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An Indonesian Village Where Farmers Are Still Guided By The Stars

For decades the village of Cirompang in West Java has been self-sufficient when it comes to food. Residents rely on ancestral wisdom to grow and harvest rice.

Rice harvest in West Java, Indonesia
Rice harvest in West Java, Indonesia
Yudi Rachman

CIROMPANG — The women at Cirompang village in the Indonesian province of Banten make music with mortars used to pound rice. It's a sign that harvest season has arrived.

Cirompang village is located in an area of indigenous land near Halimun Salak National Park in West Java. Even when the seasons are erratic or there is a drought, residents say there is never a shortage of food here.

Indigenous elders, or olot, decide when to plant seeds and harvest their crop based on the constellation of stars in the sky.

"When the rice is blooming the pests usually start attacking. So we have a way using the stars to avoid that," says Abah Amir, one such elder.

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Women in Cirompang — Photo: Yudi Rachman

Villagers believe their method can predict pests like worms and mice as well as drought. Amir says pesticides and other poisons used to kill pests are not permitted in the village. Instead, they use the knowledge of their ancestors. "To anticipate pests we change the date of planting because the stars are always moving," he says. "In the village, no single pest is allowed to be killed because they have the right to live. If you kill the pest bad luck will follow."

Cirompang village is 637-hectares large. It includes forests and fields of rice and vegetables. Rice is normally planted twice a year by hand. No tractors or gardening tools are used.

As for irrigation, the villagers depend on rainfall and the river. There are certain rules in place to protect rainwater. Trees from the forest, for example, can't be cut down. Amir says the farmers have certain days off as well.

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Paddy field in Java, Indonesia — Photo: java tourism

After the harvest, grains are distributed to residents in the village and stored in barns. If a villager runs out of grain, they can ask for extra helpings from the barns.

The harvest feeds all 1,690 residents of Cirompang each year. They are prohibited from selling their harvest in the market, says resident Abar Amir. "Rice can be stored in the barn for long time ... And the variety of paddy is not allowed to be sold. The seeds did not come from the government or anyone but directly from nature."

The indigenous community of Cirompang have also began to plant other vegetables — peppers, tomatoes, cabbages, cucumbers, and onions — to meet their daily needs.

Cirompang is living proof that ancestors knew a thing or two about self-sufficiency when it comes to food.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Vulnerable Are The Russians In Crimea?

Ukraine has stepped up attacks on the occupied Crimean peninsula, and Russia is doing all within its power to deny how vulnerable it has become.

Photograph of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with smoke rising above it after a Ukrainian missile strike.

September 22, 2023, Sevastopol, Crimea, Russia: Smoke rises over the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters after a Ukrainian missile strike.

Kyrylo Danylchenko

This article was updated Sept. 26, 2023 at 6:00 p.m.

Russian authorities are making a concerted effort to downplay and even deny the recent missile strikes in Russia-occupied Crimea.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Media coverage in Russia of these events has been intentionally subdued, with top military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov offering no response to an attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, or the alleged downing last week of Russian Su-24 aircraft by Ukrainian Air Defense.

The response from this and other strikes on the Crimean peninsula and surrounding waters of the Black Sea has alternated between complete silence and propagating falsehoods. One notable example of the latter was the claim that the Russian headquarters building of the Black Sea fleet that was hit Friday was empty and that the multiple explosions were mere routine training exercises.

Ukraine claimed on Monday that the attack killed Admiral Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored," the Ukrainian special forces said via Telegram.

But Sokolov was seen on state television on Tuesday, just one day after Ukraine claimed he'd been killed. The Russian Defense Ministry released footage of the admiral partaking in a video conference with top admirals and chiefs, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, though there was no verification of the date of the event.

Moscow has been similarly obtuse following other reports of missiles strikes this month on Crimea. Russian authorities have declared that all missiles have been intercepted by a submarine and a structure called "VDK Minsk", which itself was severely damaged following a Ukrainian airstrike on Sept. 13. The Russians likewise dismissed reports of a fire at the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, attributing it to a mundane explosion caused by swamp gas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refrained from commenting on the military situation in Crimea and elsewhere, continuing to repeat that everything is “proceeding as planned.”

Why is Crimea such a touchy topic? And why is it proving to be so hard to defend?

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