Living in harmony with
the nature

Agricultural traditions remain deep-rooted for residents of West Java’s Halimun Mountain, especially those who dwell in its foothills. Living on land thousands of meters above sea level, the mountain people treasure their ancestral social structure, called kasepuhan. Usually led by an abah (father), the kasepuhan functions as a mini government for the people, and aims to ensure people’s prosperity. Rooted in tradition, the kasepuhan holds a regular annual gathering called Seren Taun, which literally means “year ender”. The gathering is a way for people to give thanks to mother nature for a good harvest. In a way, it is also a reminder for locals to stay in harmony with nature and to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors. This year’s Seren Taun took place last week at the kasepuhan Ciptagelar — at 300 years old, the biggest kasepuhan. Its leader is Abah Ugih, a man in his mid 20s. The young leader inherited the title after his father, Abah Anom, died at the age of 54. Kasepuhan Ciptagelar oversees more than 300 small villages dotting the foothills of Halimun National Park, some eight hours’ drive from Jakarta. Under the kasepuhan, people live by to a traditional legal system that bases every decision on the harmony of nature. For instance, the use of chemical fertilizers in rice cultivation and the sale of harvested rice are prohibited. Instead, the law stipulates they must give the rice to whoever asks for it. The leuwit (rice silo) is the heart of the kasepuhan, serving as a symbol of social status and wealth. So the leuwit takes center stage in the Seren Taun, which includes the ritual storing of rice in the biggest leuwit, called the leuwit si jimat (sacred barn). Only the abah and kasepuhan elders are allowed to enter the barn. With the advent of Abah Ugi, a younger generation at the kasepuhan are now taking a more active role in their community to conserve their traditional way of life. But with the passing of time and the current development of gold mining nearby, how long will they be able to live their nature-oriented way of life?

— Text and photos by J. Adiguna

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