Living in Another Dimension

Trip Start May 01, 2005
Trip End May 01, 2005

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Monday, May 2, 2005

The Indonesian word naga refers to dragons-ancient, hypothetical, serpent-like creature that lives in myths in many cultures. But there are no dragons in Kampung Naga. Yet, be there dragons or not, life in this mistakenly-translated "Dragon Village" is no less ancient nor mythical than that creature itself. It is a realm, disconnected from its surroundings, hardly tethered to the invisible threads of modernity. It is a place where lives are set in another dimension.

The origin of the name turns out to be more down-to-earth rather than anything else: it is cleverly abbreviated from the Sundanese locative phrase, dina gawir, which means "beneath the hills," or more simply, a valley. This valley, where the indigenous tribe dwells in, is encircled by steep cliffs. Different vegetations blanket these massive rocks, and here and there a small waterfall shoots from a great height. Ciwulan River, with its gentle current, passionately runs through it; its sienna-colored water nurtures every living thing unceasingly.

However secluded they are from the world outside, the tribe's deliberate kindness to strangers is second to none. Not long after we had stepped out from our vehicle and entered one of the shops on the hilltop, a local youth quickly offered us cooked yam. "Bade taleus, Bu?" he asked casually to my mom and auntie as if they were his friends. Couldn't think of politer way to say no, they just shook their heads and smiled. That smile was given back.

We began to step downward along the 360 concrete stairs as our guide calmly narrated the legend and life in Kampung Naga. Seen from above, the thatched roof of the dwellings resembled a thick pine forest blending with the surrounding yellow-green-the paddy fields. As we came closer and lower, everything materialized more and more vividly. It felt like looking at a civilization through a microscope.

Down here the tribal traditions are still strictly maintained within their boundaries. "Do not swim on the river nor enter there," he gave us an example, pointing his finger towards the so-called forbidden forest across the river. "You won't know where the spirits might take you." Then we walked further, past some murky pools and barns, pungent with mixed odors of bleating livestock.

The indigenous people of Kampung Naga live in rows of identical wooden houses in the one-and-a-half hectare wide, plain land, circumvallated on all sides by bamboo fences. He held one of the bamboo poles, his head drooped a bit before he spoke. "The young generations, after they come of age and get married, rarely stay here. Not that there are no space left to build more houses. It is our law that forbids us from doing so outside this border." How about you, I asked. "I'm married to a woman not from our tribe, and we have to live atop the hill."

It was indeed the young generation, the truly young, that fascinated me completely. When we entered the gate, they just kept on doing their activities-playing soccer, flying their kites, chasing each other-without even lifting their heads to look at us, the strangers right in front of them. Not different than chicken, we were unimportant in their playful eyes. These kids are so unusual, in a sense that children are usually attracted to strangers.

We walked past the mosque and the meeting hall, into a narrow alley. In front of a house, our guide motioned us to come in. "He is my relative," he smiled at a middle-aged man trying to start his oil lamp burning. The door opened straight into the kitchen. I got in; it was all dark. Beside the kitchen was a closed room where the family's supply of rice was kept. On the other side was a living room, or so I thought, where another middle-aged man, helped by his daughter, was weaving a basket in total darkness.

Their kindness to strangers appeared again inside this house. The first man, his oil lamp already burning, now held a plate of food and asked us to try it. Again, we hesitated and answered no, thanks. Then he opened up a hole in the floor and threw some of the food down there. Before I asked him why he did that, he had already supplied me the answer. "We raise chicken below the kitchen. Whenever we have spare food, we give it to them."

I came out of the house to see my mother playing with an agile kid. At last, there was a kid who finally got interested with our presence, or rather, my mother's. And then there was a knocking sound from the mosque, calling everyone that the hour of prayer, maghrib, had come. To me, the sound was a mockery for all of us who live in the so-called Internet age, where telecommunication is so easy yet disagreements still prevail in our society. It's not like that with these people. The only "tele-" they have can reach only so far, and last only so long. But look at the effect: Everyone gathered so quickly to the water source and started to clean themselves. That was when we began to climb up that seemingly endless flight of stairs, into the land of ordinary dimensions in that foggy sky. I looked down once more, with honest admiration to the inimitable people and the valley as their cradle. I wondered if perhaps God, too, is looking down at us in the same manner.
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NN on

Agree, it's a very unique place to visit, & the villagers live in harmony & tranquility. The "Kampung Naga-Dragon Village" is not refer to any real dragon nor dragon story. According to the local guide, the name "Naga (Dragon)" is an abbreviation frm local words for easy pronunciation, should be from "NA" of "dina", & "GA" of "gawir". I visited there few days ago, i.e. March 18, 2011.

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