Indonesian Indigenous Studies

Amanah Karuhun: Indigenous Values for the Harmonious Life in Kampung Adat Kuta

Iis Badriatul M.

The state’s exploitation of natural resources has been the indigenous people’s main concern. Plantation deforestation and mining on coastal and small islands have threatened their existence as well as the surrounding ecosystem. A large number of state policies and regulations have negatively affected indigenous people. For example, the government working with private companies has exploited forests and other living resources of the indigenous people in Merauke, Maluku, and North Maluku.

In contrast to most indigenous peoples in Indonesia, the indigenous people of Kampung Adat Kuta show a unique experience in dealing with the government’s policies. The government has done several interventions in environmental management, particularly regarding Kuta’s sacred forest, Leueweung Gede. Nevertheless, the Kuta people, especially their leader, are able to navigate to their goals by using their indigenous strategies. This essay will elaborate on the Kuta community’s strategies for resisting the government’s weakening agenda against them.

Amanah Karuhun: A Guidance for Harmonious Life

The uniqueness of Kampung Adat Kuta located in Karangpaningal Village, Tambaksari, Ciamis Regency is the human-nature harmonious relationship through preserving their indigenous teaching called Amanah Karuhun. Amanah simply means “something entrusted to another person” and karuhun is the synonym of ancestral in Sundanese. One of their Amanah Karuhun is perpetuating the pamali (taboo/prohibition) in their daily life which can come from the words and actions of a very influential person. It has profound meaning for the harmony of humans with nature and their creator, coupled with a strong belief that people will get consequences if breaking the law. Some pamali traditions are applied by the Kuta people in building houses.

There are seven rules for every resident in building a house: avoiding the use of iron and roof tiles as later the material debris will pollute the environment; the house design which must be elongated; the direction of the facade; distance from one house to another; the space between rooms in the house; the area of rooms compared to other houses; and the location of the house in relation to the status of the owner in the family. Aside from maintaining harmony, these seven are also believed to strengthen Kampung Adat Kuta’s existence while accomplishing the harmony of family life of the occupants of the house and having the value of mutual concern, respect, tolerance, beauty, and courtesy.

The following pamali tradition is closely related to the forest management of Leuwueng Gede. For them, leuweung gede and all its contents are part of the coequal living beings. It becomes an axis mundi, or the primary axis of the sacred cosmos in which they live, and a location where a connecting ladder exists between the sacred and profane worlds, adopting the concept from Eliade. They worship and communicate with the spirits of their ancestors in the forest as they are practicing their rituals.  They believe that, besides God Almighty, supernatural entities such as Ambu Rama Bima Raksa Kalijaga, Prabu Mangkurat Jaga, Sang Mentil Putih, and Kyai Bima Raksa Nagara who reside near Leuweung Gede rule the ground they inhabit.

Furthermore, by preserving the forest, they are carrying on several hereditary traditions passed down from their ancestors. According to tradition, no one is permitted to enter the forest at will. People are allowed to enter the forest only on Mondays and Fridays; when entering the forest, they must be in a state of purity to clean their face or body at Ciasihan spring, a sacred spring in Kuta that always flows; they also have to protect the environment and are prohibited from destroying nature, defecating/urinating, carrying sharp weapons, disturbing animals, and wearing footwear. These prohibitions exist because the sacred forest is believed as a holy land in which ancestors will become enraged if those traditions are not followed, and worse will cause disasters for the community. Hence, those traditions have led the community to a more sustainable way of life that can withstand the various influences of modernization.

Leadership in Kampung Adat Kuta

In addition to the pamali tradition, the Kuta people are also very obedient to their customary leader, kuncen. He is the most respected person in the village. A kuncen gets his status hereditary. This status brings the kuncen an enormous responsibility and power over maintaining Leuweung Gede. Moreover, the position of kuncen requires the community to submit to his orders, and no one, including the officials, can argue with him. In fact, Leuweung Gede‘s status is state-owned, and it is one of the village’s revenue sources, which is formally the responsibility of the village officials.

The community, however, has never taken and used forest products. According to their customary laws, the Kuta people are not allowed to take forest products, whether wood, plants, animals, or anything else from the forest—not even to pick up fallen branches. Furthermore, because of the village officials’ involvement and the kuncen’s authority, Kuta village is subject to a dualist leadership system. Nevertheless, the interesting point is, while leadership dualism in other places tends to demolish indigenous communities, the kuncen can endure and even dominate the leadership. In consequence, the government appears powerless to challenge the kuncen’s authority.

The efforts to co-manage the sacred forest have been discussed since 2009. However, they have not succeeded and even received a strong reaction from the kuncen and the community, who firmly rejected the offer. The amanah karuhun for the people of Kuta is not negotiable but must be followed. Confronting it leads to severe sanctions, even the risk of life and honor for those willing to defend their identity and the amanah karuhun they believe in. As a result, the government has withdrawn from matters concerning the sacred forest. Furthermore, when problems arise between the Kuta people, the kuncen plays an important role in leading the dialogue, syawala. In syawala, the duduluran and sauyunan system (brother/sisterhood and kinship) is a strategy used by the kuncen to create peace. Several field studies have demonstrated that Kuta is a safe village with no criminal activity.

To sum up, indigenous peoples have faced various challenges throughout their history. During the colonial era, indigenous peoples were positioned as an extension of the colonizers who had to submit to the colonial government in any form. Obviously, Law No. 6/2014 is seen as a breath of fresh air that ensures the life of indigenous peoples. However, many articles in the law, such as the restrictions and uniformity of indigenous villages, have the potential to weaken the position of indigenous peoples. Many indigenous villages have been weakened as a consequence of government intervention in indigenous peoples’ lives. Because Kampung Adat Kuta is one of the indigenous villages recognized by the government, its management is the government’s responsibility. The indigenous people and the kuncen, on the other hand, can respond quickly to government intervention. They accept the presence of the government but retain the kuncen as their leader. Moreover, their devotion to amanah karuhun serves as a survival strategy. By carrying out the pamali traditions in daily life, they maintain a harmonious relationship between humans, nature, and God.

Iis Badriatul M. is a graduate student in the Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies (CRCS), Graduate School, Universitas Gadjah Mada

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