Kampung Naga, a traditional village in West Java

It is always fascinating to find a community adhering to its own strict customs and traditions in the midst of a bigger community whose civilization is moving in leaps and bounds — albeit in a very uneven manner — into a modern era. Kampung Naga, a community of 101 families, between Garut and Tasikmalaya, in Neglasari district stirs this type of curiosity.

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Physically, while most villages in West Java more or less blend into the wider environment, Kampung Naga, occupying an area of 10 hectare, stands out as a separate entity in the district. It has a distinct appearance, and its geographical position in a valley provides it with a natural buffer zone from the “outside world”, if the term could be used. To descend into the valley, visitors have to walk the nearly 400 steps from the road level entrance. So the powerful feeling of stepping into a different world helps prepare visitors to accept the unique qualities of the village, especially as you descend those winding set of steps you also see in passing, wet rice-fields in perfect rustic settings.

Once in the valley, the ambience is so quaint and peaceful that an added aspect of stepping back in time enhances the overall impression of having left “civilization as we know it”. Some women can be seen on their way to the communal well to draw water, either for washing or drinking. They are wearing batik sarongs, and on top, some have modern shirts or blouses, other have the more traditional kebayas. Around you are only the sounds of nature, human voices and their daily activities, and the occasional animal.In the village common several elders are sitting chatting, some smoking cigarettes.

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You have no need to see other houses, because they are all the same. They are even lined up in a uniform direction: north-south, allegedly so that each house can have the benefit of the morning sun. Since all the roofs, made of palm fiber, are black, one of the traditions — if you look down from the top of the steps at the entrance, the village presents a dramatic sight.

Every house has two doors: one to the living area, the sitting room and bedroom, the other to the kitchen and pantry where uncooked rice is kept. The kitchen and pantry tend to be dark while the living areas are brighter and airier. Everything is clean and functional with no frills visible, yet there is ample air of comfort and satisfaction around.

All tools and implements used in their daily lives are made of natural materials. Even the mat-making equipment is made of untreated wood. It is astonishing therefore, to see old radios and television sets in some houses, though they are operated on batteries, since the village has no electricity. The community chooses not to use electric power.

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Another point which adds to the layers of unreality of the community and its village is the fact that nobody knows where they came from, or why they are called the Naga (dragon) tribe.

Another tradition which is not obvious is that the line of inheritance is through the mothers, though the men are still the power-holders. Maybe that is also why, during our visit, on a Saturday, not one man was seen working, yet some women were working in the rice-fields.

While many questions find no ready answers, one thing is certain, Kampung Naga is able to remain a great deal more traditional than other communities in the district, in an enigmatic way, it seems. They are not, at least they do not appear, hostile, to outsiders or outside influences, yet mysteriously, they have managed to keep the number of houses the same throughout decades. And they are attractive to tourists, most of whom are not concerned with the village’s history, but with the fact that they are culturally unique.

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