Culture & Curious Habits / Projects / Social Commentary

My first week at Bumi Pemuda Rahayu : Survival in Java (modern) mountains.

*) Written as part of Residency Programme at Bumi Pemuda Rahayu, October – December 2014


Signage for self service point petrol for vehicles. A culture/habit to nurture.

Late last month I received an invitation from Bumi Pemuda Rahayu to spend time and work within ‘Art and Ecology’ theme at Munthuk Village, Projo Tamansari, Dlingo, Kabupaten Bantul.

I flew in to Indonesia ten days before the residency began. I did not get the chance to recover properly from my jet lag as one of my best friend is getting married in matter of days. You know how weddings can be in Indonesia – festive, huge and boisterous. To me it was exhausting, but eventually satisfying event.

I have then only one day to prepare myself for this trip to Bumi Pemuda Rahayu. I took the morning train to Yogyakarta which takes about 7 hours and then I have Pak Agung who is originally from Kulon Progo driving me from the train station up to Munthuk Village. We arrived late in the evening at Bumi Pemuda Rahayu after a long winding road up the mountains with forests on our both sides. Pak Agung is a very friendly fellow and we get to chat along the way. That evening the weather was clear and we were welcomed by the important people in the village: the neighbors.

I am rather familiar with the countryside. Sounds of mooing cows and flapping chickens and growling cats accompany me through the first night in my new temporary home for the next two months. It is a cool but dry (due to lengthy dry season) weather at the village as you would have living in the mountains, which I greatly appreciate, being away from all the pollution and traffic of the urbans. I settled in and the first question I have was : The holy wi-fi. My 21st century middle class arse could no longer live without this access to the internet. How quaint.

The following morning we had a briefing about the residency while smoking my pipe (!) and then we decided to walk around and explore a different path towards the conservation area of pine tree forest. So we did and found the contour of the land rather steep and not for the faint hearted. I am happy I was OK with the terrain having a bit of stamina I tackled the trail quite well. (Thanks to cycling, swimming and horseriding ūüôā ) We walked for about an hour from 11-12. Current findings were a bit of forest, a very dry sawah, a banyan tree and two water source where some people use for bathing. Hello mooi indie paintings with nude Javanese women. It is also rather beautiful area to be, ¬†because you have a concave view of other mountains. This could be a beautiful spot for landscape sketching/ drawing.



A landscape from one of the hill top at Dlingo.


The following morning I started early (with the hope of having one of the neighbors walk with me, but no, he wasn’t there). It is okay, I did not mind. ¬†I walked through the main street towards the forest and literally everyone who lives at the main road asks where I am going to. I suppose that would be pretty much an early version of GPS tracking eh?

I walked all the way down, apparently off the beaten path, until someone (bapak-bapak who is taking with him a bunch of leaves for their goats/ cows) shooed guide me back to where the main roads are towards the next forest which in his opinion morre beautiful to walk around. I think it was because I walked off a beaten path- which was well worth it because it was gorgeous! and also because I was by myself. One does not walk around by herself in the forest of Java.

The bapak-bapak went to get nibbles for their cows/ goats from inside the forests. Cows are really well taken care of here, names were not given as pets would be named, but from the stories I heard, the cows lives a happy life in the country side. Then I started to put more attention to the cows around. I have to say from what I saw these cows are cute, clean and they are well taken care of. These cows have a good economic value, like a bank deposit for urban people but much more animated. I wonder how they select the plants for their cows? Also, it might be interesting to follow a number of local bapak-bapak’s daily walking trails and document them as reference.


The bapak-bapak who shooed guide me away from this part of the forest to the next forest.

On the down side, along few meters from the main road into the forest were glory of our modern plastic culture: garbage. Those nasty things are everywhere. Something must be done about this, no, really. It sort of get a bit better as you walk further into the forest I walked on and quickly learned that the forest here mixes with local farmers – or what the Forestry Department classify them as Hutan Rakyat (public forest?). So within say 1 km square area, you get to see a bit of pine forest and/ or acacia forest which smells really good as you walk through! ¬†and also you get to see local farms where they plant rice, cassave, sweet potato, corn, ‘padi gogo’, peanuts, bananas and get this: wild pineapples. I will have to come back and take photos of what the landscape would look like to show here. For now I give you photo of one the of the wild pineapples.


Wild pineapples that grew scattered amongst pine and acacia trees.

I walked back to Bumi Pemuda Rahayu after wandering around for 2 hours in three different part of the forest (My guess is I walked about 7-8 km in total, I did not yet use GPS device.) and as I started walking, Sur, ‘the man amongst’ -diantara- who is pretty much in charge day-to-day at Bumi Pemuda Rahayu happens to be on his way back with his motorcycle, bringing with him tons of stuff from the market to cook. So, I hopped on and quickly arrived just in time for breakfast.

Life within and surrounding the forest

People in the village basically live off the forest they (and their forefathers) takes care of. Bamboos they use to make simple crafts to sell, doors they use for their houses and to sell, food to feed their cows and goats even times they spent time to woo their lovers in the forest.  These forest are their livelihood.

I read some of the forestry report of the area of Bantul before I came here. For my project proposal I was aiming at Forest Conservation area to develop my walking trail. But then I realize the culture and tradition of Hutan Rakyat (People’s Forest) also has potential to work with.

Surviving in the Java (modern) mountains. 

I did expect that life would be rather simple up in the mountains, well I was wrong. This mountain are pretty modern and  you can get pretty much every thing you need (need, NOT want) here.

We get our organic bread from Bumi Langit about 20 minutes motor cycle ride from Bumi Pemuda Rahayu. Sorghum flour bread, brown bread, sweet potato flour bread and sourdough bread are available and made every Friday afternoon. Bumi Langit also produces honey, extra virgin coconut oil, Kefir and of course plent of happy people. On top of that the view is gorgeous from there!


Locally made peanut butter (left) and mango+mulberry jam (right) for our breakfast

I was impressed by the tempe packaging here. Coming from west Java, all the tempe is wrapped in banana leaf and (sometimes) newspaper and in the Netherlands you get tempe wrapped in plastic bag. Here you get tempe wrapped in banana leaf and Jati leaf. Gorgeous.


Tempe wrapped in Jati leaf and banana leaf tied with…



Mlampah-mlampah, Kids of Munthuk and My Tracks

The upside of living in a quiet mountainous area where nearest warung nasi is 20 minutes and no TV nor radio is… well, you want to keep wandering and familiarize with the area. You have landscapes as your entertainment source. The other day, while the other two residents went down to the city, ¬†Yudha and I wanders and manage to get ourselves to Kebun Buah Mangunan, Hutan Pinus (Hutan Lindung) all the way to Watu Amben, Dusun Plendeyan, Gunung Mlungker and Jurug Lengkong Sari which means we reach Bantul District.



View from one of the rocky hills at Hutan Pinus


Around the entrance of Hutan Pinus


Developed paths inside the forest towards people’s plantation.


Sunset from near Kebun Buah Mangunan.

News spreads fast. Our arrival at BPR, Fatimah, Arwin, Yudha and I, soon known by children who lives around. My guess is that Bumi Pemuda Rahayu has became one of their playground since it was built. These were kids age of 9-10 immediately came up to me and requested me to play with them. I was caught off guard to be honest. I did not expect children to just come up to me and asking me to play with them. After a brief thought, and it seems like the next logical thing to do is ¬†that I took it as a chance to teach and play something different from what they are taught in school. In the afternoon after lunch, I have about an hour with them (all 15 of them), used papers and newspaper one scissor and ropes. I suppose you make do with what you have when you’re far away from the shops. ¬†The kids seems to be having fun making balloon origami and I told them a bit about origami. Little did I know, it became a really good setting to chat and get stories out of them. Their daily lives, family, dreams and other things.

Some of the desa Munthuk kids learning to make map of their playground.

Some of the desa Munthuk kids learning to make map of their playground.

(show results of mapping workshop)

These school kids, unlike urban kids where they get public transportation and/ or someone to pick them up every day. Here they went with one of the parents in the morning on a motorcycle and walked back at noon. They walk about 2-3 km. Pretty healthy if you ask me. This could also be useful to follow as reference for walking trails documentation. After school, they would have lunch and time to play for a few hours. In the late afternoon they would go home, take shower and ngaji (citing the Koran). Some, if not all of them they would have extra lesson for dancing or Mathematics once or twice every week.

Since I have these kids looking for me at least once every week now, ¬†this week I thought to try mapping workshop about Bumi Pemuda Rahayu with them. I would really like to see Bumi Pemuda Rahayu through their eyes. I also asked them where they want to go and draw a map on how to get there. I was surprised to get Eiffel Tower as wishes for destination, ¬†(modern) mountains much?. One popular place to visit is also Mecca, which isn’t a surprise coming from an area that is, and I quote, 100% Muslim. Which I later found out that it isn’t 100% true, there are some minority of Christian here including a church. I still have to work out where that would be.

The other day I walked a bit at the forest nearby and as the sun sets we scoot to watch the city lights of Yogyakarta from above I got to thinking where the word ‘peta’ comes from. There isn’t any linguistic resource on this, so I have will have to make do with deduction. I checked Portuguese, Chinese, French, English, Dutch words for map to search for resemblance. Javanese language already uses ‘peta’ as a word and it is the same in every Javanese language even in Krama and Krama Inggil. So I have to guess Sanskrit. It was quite a nice finding, I suggest strongly it does come from Sanskrit language¬†bhupata. In this search I also found the word manacitra, which I find a really nice word that I could use in the future.

Screen shot 2014-10-19 at 9.11.45 PM


Considering that the area is well covered – internet and phone coverage connection, I tried an app called My Tracks which was developed by Google and it is open source. This was proven very useful to document walking/motorcycling tracks we do around here. I will continue to use this for the next weeks of my stay here.

SCR_20141020_163010 SCR_20141020_162909 SCR_20141020_162756 SCR_20141020_162831


To wrap up the week, here are some of the development for research and activities :

1. Historical records of the area.

– Writing down oral history meets recorded history about the people’s forest.

– Documenting history and stories from the area.

– Documenting tree planters/ mandor.

Java Productenkaart

Java map of produce in the 1800s


2.  Documenting Walking Trail

– Suggestions of walking trails for visitors to BPR or Dlingo area.

– Practical Guides to walk in the forest.

-Recommendation for signage design for walking trail in the forest.

3. Cultural Pattern in Forest Ownership in Java – An Essay

4. Festival Hutan Rakyat *)

*) Elaborate explanation will follow.



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