The Enduring Tradition of Seba Among the Kanekes Community


On Saturday, May 18, 2024, the Badui community of Kanekes Village in Lebak Regency gathered to perform the ancient tradition of seba to the Governor of Banten at the Governor’s Office in Serang City. This event, requiring a journey of approximately 45 kilometers on foot, is the pinnacle of the seba ceremony. The previous day, they visited the Regent of Lebak at the Lebak Regency Pendopo for a similar purpose. Seba is a unique practice in which the Kanekes people pay their respects to the ruling authorities, presenting tributes from their agricultural produce.

The seba ceremony is a crucial part of the agricultural cycle for the Kanekes community, typically held every April and May after the kawalu and ngalaksa rituals. This tradition underscores the community’s belief that their harvests must first be offered to the authorities before they can enjoy them for the rest of the year. The tributes include seven packs of laksa food wrapped in plant sheaths, each weighing 1 kg, 10 kg of glutinous rice from the three tangtu (Cibeo, Cikeusik, and Cikartawana hamlets), bananas, taro, palm sugar, bibirusan (bamboo shoots), rattan shoots, honjé shoots (torch ginger), large and small baskets, woven fans, ladles, trays, scoops, and spoons.

The Kanekes people have practiced seba since the era of the Banten Sultanate (1526–1833). Historical records indicate that they visited the Surosowan and Kaibon Palaces and were received by the sultans’ queens. Prince Achmad Djajadiningrat, who served as the Regent of Serang (1901–1924), noted that during the colonial period, the Kanekes people continued this tradition, performing seba to the regents of Banten, who were descendants of the Banten sultans.

The tradition of seba is not unique to the Kanekes. Written sources from various periods reveal that seba was practiced by other communities within agricultural and feudal systems. While the Kanekes performed seba for the Banten Sultanate, the Priangan Sundanese community conducted seba for the Islamic Mataram Kingdom. According to Mumuh Muhsin Z.’s Priangan in Historical Dynamics (2011), the Priangan rulers began performing seba to Mataram after Sultan Agung’s claim over Priangan territory in 1614. This tradition was a gesture of loyalty and subservience to the Mataram Sultan.

In Mataram, seba was a symbol of loyalty and a means for rulers to legitimize their power. There were two types of seba: weekly and annual. Weekly seba involved representatives of regional rulers living in the Mataram capital, while annual seba coincided with Grebeg Mulud, the celebration of Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. During this event, subordinate rulers were required to meet the king, who would update territorial records based on the regions present. A notable instance occurred in 1636, documented in the Babad Sengkaling Momana.

The term seba likely derives from the Sanskrit word sewā, which entered Old Javanese. According to P.J. Zoetmulder’s Old Javanese-Indonesian Dictionary (1995), sewā means “respect,” “worship,” or “service.” This term was used in religious and political contexts, particularly in acts of devotion from subordinates to superiors. The oldest use of sewā appears in the Wirataparwa manuscript and further in the Arjunawiwāha. In these texts, sewā signifies a patron-client relationship.

The Nagarakrtagama, written by Mpu Prapañca, also mentions sewā, describing how subordinate kings of Majapahit participated in the Pasewakan Agung to meet King Hayam Wuruk. This practice is supported by the Tuhañaru Inscription (1323 AD), which likens the King of Majapahit to a deity statue at the center of the kingdom.

It is believed that the seba tradition among the Kanekes has roots dating back to the Sunda Kingdom in the 15th and 16th centuries. As Uka Tjandrasasmita notes in Nusantara Islamic Archaeology (2008), the Carita Purwaka Caruban Nagari manuscript mentions that Sunan Gunung Jati proclaimed Cirebon’s independence from the Sunda Kingdom by ceasing seba to Prabu Surawisesa of Pakuan Pajajaran. Before Sunan Gunung Jati, the rulers of Cirebon performed seba, bringing shrimp paste and salt as tributes.

The seba tradition is a testament to the enduring cultural practices of the Kanekes community, reflecting a deep-seated respect for authority and the cyclical nature of their agricultural lifestyle. Through seba, the Kanekes people maintain a unique connection with their heritage, ensuring the continuity of their customs and societal values.