Indonesia Expat
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The Village that Lives in the Past

A view of the houses while descending down the stairs

Climbing down the 260-odd steps that descend to the foot of rice terraces and narrow alleys, I glimpse the triangular-shaped top facades of symmetrically placed houses.

From afar, they look like myriad heads of some mythical beast watching out for intruders. It is past ten in the morning, but the mist still hangs in the air after an overnight rain. I walk down carefully with Pak Hardi, who was born and brought up in Kampung Naga, but now lives a little while away after his marriage. He continues to come here as one of the official guides to this traditional village.

As we walk through the alleys, the rice fields give off their fresh morning smell; that’s one of the first signs of being in a village. The paddies stand up majestically in front of Pak Hardi and me, layers and layers of greenery splash under the morning sun. A villager walks past us, shouldering four stalks of bananas, suspended on a pole cut from a tree branch. “That’s a bounty for the day,” I smile at him, curious at his effortless movement, and delighted to see the bananas.

Pak Hardi points to the terrace style of bamboo houses as we near them. The land of the Kampung Naga community has slopes, the reason for the houses to be built on separate terraces. There are around six terraces, each holding ten to 12 houses. Each level of the terraces is about two metres high and is made of stones. The terraces with stones extend down to the nearby Ciwulan River in order to prevent flooding during the rainy season and also to act against landslides. Pak Hardi reminds me of the complicated topography of the village, with its slopes cascading down to the river. “But we are prepared. This architecture is our best defence against natural disasters.”

The approximately four hectares of Kampung Naga village is divided into forest, village, and rice fields. A sacred forest called Leweung Keramat covers the east-west area. This remains untouched and unused as it is the resting place of Sembang Eyang Dalam Singaparna, an ancestor of Kampung Naga society. The houses and the rice fields are situated in the south.

Getting into the housing compound, I am offered more intricate engineering styles of the community.

The inner cores are planned so well that there is scientific reasoning behind the ways they are structured. While the houses, the mosque, and the granaries are located in one zone called the “clean zone,” the toilets, the barn for the livestock, and a pond are located away from them. This zone is the “dirty zone.” In between these two zones lies an open space, which is meant to keep them separated. The toilet, being above the pond, releases its sewage into the pond, supplying food for the fish. The water from the toilet passes into the pond through bamboo pipes. The pond also functions as one of the sources of water for the rice fields since water from it flows there. This prevents the water from getting into the Ciwulan River and contaminating it.

Pak Hardi looks at my face to make sure I am not yet overwhelmed by his descriptions. The traditional engineering marvel only propels me to learn more. I am slowly getting enamoured with the bamboo walls of the houses. I have every reason to assume it must be cool inside, not needing air conditioners during the day or night. It’s time to explore a house.

Pak Hardi says around 120 families are dwelling in the kampung, with about 360 household members in total. He leads me to the living room of a house that doesn’t look much different from many other traditional houses in rural Indonesia, except that it is completely made of bamboo and wood.

Paintings of Sundanese villages, traditional Muslim hats, and other decorative pieces hang randomly on the walls. Pak Hardi shows me a small, bamboo stick-made mouth organ the villagers play during their leisure time. They make them here as part of their art and craft projects. He plays a tune for me which is a close adaptation of popular Sundanese music that you usually hear in restaurants and hotels. The living room has a couple of bamboo chairs and a mat on the floor to sit and have casual conversations.

Pak Hardi leads me to the kitchen; a very traditional setup, giving impressions of minimalism at its best. For someone who has lived in pre-1960s Indonesia, the sight of a traditional fire stove with a concrete base can evoke emotional feelings. He keeps a bowl on top of a cylindrical-shaped aluminium vessel on the stove. He puts in some rice and pours water over it, demonstrating the way they cook rice.

Pak Hardi shows me the perforated holes on the roof through which the smoke gets out. Whether it be in the living room or the kitchen or the bathroom, the kerosene lamps shine bright, leading families from one place to another, creating long shadows on the walls that I used to love during an occasional power outage in my boyhood days. This is one of several reasons why Kampung Naga is different from other traditional Sundanese settlements – no electricity.

We take a walk outside where the families gather during important occasions or when the Kepala Keluarga (head of the family) wants to make announcements. A gong is hung, placed on a wooden stand here. The gong sounds to call the household members during gatherings. Going down a few steps from the gong is an open space between two rows of houses where the husk is spread out under the sun to dry. The Kampung Naga community is traditionally an agrarian society that depends heavily on farming of rice, bananas, and some vegetables.

Kampung Naga is located about 26 kilometres from Garut, which is about an hour and a half from Bandung, in the village of Neglasari. If you are driving from Jakarta, it might take about five to six hours depending on traffic conditions. This may not be an ideal destination for a day trip, so staying at one of the hot spring resorts at Cipanas, Garut for a night or two after the visit is highly recommended.

See: Spotting the Charm of Harvesting Season in Cancar

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