The Kayu Agung live in South Sumatra. Kayu Agung means “the people of the noble wood.” They are not nomadic, but prefer to live in the same place their entire lives. Currently, there are about 40 Kayu Agung villages. The Kayu Agung speak Kayu Agung, a dialect of Komering which is part of the Lampung language cluster.
The Kayu Agung are made up of two groups. The first group is called Original Kayu Agung. People in this group tend to identify ethnically with the Komering people. The second group is simply called Kayu Agung. This group speaks a different dialect of Kayu Agung and they identify themselves with the Original Kayu Agung, but not with the Komering.
What are their lives like?
Kayu Agung houses have wooden walls and floors, with sago palm leaf roofs. The houses are usually raised off the ground on wooden stilts. In their home area, the Kayu Agung live beside the Komering, Rambang, and Ogan.
The Kayu Agung mainly live along the Komering river which passes through the district of Kayu Agung. This area is still affected by tidal river flows, resulting in the river being called laut (“ocean” in Indonesian) by the community. They mainly live in the lowlands. In the past this area was swampland, but now it is developed and has become an urban area.
Most residents make a living from rubber tree plantations. Like most other residents of South Sumatra, the Kayu Agung tend to be farmers. Nevertheless, they also have more ways of making a living because most of the area is urbanized, unlike other nearby people groups who live in more rural areas. Livelihoods of the Kayu Agung include being a merchant, office worker, and teacher.
Another way of making a living for which the Kayu Agung are very well known is to become a “duta.” A duta has a high social status due to his ability to get large amounts of money. The job of a duta is to be a top class criminal in large cities. Before a duta leaves his village, a special ceremony will be held to pray for his safety and success. Upon returning home, another ceremony is held to give thanks for safety and success. Even religious leaders support the duta.
What are their beliefs?
Almost all Kayu Agung follow Islam. However, many also hold traditional beliefs in the spirit world. They believe that ancestral spirits can trouble humans. Because of this, before a body is buried they must cleanse it with flowers. The goal is to confuse the dead spirit so it forgets its way back to its former home. A dukun (shaman/healer) is highly trusted and is often requested to perform rituals for planting and harvesting. The Kayu Agung also consider some areas to be sacred places for the spirits of the departed.
What are their needs?
The high social status given to the duta represents one of the unhealthy values of the community which needs to be corrected. This value is very popular amongst the Kayu Agung. Good moral education could help to eliminate this culture, at least among the younger generation. Because of this, there is also a need to build awareness for opening other business opportunities which produce a good income.