KANEKES (Banten, Indonesia)

Gabriel FACAL (Centre Asie du Sud-Est)

The Kanekes (also known as Baduy) compose a community of around 16,000 members, living in an area of ​​50 km2 of forests, in the Kendeng mountain range, an enclave located just 120 km southwest of Jakarta. They fall into two subgroups: the Kanekes of the interior (Jero) and the exterior (Luar). Kanekes Jero are not allowed to come into contact with non-Kanekes, unlike Kanekes Luar. The Kanekes of the interior are organized in a tripartite manner through three villages practicing a mode of alliance determined by a hierarchy between elders and juniors. We retain from this hierarchy that the eldest is the guarantor of the joint ownership of the collective heritage and assumes the function of “a counterweight to the possibly innovative power and despotic tendencies of the political leader” (Berthe 1965: 222). The Kanekes conceive of themselves as the descendants of the Great Ancestor (Batara Cikal), one of the seven deities who descended on the earth, and they follow in the lineage of the first man, Adam. Like him, they observe a set of practices that they consider to be ascetic, including slash-and-burn rice cultivation. Indeed, as custodians of the springs that irrigate West Java, they owe it to themselves to ensure the irrigation of the downstream lands. More fundamentally, they consider that their good ritual practices depend on the balance of the world, according to a complex cosmology associating animist traits, Hindu-Buddhist components, and fragments of local Islamic Sufism. As for historians, they believe that the Kanekes originated from a refugee community in the port kingdom of Pakuan Pajajaran known as Sunda Kelapa, which was destroyed by Muslim soldiers from the Banten Sultanate in 1579.

Since the establishment of the Indonesian Republic under Soekarno in 1945, the Kanekes have come under increasing pressure. These are exercised by several actors, such as the State, which wants to integrate this society into planning and development programs (particularly education and health); Muslim organizations, which strive to convert the inhabitants of twenty-two villages of Kanekes Luar; political parties, which want to gain votes during election time; and private companies, which aim at industrial exploitation of forest resources. To negotiate these different pressures, the community has delegated, through a council of elders, the functions of intermediation with exogenous actors to a small number of intermediary figures, brought together in a committee. In return, informal government spokespersons assigned these tasks to a notoriously corrupt Kanekes of their choice, an appointment which has caused much tension over the past three decades.

The research aims to shed light on the resistance strategies of the Kanekes to negotiate these different pressures. Interviews should be conducted with the indigenous intermediary committee, and additional surveys will make it possible to apprehend barely visible resistance, for example by assessing the way in which local knowledge in terms of internal and external political relations (focused on the hierarchy of elders-juniors, previously studied in a neighboring, Islamized society, cf. Facal 2012) are mobilized to open up alternative ways of self-protection. On the basis of the oral history that I have already collected, I note that the modes of mobilization have evolved over time: while from the 15th century, a certain form of allegiance to the government of the province was put in place through an annual ritual named sebah, after national independence in 1945 and since Reformasi in 1998, internal divisions touched on the issue of electoral participation, the relationship to modern technologies, and the link to Islam. Now, we need to assess the impact of the pressures experienced over the past decades, for example, by comparing traditional agrarian, ritual, and political practices recounted in oral histories and actual contemporary practices.

In addition, with a view to the bill on the rights of “indigenous peoples” carried out since 2018 by the Indonesian government, we will be attentive to the discourse of cultural authenticity and to the community withdrawals endorsed by certain more or less legitimate and autonomous representatives of the community, to identity rhetorics formulated by external defense committees, including within the academic world. These positions support an indigenist ideology of the naturalist or ecological Kanekes, masking the adaptive transformations of cultural and political practices in the face of changes in the local ecosystem.