Isolated Indonesia tribe immune to global crisis

Thu Nov 27, 2008 7:22pm EST
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By Ed Davies

GAJEBOH, Indonesia (Reuters) - High in the lush hills of far western Java, an animist tribe lives a peaceful existence, untouched by the turmoil of the financial crisis.

The Baduy, who are estimated to number somewhere between 5,000-8,000 people, are an anomaly surviving in tribal lands only 120 km (75 miles) from the teeming megacity of Jakarta.

Yet despite their proximity to the Indonesian capital, the Baduy might as well be a world away as they live in almost complete seclusion, observing customs that forbid using soap, riding vehicles and even wearing shoes.

Villagers stare blankly when asked about events in the outside world. Salina, a young mother, plays with her son on the steps of a thatched-roof hut in this small river-side village.

"I don't understand about any crisis," she says when asked about the economic turmoil that has taken its toll on the rupiah which has lost almost 25 percent of its value this year.

Within a 50 sq km (20 sq mile) area in the shadow of Mount Kendeng, the Baduy people cling to their reclusive way of life despite the temptations of the modern world.

No one is certain of their origin. Some anthropologists think they are the priestly descendents of the West Java Hindu kingdom of Pajajaran and took refuge in the limestone hills where they now live after resisting conversion to Islam in the 16th century.

They speak an archaic version of Sundanese, a language spoken by many in this part of western Java.   Continued...

<p>A Baduy tribewoman pounds coffee beans in front of her house in Cipaler village in Banten province, July 11, 2008. REUTERS/Nunu Nugraha</p>