The Newsletter 65 Autumn 2013

Endangered guardians of the Sacred Forest

Alexandra Landmann

Ethnically, the Kanekes (or Baduy forest-dwellers) are Sundanese. The group dwells within a sacrosanct primeval forest area, but their origins remain a mystery. They have occupied their ancestral domain (tanah hak ulayat) for at least 500 years, probably longer. Remarkably, they are among the few Indonesian tribal communities that have been granted significant self-governance and jurisdiction over their ancestral domain, as stated by district-law No.32 (2011). This is a rare privilege indeed; elsewhere in Indonesia, this prerogative is a point of intense debate as it involves ownership of, and control over, natural resources. Consequently, despite its small population (about 11,500 individuals), the Kanekes group form an interesting case study; their self-imposed isolation, their practice of strict ancestral rules (Pikukuh Karuhun) and their Sunda Faith of Origin (Jatisunda or Agama Sunda Wiwitan) have given them a unique position in pre-colonial, colonial, and modern Indonesian politics and society.

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