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5. Socio-economic problems of the kampung laut community in central Java

Ida Bagus Mantra

The Segara Anakan is an estuarine lagoon system in southern Java, close to Cilacap, consisting of many small, mangrove-covered islands in a lagoon environment (fig. 1). There are three villages on the islands - Ujung Gagak, Penikel, and Ujung Along together constituting a community called Kampung Laut. This is a fishing area, and most of the population engage in fishing.

At present, the Segara Anakan and its surroundings are in a state of rapid physical and biological change. Siltation of the lagoon and rapid progradation of its shorelines have accelerated as a result of increased sediment yield from inflowing rivers due to rapid soil erosion in their catchments (fig. 2). Together with the reclamation of bordering swamps and some destruction of mangrove forests, this has reduced the viability of the estuarine fishing industry.

Because the islands are surrounded by the lagoon, water transportation is vital. The villages are accessible only by river, tidal channels, or the waters of the Segara Anakan, and dugout canoes or commercial ferry boats are the only means of transportation. Nearly 80 per cent of the households own canoes, which are used for fishing.

Ferry services, operating daily from Cilacap and Kalipucang , call at Mutean , K laces, and Karanganyar (fig. 3). These ferries, which have been in operation since 1970, have reduced the isolation of the Kampung Laut people. The larger commercial towns in the area are Kalipucang and Pengandaran 115 and 30 km west), Sidorejo (15 km north-west), Kawunganten (10 km north-east), and Cilacap (30 km south-east) (Su Rito Hardoyo 1 982).

The Kampung Laut villages cover 7,350 ha, or 73.50 kmē, of which only 3.6 per cent is used for housing compounds; 22.5 per cent consists of state forest, and most of the rest (over 70 per cent) consists of mangroves (table 1).

FIG. 1. The Segara Anakan lagoon system in southern Java

FIG. 2. The catchment basin of the Segara Anakan. Deforestation and cultivation on steep slopes have caused soil erosion, increasing the sediment yield of the Citanduy river and its tributaries and thereby accelerating the infilling of the lagoon.

The villages are compact settlements lining the tidal and river channels or clustering around a central street. Various housing styles and materials are used, with the number of houses built on piles varying between kampungs (table 2). Bugal is the only kampung where all the dwellings are built on piles. Some 56 per cent of the dwellings are of timber and 37 per cent are of bamboo. The majority have earthen floors. Roofing materials include nipa thatch (32 per cent), tiles (28 per cent), and corrugated iron (40 per cent).

Most wooden dwellings have no separate kitchen, and cooking is done on a small wood-burning stove or more rarely on liquid- or gas-fuel stoves. Only 1 per cent of the households have bathrooms, and for most people the river and tidal channels provide for bathing and defecation. Consequently, in several kampungs, sanitation is poor and the house and adjacent environment unpleasant (Su Rito Hardoyo 1982).

TABLE 1. Land use in Kampung Laut villages, 1980

  Ujung Alang Ujung Gagak Penikel Total
Ha % Ha % Ha % Ha %
House compounds 130 4.6 76 3.1 55 2.7 261 3.6
Fish ponds - - 0.25 0.01 - - 0.25 0.0
Dry fields 30 1.1 - - - - 30 0.0
State forest 675 24.1 476 19.0 505 24.6 1,656 22.5
Mangrove forest 1,965 70.2 1,948 77.9 1,490 72.7 5,403 73.5
Total 2,800 100.0 2,500 100.0 2,050 100.0 7,350 100.0

Source: Cilacap Sub-district Office 1980.
Slight discrepancies in the totals are due to rounding.

TABLE 2. House construction in Kampung Laut villages, 1980

  Ujung Alang Ujung Gagak Penikel Total
No. % No. % No. % No. %
built on piles 30 20.0 11 11.0 21 42.0 62 20.7
built on the ground 120 80.0 89 89.0 29 59.0 238 79.3
  150 100.0 100 100.0 50 100.0 300 100.0
timber or bamboo 30 20.0 11 11.0 21 42.0 62 20.7
earth 101 67.3 66 66.0 27 54.0 194 64.7
concrete 19 12.7 23 23.0 2 4.0 44 14.7
  150 100.0 100 100.0 50 100.0 300 100.0
Outside walls
bamboo 51 34.0 34 34.0 27 54.0 112 37.3
timber 94 62.7 52 52.0 21 42.0 167 55.7
brick 5 3.3 14 14.0 2 4.0 21 7.0
  150 100.0 100 100.0 50 100.0 300 100.0
nipa thatch 49 32.7 26 26.0 22 44.0 97 32.3
tiles 47 31.3 28 28.0 10 20.0 85 28.3
corrugated iron 54 36.0 46 46.0 18 36.0 118 39.3
  150 100.0 100 100.0 50 100.0 300 100.0

Source: Su Rito Hardoyo 1982.

There is no electricity supply in any of the kampungs, and in the dry season no fresh water supply from streams or tanks. Domestic water is obtained only from springs near Klaces, on Nusa Kambangan island, or occasionally from the Citanduy river. Water must be carried in drums an average of five kilometres to most villages, and up to ten kilometers to some Penikel kampungs. Most houses have small concrete tanks to collect rainwater in the wet season.

Socio-economic Characteristics

The 1980 population census showed Kampung Laut villages as having a de jure population of 8,071 residents (3,871 male and 4,200 female) in 1,471 households.

The average number of persons per household was 5.5 much higher than the 1975 averages in Slemand and Bantul Regencies in the Yogyakarta Special Region, which were 4.4 and 4.5 respectively (Biro Statistik 1974). According to the definition used in the 1971 Population Census of Indonesia (CBS 1976), a household consists of a person or group of persons occupying part or all of a building and generally eating together from one kitchen. The household is the smallest unit in Javanese society, and also forms the basic economic group for production and consumption. In this area a household usually consists of a single nuclear family, but may also include dependent adults and more distant relatives. A newly-wed couple may continue to live with one set of the parents until their own household can be established. Some married couples live permanently with their parents, especially when the latter are too old to work.

The population age structure of the Kampung Laut villages is young. More than 40 per cent of the 1,940 respondents in the recent study by Su Rito Hardoyo (1982) were under 15 years of age, and about 2 per cent were 65 or over (table 3). Age is conventionally taken as an indicator of wage-earning capacity for the purpose of calculating the dependency ratio, the ratio of economically dependent to independent persons in a population. Those between the ages of 15 and 65 are considered independent, while children under 15 and elderly persons 65 and over are considered dependent. The dependency ratio in the Kampung Laut villages was 83.2, which means that every 100 independent persons supported 83.2 dependent persons. This figure is much higher than that reported in the 1980 population census for Indonesia as a whole, which was 75. As the dependency ratio is high, people live at the margin of subsistence. The amount of money earned to supplement food from fishing is very small. This small income is usually used for consumption and other necessities. Mangrove dwellers do not have money for capital investment.

TABLE 3. Age and sex distribution of 1,940 respondents in Kampung Laut villages, 1980

Age (years) Male Female Total  
0-4 141 150 291
5-9 127 142 269
10- 14 141 145 286
15- 19 107 122 229  
20- 24 70 84 154  
25- 29 57 64 121  
30- 34 59 66 125  
35 - 39 66 74 140  
40 - 44 50 60 110  
45- 49 32 28 60  
50- 54 22 22 44  
55- 59 20 20 20  
60-64 13 23 36  
65-69 12 13 25 1.8%
70+ 4 6 10
Total 963 977 1,940  

Source: Su Rito Hardoyo 1982.

The low income earned by the fishermen in the Kampung Laut villages is reflected in the minimal material wealth of the households. In general a family owns the small household compound on which their dwelling stands. Usually they have a table and chair, some cooking utensils, and a wooden or bamboo bed covered with a mat.

The level of formal education in the villages is very low. Around 60 per cent of the population (4,847 out of 8,071) were illiterate in 1980. Of those who had any formal education, only a few had completed primary school, and even fewer had continued to a higher level of education (table 4). The cost of education is very high and the schools are far away, most of them in Cilacap. The local people see nothing to be gained from a formal education. High school graduates find it very difficult to obtain wage employment. Thus many children do not continue their formal education beyond elementary school, and stay in the village to assist their parents.

As we have noted, fishing is the dominant occupation; it accounts for 88 per cent of the village people with reported occupations (table 5). Farming is a significant occupation only at Klaces and Mutean. Su Rito Hardoyo has pointed out that fishing is arduous in this area, because of the lack of power boats, the difficulty of traversing the wide mud flats at low tide, and the distances it is necessary to travel to fishing areas. Most fishermen (81 per cent) own their own canoes, which are 5-8 m in length and up to 1 m wide. A variety of fishing gear is used, but most fish are taken in nets or traps (Su Rito Hardoyo 1982).

TABLE 4. Level of education in Kampung Laut villages, 1980

  Ujung Alang Ujung Gagak Penikel Total
No. % No. % No. % No. %
No school/illiterate 2,558 63.9 1,369 52.8 920 62.5 4,847 60.1
Some primary school 1,350 33.7 1,146 44.2 510 34.6 3,006 37.2
Completed primary school 70 1.7 55 2.1 29 2.0 154 1.9
Junior high school 17 0.4 14 0.5 7 0.5 38 0.5
Senior high school 10 0.2 9 0.3 7 0.5 26 0.3
Total 4,005 100.0 2,593 100.0 1,473 100.0 8,071 100.0

Source: Cilacap Sub-district Office 1980

TABLE 5. Occupations in Kampung Laut villages, 1980

  Ujung Alang Ujung Gagak Penikel Total
No. % No. % No. % No. %
Fisher 1,939 86.3 1,277 92.3 320 85.6 3,536 88.3
Farmer 238 10.6 - - - - 238 5.9
Trader 30 1.3 25 1.8 24 6.4 79 2.0
Transport worker 19 0.8 37 2.7 14 3.7 70 1.7
Teacher 8 0.4 9 0.7 5 1.3 22 0.5
Other 12 0.5 35 2.6 11 2.9 58 1.4
Total 2,246 100.0 1,383 100.0 374 100 0 4,003 100.0

Source: Cilacap Sub-district Office 1980.

The best fishing period is between August and December, when the tidal range is more pronounced (spring tides). An average daily catch of 10-15 kg per fishing unit is recorded during this period, compared with 2-5 kg daily during the period January-July (Su Rito Hardoyo 1982).

Most of the catch is sold fresh to a trader in the kampung; there is only a small dried and salt fish industry. The fish trader also acts as a creditor to the fishermen for the purchase of canoes and gear. Repayment is usually made in kind, so that the fishermen may become caught in a debt to the trader and unable to accumulate capital or to sell their catch through another outlet. The distance to the Cilacap market aggravates this condition (Su Rito Hardoyo 1982).

Life-style and Traditions

The Kampung Laut villages are not only places where people live together but also communities whose members believe that they are descended from common ancestors, the Majapahit people. Shared heritage and living together give the villagers a feeling that they are all an inseparable part of the local society, for whose security and welfare they feel responsible.

The principle of mutual self-help, or gotong royong, is very strong among the members of the community. They catch fish together or in groups; they co-operate to develop their village; they receive help in the case of a death or other calamity and help others when they are in need of help.

Gotong royong is also practiced in connection with socioreligious rituals called selametan, whose objective is to maintain harmony between man and nature, man and man, and man and God (Koentjaraningrat 1961). Among these selametan ceremonies is one called sedekah lauf, held to thank God for his greatness in creating natural resources, and specifically fish resources. People contribute money and foodstuffs for the ceremony; they throw flowers into the sea, and perform shadow plays with leather puppets at night.

Because of the tradition of gotong royong, people are able to survive in these poor Kampung Laut villages.

Problems due to Changes

It has been mentioned that the Segara Anakan and its surroundings are undergoing rapid physical and biological change. The progradation of shorelines and the growth of islands in the Segara Anakan bring about changes in the site properties of the Kampung over time.

For those who live in the Segara Anakan and the surrounding area, the siltation of the lagoon is causing several problems. It has been predicted that the lagoon will disappear because of mangrove encroachment and ensuing land reclamation by the early part of the next century. This will result in the loss of the estuarine fishing grounds. As the mangrove forest is reclaimed, the timber resources will disappear, as will the breeding habitats of certain fishes, and a new ecosystem with other biotic components (flora and fauna) will develop (Gembong Tjitrosoepomo 1981). Given these changes and the high rate of population growth, it is important to consider various development programmes for the future.


The Kampung Laut villages in the Segara Anakan region are a complex dwelling area for fishing people. The Segara Anakan lagoon and the surrounding area are undergoing rapid physical and biological change.

The structure of the population is young, so the dependency ratio is high. The small income earned by the fishermen is used mainly for daily consumption and other necessities and none is left for savings and capital. Thus, the people in Kampung Laut villages live at the margin of subsistence. Despite poor economic conditions, they still survive because mutual self-help among the members of the community is strong.

Economic development of the villages has been impeded by the isolation of the settlements from service centres such as Cilacap. Improved water transportation to the larger adjacent towns has been a major factor in increasing the economic opportunities of the Kampung Laut people. Further development of programmes for income and employment opportunities is necessary. Attention must also be given to public health and elementary school facilities.

Several development programmes should be undertaken in the future in response to the gradual siltation and reclamation of the lagoon. Maintenance of the existing environment would require massive dredging and is not economically feasible. It seems inevitable that those who continue to engage in fishing will have to migrate seawards as mangroves encroach on the lagoon, and that eventually their numbers will diminish, their attention concentrating more on marine fishing, while on the reclaimed land their successors will switch increasingly to farming activities.


The author is grateful to Dr. Su Rito Hardoyo, lecturer in the Faculty of Geography, Gadjah Mada University, for his kindness in allowing him to use some of his survey data in this paper.


Biro Statistik. 1974. Statistik Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta, Bagian Tahun 1973. Biro Statistik Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta, Yogyakarta.

CBS. 1976. 1971 Population Census, Series G. Biro Pusat Statistik (Central Bureau of Statistics), Jakarta.

Cilacap Sub-district Office. 1981. Population Data file. Cilacap.

Gembong Tjitrosoepoma. 1981. "Pembangunan wilayah pantai Cilacap." Paper presented at a panel discussion on urban and rural planning in Semarang, Central Java.

Ida Bagus Mantra. 1982. "Population and rural settlement in the Segara Anakan region." In E. C. F. Bird, A. Soegiarto, and K. A. Soegiarto, eds., Workshop on coastal resources management in the Cilacap region, pp. 86-92. Indonesian Institute of Sciences and the United Nations University,

Koentjaraningrat, R.M. 1961. "Some social anthropological observations on gotong royong practices in two villages of central Java." Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., USA.

Su Rito Hardoyo. 1982. "The Kampung Laut of the Segara Anakan: A study of socio-economic problems." In E. C. F. Bird, A. Soegiarto, and K. A. Soegiarto, eds., Workshop on coastal resources management in the Cilacap region, pp. 172-182. Indonesian Institute of Sciences and the United Nations University, Jakarta.

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