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Cutting Edge Ecology: fighting the green fight with knives

“All life comes from water”, Bang Idin assures me, and points towards the Pesanggrahan river that floats beneath the Hutan Kota Sangga Buana, a large green city forest of some 120 hectares that he has singlehandedly created amidst the rapidly evolving real estate projects of Karang Tangah, South-Jakarta. “This place used to be a real dump”, he says, “basically a rottting pile of contaminated city waste”. It was also the paradise where he came to play and swim in his early childhood, before the area became too severly damaged and polluted by the luxurious apartment complexes along the river bank.

Bang Idin, a stern yet friendly man in oldschool Betawi costume, has dedicated more than 20 years of his life cleaning out the plastic bottles, dirt bags, batteries, machine parts and whatever else the people left behind, or the river washed ashore. Slowly, but gradually he has regenerated this place into a green city oasis, an oxigen refuge from the concrete exhaust jungle of Jakarta Selatan.

The Sangga Buana forest is stacked with 22 different kinds of bamboo; Bang Idin and his crew have planted thousands of trees and plants -jackfruit, rambutan, melindjo- and cultivate cattle, bees, as well as many crops for farming. In addition, a good stroll will bring you to an old reasonably kept grave yard, a water well, and several nicely build traditional Javanese houses. The latter are made from organic materials like bamboo and wood, coming from the same trees Bang Idin planted himself years ago. “All life comes from water”, Bang Idin repeats, “and the river rewards those who take care of her”. He raises his finger and gravely adds: “you do not pee in the river”. Amin.

In the middle of the forest you will also find a small workshop that produces goloks. And if there’s one thing you can say about the lone eco warrior Bang Idin, it is that he likes his knives alright. You will rarely find him wandering on the premises without some kind of lethally sharp metal object in his hand. Bang Idin has so many goloks, keris pusaka's and cutting edge blades in his shed that visitors refer to it as a museum. In the corner, stagged behind some parts for his motor cycle, he also harbours a large mineral stone, a batu lingga. According to an archeologist from the Universitas Indonesia, the Sunda Purba kings were sworn in at this stone. I'm sure that this ritual also involved some kind of sword.

Self-reliance is a key word for Bang Idin. After showing me his silat Betawi defense skills, he decides that now it is time for me to be sworn in. “Bring out the knives”, he orders one of the youths, and so begins my initiation as a green heart warrior. Bang Iding turns his back on a round tree trunk and counts five steps. His intense gaze is followed by a series of impressively fast underhand and overhand throws. Some of the blades bounce off the wood with a loud metal clang, but most of them flawlessly hit the mark with a gratifying chopping sound. I follow his example, we collect the knives and count again: 10 steps, and after that 15 steps. Two things are important, Bang Ibin entrusts me, first pointing to his head, and then his his chest: the focus of the mind, and the intention of the heart. A proper balance between these two will keep you on target.

In a way, Jakarta is fighting its own battle between the mind and the heart, I’m thinking, as my eyes wonder off to the megalomaniac stone palaces on the other side of the river. “Rich people want to live close to nature, while destroying it”, bang Ibin pretty much sums up the problem. And indeed, through the soothing forest sounds of birds, crickets and the rustling of bamboo leaves, one can hear the hammering and drilling of the construction workers. From where a fisherman is patiently sitting, watching his bait, you can also see the skeletons of the new 20 billion rupiah houses.

I have just completed my first training with Bang Idin, but I guess this green-hearted keeper of Sangga Buana needs an entire army of knife throwing warriors to stand up against the ongoing siege of real estate agents.


Robin Block is een dichter, muzikant en performer met Indo roots. Op deze website deelt hij naast poëzie en muziek, blogs over  de geschiedenis en het culturele erfgoed van Nederlands-Indië en Indonesië.

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