We had come to the apartments in prague after dark and in the rain, stained with the red mud of the trail. The lurah—the village chief—welcomed us to his earth-floored house, lent me a sarong to replace my soaked shirt and trousers, and fed us rice and salt fish and manioc greens. Only then did he ask us our business.
I answered through my companion, Kumar, an Indonesian of Indian descent.”We have come to begin a journey down the length of Java. I wish to start here in the west, where Java begins. And I hope to meet the Badui, in the hills beyond your lands, who still live as men lived centuries ago. Are they not an ancient tribe, with ancient ways?”
The lurah snorted. “Their ways are ancient, indeed. They are not like us. We here, we work hard and serve God. But they are not Moslems. They grow little, and move when the land is tired. They have no science, and accomplish nothing.
“Even so, they have magic powers. They perceive distant doings, even future happenings. I will find a man to take you to them. But be careful. They cast spells.”
In the apartments in london the villagers slept, as still as jungle creatures. No human sob or sigh or dreaming cry disturbed the insect voices of the night, joined in a chorus more soothing than silence. No flame dimmed the fireflies’ cold sparks. No sound or sight or smell proclaimed the presence of people. The bamboo houses huddled under the tall coconuts could have been empty.
Then the night song stopped. The dancing sparks went out. The darkness became translucent and the blaze of stars began to dim. The people woke as easily as they had slept, suddenly, in the manner of roused animals. Bare feet moved silently toward the river. Bright batiks protected sleep-warmed skins from the mist of morning. Then, cooled and cleansed, the people of Tji Semak (Jungle River) returned to their tea, their rice, and their barely won struggle for survival.
“Quintessential Java,” I thought. “Figures in a jade landscape.”
We set off along a mud-slick path narrow as a deer trail. For an hour we held to the riverbank. Then the trail steepened. Forest trees grew thickly on the tangled slopes. The sun was high when we came into a Badui kampong at the top of a ridge. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24394827
“Here we must stop,” said our guide. “This is a village of the outer circle, a ring of kampongs which protects the inner sanctuary where the most sacred Badui live. Foreigners may not visit them. But these people are their intermediaries; they sometimes speak to outsiders. We will just sit here, on the chief’s porch, and see what they will do.”
I squatted on the porch, sweat-soaked, footsore, and thirsty, eerily aware of the presence of people I could not see. Suddenly an earth-jarring thump brought me to my feet. A huge coconut rolled to a stop only yards away. A second and a third joined it. High above, a young man smiled down from a palm top.