In the quiet town of Cibeo, going to a doctor instead of a shaman, opening a Facebook account or using a car can result in expulsion from the community
Oblivious to selfies and memes that obsess the rest of the world, the Baduy people of Indonesia maintain ancestral laws that prohibit the use of technology and restrict foreign influence to preserve their particular way of life.
In the wooded mountains surrounding the Kendang volcano, in the west of the island of Java, this community of Sundanese ethnicity has decided to reject electricity, roads, soap, smartphones or modern medicine, among many other things that form part of the daily life of most of the population of the planet.
To protect themselves from the rest of the world, the Baduy territory has been divided for more than a century into two zones: the ‘Exterior’, whose rules are relatively flexible and where tourists are welcomed, and the ‘Interior’, which contains three villages in Those who fulfil the mandates of their animistic faith Sunda Wiwitan.
On a rare visit to the most orthodox area, whose access is forbidden to foreigners, an Efe team could witness the delicate balance in which Baduy live between the laws of the Indonesian State and the customs of their ancestors.
The silence of the ‘Interior’
After more than three hours of walking between villages and mountains of the ‘Exterior’, a bamboo bridge gives way to the cultural and mystical heart of the Baduy, the ‘Interior’, where only Indonesian visitors can enter, accompanied by a local and a Limited Time.
In Cibeo, a town of austere bamboo, wood and straw homes where silence prevails that do not even break the footprints of the residents’ bare feet, as tradition dictates, go to a doctor instead of a shaman, open A Facebook account or using a car can result in expulsion from the community.
In addition, harmony with nature is a divine mandate in the village: four-legged animals are not to be hunted and the water course cannot be diverted, so houses line up along a stream where they wash Utensils and clothes
Ayah Naldi, one of the locals, says that every year two or three residents leave the inner zone or are expelled for breaking the rules, although they maintain family and commercial ties and attend traditional celebrations.
“I am not worried that our culture is lost when we ask our leader, we can be free and live outside, but if we are born (and remain) in Baduy Interior, we comply with the rules,” Naldi tells Efe in the robe and white turbans of the orthodox Baduy.
Live between two worlds
Today, about 1,500 people live in Baduy Interior and about 12,000 in Baduy Exterior, where there are more than 60 towns, but while hundreds have left both territories, there are many who live on horseback between both worlds.
One of them is Mursid, 25, who grew up in Cibeo and at 16, after frequently visiting relatives abroad, he asked permission from the town leader and his parents to leave his hometown and thus relax the impositions of his ancestors “I wanted to be free and there was no woman,” Mursid tells Efe.
Now the young man frequently visits his parents in Cibeo despite living in the outside area, where he complements his income as a farmer selling handmade bags on Instagram and Shopee, modern tools that would be impossible in his hometown.
A tribe facing development
The development of the island of Java, the most populous in the world with about 140 million inhabitants and the economic nucleus of Indonesia, and the arrival of the internet have influenced one of the few places in the archipelago where social networks did not arrive until recently.
The difficulty in reconciling the needs and aspirations of the people and the ancestral norms and customs is the biggest challenge facing the baduy people, admits Sarikan, deputy chief of the outer town of Cipondok.
The weaving of clothes, the manufacture of artisanal goods for tourists and the cultivation of some fruit and rice trees are the main economic activities of the baduy in the rigorous interior area, which prevents the overexploitation of the mountain and nature.
For their part, most foreign residents have plantations outside the territory baduy and the use of technology or mobile phones is frequent, although the rules do not allow it, but Sarikan recognizes: “we are human, and sometimes they are used for economic needs.”