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Food Sovereignty in the Perspectives of Indigenous Religion

  June 11th 2020

Photo by: Simon Fanger (

On June 4, 2020, the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) held an online seminar in cooperation with CRCS and other organizations including Komnas Perempuan, Pusad Paramadina, LIPI, and Satunama. This online seminar was titled Food Sovereignty in the Perspectives of Indigenous Religion. In this online seminar, there were four speakers from four different indigenous religion groups: Anang Yulianto (Penghayat Ngudi Utomo, East Java), Andri Hernandi (Penghayat Aliran Kebatinan Perjalanan, West Java), Rini Suhartini (Masyarakat Adat  Kampung Cireundeu, West Java), and  Alfika Mamalango (Penghayat Adat Musi, North Sulawesi). Unfortunately, due to internet connection problems, the fourth speaker representing  Penghayat Adat Musi could not deliver her presentation. The seminar was moderated by Dewi Kanti from Komnas Perempuan and Asep Saepudin (CRCS alumnus involved in research related to indigenous communities) responded.

The first presentation came from Anang Yulianto, adherent of Ngudi Utomo. He explained that Ngudi Utomo originated in Yogyakarta and was founded by a farmer named Martowiyono, who received a revelation to seek the virtue of life after being ill for years. He found that the virtue of life is to seek God and do good things, because kindness is a main characteristic of God. After he found the virtue of life, which he called Ngudi Utomo, he recovered from his sickness and spread the teaching of Ngudi Utomo. Furthermore, Anang Yulianto in his presentation mentioned that according to Indonesian Law of Food (UU Pangan No.7, 1996), food sovereignty can be understood as the condition in which the need of food is fulfilled for every household, in good quality, sufficient quantity, and affordable price.

Moreover, Ngudi Utomo itself suggests its follower to perform nature-friendly farming, in which they are forbidden to use chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides, instead using herbal ingredients. Related to harvest activity, adherents of Ngudi Utomo are also instructed to save 30% of their crops as food supplies until the next harvest. In the time of planting and harvesting, adherents of Ngudi Utomo also practice a ritual, cok bakal, a thanksgiving prayer for the success of their farming activity and gratitude for the good harvest. They also regularly practice tirakat, such as fasting to reflect and pray for the betterment of their lives. In the time of COVID-19, Ngudi Utomo, as a community, also expresses their solidarity internally and externally. In recent months, the Ngudi Utomo community prepared 600 packages of basic food and shared them with community members and others in need.

The second presentation was delivered by Andri Hernandi, leader of the Aliran Kebatinan Perjalanan (AKP) of West Java. Andri Herdandi explained that Aliran Kebatinan Perjalanan began in Kampung Cimerta Subang, West Java, on September 17, 1927. The revelation or the teaching of AKP come through three persons: Sumitro, Mei Kartawinat, and M. Rasyid. One of the main teachings of AKP is that reality consists of human action and human attitude. Therefore, AKP teaches its adherents to do kind actions and maintain positives attitudes toward others and toward nature. Andri Herdandi shared that in AKP they believe that God is present through every rasa or feeling of humans and that God is also present in nature.

Therefore, AKP’s farming activity is closely related to rituals to honor God and preserve the harmony with nature. In the rice planting time, they make an offering, which consists of young coconut called dawegan santri (kelapa muda hijau, young green coconut), as a reminder that humans should always remember that they are still hijau (green) or lacking in knowledge and must be willing to learn to be a better person. Furthermore, there is also kendi diisi air or “jug filled with water”, as a symbol of the integration of spiritual and physical aspects of human life with nature. They also burn incense (kemenyan) and pray to God, because they realize that the result of every effort that they do is determined by God. Because of the strong spiritual dimension in all their farming activity, AKP adherents’ appreciation of the results of their farming also remains high. In all their farming activity they strive to always protect and preserve the land.

The third speaker was Rini Suhartini. She represents the Masyarakat Adat Kampung Cireundeu, Cimahi, West Java. Rini Suhartini explained that Cireundeu is a combination of two concepts. Cie/Chi means “water” and Reundeu/Sareundeuk means “working together”. The local wisdom of the Masyarakat Adat Kampung Cireundeu related to food sovereignty has existed since 1918, during the colonial era of Indonesia. At that time, Haji Abdi Ali suggested people in Kampung Cireundeu to practice food diversification, due to issues with rice cultivation and the threat of hunger for the Cireundeu. In response, they changed their diet from rice to cassava and other tubers such as taro, sweet potatoes, etc. Furthermore, in 1924 the community discovered a way to produce Rasi or rice from cassava and this became their main food. Masyarakat Adat Kampung Cireundeu argues that, in the future, the change of land function from rice fields into buildings will be a serious problem. Therefore, in their community, Masyarakat Adat Kampung Cireundeu benefit from the change in paradigm, transitioning from rice as a staple to an alternative in order to gain better food sovereignty. In doing so, they construct this as an important part of their culture, the skill of making rasi has become an important legacy passed from one generation to the next, taught by every mother in Kampung Cireundeu.

Lastly, the presentations were responded to by Asep Saepudin. Asep Saepudin in his response argued that in indigenous religions, human spirituality is not only related to God but also to nature and to others. Indigenous religions’ spirituality is highly concerned with ecology and the preservation of the natural environment. In relation to food sovereignty of the indigenous communities, it is clear that all steps in fulfilling the need for food (production, distribution, and even consumption) have strong spiritual nuances. Therefore, Asep Saepudin suggests that to strive toward food sovereignty in a nature-friendly way, we need to learn from indigenous communities and their practices.