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Indonesian bamboo culture

Diverse use of bamboo is one element we should pay attention to understand Indonesian lifestyles. I noticed the utilization of bamboo in various situations in my summer field trip to Indonesia. In this report, I consider people’s perceptions of bamboo by comparing its use in urban and rural areas, ranging from Bandung to the countryside. I also mention the ideal means of inheritance.


During this field trip, I first observed bamboo being used for scaffolding to build a house in Bandung. To my surprise, the scaffolding was 8 m high and made entirely of bamboo. The structure looked too simple to support the workers. After that, I saw a second instance of bamboo use in a restaurant, where it was used for both practical purposes (e.g., curtains and walls) and for decorations. The beautiful woven texture made it seem very different from the bamboo used for scaffolding. In addition, the Museum Sri Baduga has many bamboo-related items, such as arrows, farming tools, furniture, and yarn-spinning tools. Bamboo is used in various aspects of Indonesian life—sometimes as temporary architecture, other times as permanent decorative motifs inside houses. I gathered that bamboo had long been used as a convenient material in daily life.


To describe the use of bamboo in urban areas, I should also explain Saung Angklung Udjo. This is a cultural facility for promoting traditional bamboo musical instruments (angklung in Javanese). The area contains souvenir shops and concert halls for angklung performances. Tourists can enjoy traditional puppet shows and performances on bamboo instruments. The facility is not only for tourists but also plays an important role in transmitting traditional culture to local children. As part of their official lessons, children from local elementary and junior high schools perform in the concert. To make sounds, a bamboo frame is swung by hand, and bamboo pipes hit each other. Angklung are made by the players and staff of the facility. Since the bamboo used to make this instrument needs dry conditions, it is important to use bamboo dried more than three years. In recent years, they have been adjusted to the European musical scale, so modern angklung can now be played like a handbell. We had a very satisfying experience participating in the performance, which employed not only angklung but also various musical instruments such as the gamelan. In addition, many bamboo items are used in the building, such as the ceiling stilts, and palanquin. Living bamboo is also planted around the building. They intentionally created the characteristics of the facility using bamboo material. However, such utilization of bamboo differs from its use in everyday life, and it is a bit too focused on tourism in this regard.


We also went to Kampung Naga, a traditional village in West Jawa. It is about 90 km from Bandung. We went down long, steep stairs to enter the village. The view of the village from the slope was beautiful. The interesting aspect of Kampung Naga is that they continue a traditional lifestyle, not using gas or electricity. The villagers were gentle and welcomed us with a smile. The village is divided into “inside” and “outside” by bamboo fences. “Inside” is the villagers’ living space. “Outside” is for toilets, washing spaces, barns, etc. Only chickens are allowed to live inside the village.


Surprisingly, bamboo was used everywhere in the village—for fences, toilets, washing places (bath and laundry), props for growing plants, outer walls, inner walls, floors, roofs, fences for chickens, colanders, baskets, instruments, fishing tools, etc. It was used for parts of houses as well as for cups or instruments. Walking through the village, I always saw bamboo. Villagers cut the bamboo that grows in the private forest around the village. I was especially impressed by the use of bamboo in houses, which were made of natural materials such as palm leaf and teakwood, in addition to bamboo. The shapes of bamboo as constructional elements of houses can be divided into three types. The most common type is called Ayan Blik, which is tightly woven lattice using bamboo 25 mm wide. It is often seen outside Kampung Naga and is sold in rolls at street shops. The next type is Anyam Sasag, which is also a woven wall. It uses 25 mm wide bamboo for vertical lines and 5 mm wide bamboo for horizontal lines. It has cracks since the vertical lines are thicker than the horizontal ones. Thus, it is used for kitchens to release heat when cooking. The structure of the traditional house is simple. It is divided into living and kitchen areas, each with a door. The door to the kitchen is also made of Anyan Sasag. The most unique shapes are flat ones of opened and pressed bamboo. The bamboo is forcibly opened and split; this is used for the floor in the kitchen. Here, water drops to the ground through the splits. These transformed forms depend on types of rooms with different roles. Thus, we can say that bamboo is useful and easy to obtain for villagers.


I noticed big differences in the recognition of bamboo between urban and rural areas. In the city, although bamboo is known as a traditional material, it is far removed from daily life, including nostalgic images. It only continues to be used in special situations, such as scaffolding. On the other hand, in the countryside, as in Kampung Naga, bamboo is usable in almost any situation, ranging from toilets to holy places. According to the villagers, bamboo is not special but simply a necessity in their everyday lives. Kampung Naga is a special case because they deliberately retain a traditional lifestyle. However, I did see bamboo used in other small towns around Kampung Naga. I imagine it was recognized as a useful material by those people as well.


In this field trip to Indonesia, I was fortunately able to see various aspects and the diversity of bamboo use in West Jawa. If I had only observed Bandung, I might have developed a narrow view that bamboo was mainly used as a practical material in the past. If I had not received explanations from the staff at Saung Anklung Udjo, Iwould not have known about the background of bamboo as a material and why they use it, other than for musical instruments. Of course, the museum and cultural facility show that many natural materials, aside from bamboo, continue to be used in Indonesian life, and they have the potential for development. In doing so, it will create a future that coexists with nature and will lead to cultural inheritance. (E. A.)

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