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Thread: The Living Bridge Builders

  1. #1
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    Default The Living Bridge Builders

    A few weeks ago Jim and I went for a walk in the Kendeng highlands of Java. Jim was getting a volcano and jungle fix before heading back to Canada and canoeing while I was getting material for yet another of my stories on the bushcraft of the hill tribes of Asia.

    The Kaneke are a reclusive pre-Islamic group that some anthropologists believe are descendants of a Hindu-animist priesthood from the time when Hindu kingdoms spread across South East Asia (Angkor etc.) Locally they have a reputation as sorcerers and magicians that has helped keep the outer world away.

    Whatever their origin they are known now for their rejection of the modern world. They refuse to leave the forests for towns, reject schooling and modern medicine.

    To the majority and most Western expats this is a foolish thing but I think they are wise. Most tribes that move to towns find themselves in slums soon to be an underclass of day labourers or farm workers, the women domestic servants, factory workers or prostitutes. A school curriculum designed by a dominant culture is almost always ethnocide. Their culture and animist religion will be ridiculed by teachers from the dominant culture. In this context that means they will have to conform to Muslim norms and Indonesian culture. Modern medicine as administered in the developing world falls short of its promise and you can be sure that tribes people are not going to be the ones who get kidney transplants to replace their diabetes riddled ones once they switch to a "modern diet" of cheap carbohydrate.

    Instead they are staying put and looking after their forest refugia, an ark of plants and trees which they have been stewards of for at least 500 years. Entry to this refugia is forbidden to outsiders and only very limited access is given to their domain.

    What really interested me was their use of plants in making living structures. Like fire pistons, living bridge construction is a technology found in the past among the hill tribes of Asia from the Eastern Himalayas to the Island archipelagos. Like the fire piston most peoples have lost the art.

    Here is a living bridge. The red shirt is me. The bridge is about twenty-five to thirty meters across.




    A Kaneke youth. His backpack is a home made ‘cotton’ sack.





    Nice whitewater below. It made Jim wish he had a canoe.

    Jim from the living bridge

    [IMG][/IMG]



    [IMG]

    In a tropical environment this is better than steel.






    Building a bridge like this takes decades and can only be done by people who have a strong sense of continuity and cooperation. It’s truly a case of building the future since you may never walk the bridge but your children and children’s children will.

    They live in villages on hill slopes or hill tops and construct stone walls and streets with river stones. No cement is used. Each stone is placed individually. The labour necessary to bring these stones up from the rivers points to a highly organized and cooperative culture unlike the majority Sundanese living in the lowlands whose villages have slick muddy lanes. They have as good access to such stones but hardly use them apart form chucking a few into muddy potholes in an attempt to even out the road.







    This keeps everyone fit and their simple living means that they are remarkably healthy looking with clear eyes and skin. No fat people except me.

    They are short as the picture of a door way shows.



    They have interesting blades. Jim bought this one.




    The bands on the sheath are buffalo horn. The handle is some kind of ebony. The wood is black but light weight. Very fine grain.

    The village forged blade is Damascus.



    They do not have electricity though the government has offered it. It’s strange to be in a place where it is quiet in the evening and almost completely black.

    While the trees are growing into living bridges they use bamboo bridges.
    If the tree bridges uses suspension bridge technology, the bamboo ones use arch technology.

    [IMG][/IMG]



    There are no pillars in the river, the weight is taken by the arch. There are no nails or screws in the bridges just fibre lashings made from the Arenga palm.









    This type of cordage is rough but very durable. It is said that the cordage can last for a hundred years, but probably not when taking such a load.

    In any case bamboo will not last that long and the villages turn out about 4 times a year to rebuild the bamboo bridges. They dismantle and rebuild with new bamboo in one day. Amazing organisation and cooperation.

    Apart from being stewards of the forest they have some interesting beliefs, most of which can be attributed to a culture attuned to its environment. I haven’t worked out their belief system yet so I am guessing but it is clear that Bhumi (Sanskrit for Earth) is important. They do not wear sandals so their feet are on the ground. They do not use or ride in any form of transport; they walk. If they visit cities they walk all the way. No iron implement is used to till the soil (erosion?). They do not grow the more productive wet rice but plant hill rice (to avoid terraced fields and erosion; to intercrop with forest cover?) No nails are used in their buildings only lashing , dove tailed joints or similar friction fits.

    They hunt deer, squirrels, mouse deer with nets which again requires a lot of cooperation and small prey are euthanized by suffocation. Spears are very seldom used and only for dangerous game.

    Fire wise it is percussion fire-lighting.

    I need to return a few times to get a better understanding of these people.
    "An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind" M. K. Gandhi

  2. #2
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    Brilliant! Many thanks for sharing.
    Great things are done when men and mountains meet.
    William Blake

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    Awsome craftmanship and beautifull structures, thank you for this anthropolic post.

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    Utterly fantastic post, thanks for sharing this.

    It would be a shame to ever lose such a rich and ingenious culture to 'progress'. So many indigenous skills developed over centuries can all to easily be lost ina couple of generations.

    I remember seeing an article years ago about the living bridges but your photos add a new dimension to the subject. It's utterly amazing an demonstrates a level of patience and altruistic investment long since lost in the modern world.

    Many thanks

    NS40

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    Brilliant
    So glad such people still thrive

    Thank you for the post

    cheers,
    M
    You are never too old to have a happy childhood. Muddy is a state of happiness :-)

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    Amazing!
    We need these cultures to survive and teach us all!
    Love makes the World go round......Lust makes it all go pear-shaped...

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    That's brilliant - thanks for posting it. Would you mind if I posted it on a non-bushy forum where there are people who would be interested?

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rod Paradise View Post
    That's brilliant - thanks for posting it. Would you mind if I posted it on a non-bushy forum where there are people who would be interested?
    Not at all. They are such happy people that i think they can teach us something. they are not defensive in their rejection of our world and are curious about it Jim sent them photos of Canada , ice and snowshoes and i gave them photos of Namibia - wildlife and San bushmen.

    Send me the link. i can brush it up for you if you like
    Last edited by BOD; 24-02-2012 at 15:00.
    "An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind" M. K. Gandhi

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by BOD View Post
    Not at all. They are such happy people that i think they can teach us something. they are not defensive in their rejection of our world and are curious about it Jim sent them photos of Canada , ice and snowshoes and i gave them photos of Namibia - wildlife and San bushmen.

    Send me the link. i can brush it up for you if you like
    I've posted it across (had to edit to get the pictures in & left out the blade part) - I'll PM you the link, it's into a general discussion diary so there might be some mixed views.

  10. #10
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    They seem a very careful and organised bunch.

    Its a shame we cant borrow their architects; they have very modern but non intrusive houses.

  11. #11
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    what a fantastic post, Thanks for sharing it with us

    www.ice-raven.co.uk -Arctic adventures

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    That looks great I would love to go there and stay for a while, To get used to the lifestyle. It must be nice living close to that kind of environment. I live in the North of England and have some beautiful countryside with in walking distance. I would love to go to the Jungle or somewhere similar. Excellent pictures too.
    Good Boots 'N' Bed, Coz if you ain't in one you're in the other.

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    Fantastic post Ash!
    Are they the same as the badui?

    Cheers,

    Tom
    I always carry my tinder in my bellybutton...

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    utterly utterly fascinating, thank you for posting, wish i was there !

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    what a great post thanks for sharing regards dave
    kindness is a language blind people see and deaf people hear
    my blog http://davesbushcraft.tumblr.com

  16. #16
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    Just got a call. The bridge builders are coming to visit us. They have been walking for two days from their highland home to this miserable metropolis of 24,000,000.

    What an honour. Got to make sure that they get through. Expat living means we are surrounded by walls and security who keep people out. Just hope some guard does not tell them to shove off.
    "An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind" M. K. Gandhi

  17. #17

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    Inofrmative post thank you

  18. #18
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    That is great stuff BOD, really love seeing those structures.
    And unbelievable that they build such a bridge in under a day that is a test of amazing skill and teamwork.
    I think its so funny that modern society thinks that we are improving our living standards, and yet the place where the most people with severe joint injuries and obese problems or anything like that, they rarely happen in those kind of cultures.
    Thanks for giving me something to philosophize about
    Yours sincerely Ruud
    Great stuff

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Galemys View Post
    Fantastic post Ash!
    Are they the same as the badui?

    Cheers,

    Tom
    yes they are but that's what outsiders call them
    "An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind" M. K. Gandhi

  20. #20
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    Shame that there isn't a way for such people to retain what they want from their way of life and to benefit from progress as well. Do they canvass the opinions of their wives and children as to their isolation?

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    Fascinating! Thank you.

  22. #22
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    An amazing report and pics. Thanks for taking the time to share.

    I am not young enough to know everything.
    Oscar Wilde

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