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Abah Anom

The nomadic 'community' of Abah Anom preserves their ancestor-inherited tradition and customs that, until today, still attract people from far and wide to visit the community. Abah Anom, which locally means a person who is considered 'old', refers to the traditional chief of Banten Selatan, locally known as Kepala Adat, who is in charge of agricultural matters. Encum Sucipta, who is the eighth chief, lives with his 'community' in a remote mountainous area about 1,200 meter above the sea level in Cipta Gelar, Cicemet village of the Sukabumi regency in West Java, around 50 kilometers from Pelabuhan Ratu.

The Abah Anom community consists mostly of traditional farmers who have unique customs and particular ways of life, especially in terms of land cultivation and the shelters where they live. The supernatural also colors their way of life The position of Abah Anom as tradition chief is not gained from an election but from what locally known as 'wangsit' a kind of dream-like supernatural guidance, or vision. Abah Anom Encup Sucipta, the first son of the late Abah Anom Arjo with his third wife, received his father's 'wangsit' to become the tradition chief when he was just 18 years old. "I was confused when I first received the position, but one year later I felt confident after learning from my relatives and other people," said the long-haired, laid-back Abah Anom Encup.

No official documentation accompanies the position of Abah Anom, but people usually get information by word of mouth or by visiting him. The original Abah Anom and his community never settled permanently in one area, but lived a nomadic existence moving from one place to another. Where they settled depended on the 'wangsit', which usually led them to mountainous areas. This tradition continues until today.

"Actually, I would prefer to live in my old house in Ciptarasa - about 9 kilometers from my current house - but what can I do? I have to move because of the 'wangsit' from my ancestors which must be obeyed," said Abah Anom Encup Sucipta. He moved to his current place just one year ago after a 'wangsit' that he received in 1992.

The Abah Anom housing complex has a serene, tranquil atmosphere and breathtaking views of lush mountainsides and valleys. All buildings are made of bamboo with ijuk tepus (black sugar palm-fiber) used for the roofs. A building on a one-hectare patch of land comprises the imah gede - a large house for community activities such as thanksgiving and meetings, as well as a large public kitchen. The tiang kelapa room is decorated with coconut wood poles for the Abah Anom's family, two stage houses for entertainment activities and several lumbung: small rice storage houses. Like many aspects of community life, the choice of housing materials is determined by the 'wangsit'.

The Abah Anom community holds four events in a year as an expression of thanks to God. They are 'tanam', a thanksgiving held before cultivating rice padi, 'potong', thanksgiving held before cutting the padi, 'makan nasi pertama', thanksgiving held before eating the first rice from the harvest and 'Sarehtahun', thanksgiving held to celebrate the harvest.

Abah Anom has over 500 representatives, with around 3,000 people spread over three regencies: Lebak in Banten, Sukabumi and Bogor. 'On Sarehtahun Day, all representatives gather here to celebrate, with various local art groups enlivening the seven day celebration," he said.

List of visitors include those from Australia, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, Italy and the USA. Abah Anom disclosed that students from local and foreign countries who take an interest in social work have, along with locals, built facilities such as schools, lavatories and water channels. He cited students from Gordon School of Great Britain who have three times visited his former house in Ciptarasa in 1994, 1995 and 1996. Along with local people, they built a school. "One of the student was the grandchild of Queen Elizabeth. He joined the visiting group in 1996," he said.

For anyone wishing to gain fascinating insights into some of Java's more remote customs, a visit to Abah Anom as an excursion from Pelabuhan Ratu would be well worthwhile. To reach the house up in the mountainous area, a good 4-wheel drive vehicle is necessary to negotiate the long, unpaved mountain roads. Due care is necessary especially during the rainy season, when the windy road becomes very slippery. An alternate method is to take an 'ojek' - motorcycle taxi. There are about 10 skilled motorcyclists ready to take you from the foot of the mountain. They charge around Rp 80,000 per person for a return trip. Abah Anom will be pleased to offer you accommodation for the night there free of charge, and if you stay for several days, it is advisable to give donation for food you eat while with your hosts.

An ideal place to stay is the Padi Padi Resort Hotel, about 50 kilometers from the Abah Anom. The hotel has a knowledgeable guide to the region and a sturdy Land Rover to get you around.


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