest rice only once a year. They also fol­low crop ro­ta­tion and do not use chem­i­cal fer­tilis­ers. Fol­low­ing har­vest, sheaves of rice are hung out to dry, af­ter which they go into stor­age in a wooden hut called the leuit, where the grain can be stored for decades.

Tech­nol­ogy is wel­come as long as it does not af­fect rice as it is sa­cred and the vil­lage life re­volves around it. “We want to go with the cur­rent of de­vel­op­ment, but don’t wish to be car­ried away by it,” says Su­gri­ana. He doesn’t mind cell­phones, but prefers the cheaper walkie-talkie.

The same goes for elec­tric­ity. Upat Su­padja, in his late-50s, man­ages the elec­tric­ity sup­ply in the vil­lage. He says their first suc­cess­ful wa­ter-pow­ered tur­bine was a do-it-your­self ef­fort that took its cues from sim­i­lar ma­chines run on plan­ta­tions. Big­ger, more pro­fes­sional set­ups fol­lowed af­ter col­lab­o­ra­tion with the In­sti­tut Bis­nis dan Ekonomi Ker­aky­atan, a foun­da­tion that sup­ports vil­lage en­ter­prises. Still, Su­gri­ana’s small, self­made mi­cro tur­bines con­tinue to sup­ply elec­tric­ity to clus­ters of houses lo­cated at a dis­tance.

Even the lo­cal TV chan­nel, Ci­gaTV, streams doc­u­men­taries shot by the chan­nel man­ager Yoyo Yo­gas­mana that show ev­ery­day life in the vil­lage and spe­cial fes­tiv­i­ties. “Now, it is har­vest sea­son, and we show what goes on dur­ing har­vest,” he says.

The chan­nel is also used for spread­ing news and com­mu­ni­cat­ing ap­peals such as ask­ing the vil­lage peo­ple to help gather wood and build a new row of leuit.

While the com­mu­nity is re­spon­si­bly em­brac­ing tech­nol­ogy, it is fac­ing a chal­lenge from a mod­ern-day in­ven­tion: plas­tic. Su­gri­ana says plas­tic comes into the vil­lage in the form of sin­gle-use sa­chets for ev­ery­thing— from fry­ing oil to soap. And since sa­chets come di­rectly from the fac­tory, he doesn’t see a way to solv­ing the prob­lem. “So far we have been ask­ing the peo­ple to col­lect only or­ganic waste and burn the plas­tic. But it wor­ries me,” says Su­gri­ana.


(L-R) Cip­tage­lar leader Abah Ugi Su­gri­ana in his work­shop; Af­ter har­vest, dried stalks of rice are stacked in huts, called leuit, where they can be stored for decades; The Cip­tage­lar peo­ple use tra­di­tional cook­ware to steam the rice on an open wood fire; Yoyo Yo­gas­mana and his wife Umi Kusumawati (be­low) run Cip­tage­lar's own TV Chan­nel, Ci­gaTV, out of their house

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