Yesterday with two members of Pasirputih, Muhammad Sibawaihi and Syamsul Hadi, we visited the Dusun Bentek, Pemenang Barat Village, Pemenang District, North Lombok Regency. It is located in the place of the kingdom Lembah Sari, known as the lost kingdom. According to the legend, as a response to the colonization attempt, the kingdom disappeared from material world and still exists in parallel reality. Sometimes locals are able to enter white streets of the lost kingdom. Also, the grave of the king Lumendung Sari is still visible for common people. One has to enter the grave space with respect, barefoot only.
Stone grave of the king Lumendung Sari from the lost kingdom Lembah Sari. Apart from the information about kingdom Lembah Sari and the grave, we were intrigued by the stories about edible soil Batu Ampan that we heard from the locals. After arriving to Bentek we took a rest in the house of an old inhabitant of the village Inak Jawariah.
Inak Jawariah told that she is familiar with Batu Ampan eating tradition, and moreover used to eat it herself. She explained that Batu Ampan is especially loved by pregnant women and as well can help against stomach problems. Also, people used to eat it after meal as a snack. This particular type of soil is possible to find in local ground around the house or on top of the hills. Together we ate Ampo – a traditional clay snack from Java that was bought on a cultural market in Jakarta. Inak Jawariah concluded that Batu Ampan has a similar taste.
Herman Johdi, son of Inak Jawariah, offered to accompany us to the places, where he used to get Batu Ampan himself in order to eat, when he was a child. Herman Johdi carries a deep knowledge about the area. His roots go back to the king Lumendung Sari, resting in the stone grave. Apart from blue blood, Herman Johdi is known in the neighborhood as a profound karate teacher. His two sons, who as well always win karate championships, joined our expedition of searching for Batu Ampan.
The first place we visited just behind the house of Inak Jawariah did not bring much success. Batu Ampan used to be there ten years ago, as Herman Johdi explained. But probably it disappeared behind the layers of other soil types. We decided to continue search and climb up the hill.
Batu Ampan was indeed found on top of the hill. It looks like a kind of stone formation. At the same time it is easy to break. The soil is dark from outside and light grey insight. We tasted it one by one. Batu Ampan has a pleasant, neutral, soft taste.
Back from the hill we experienced one more tradition connected to chewing soil, known as Mamak. This time it was focused on chalk, which is as well a soil-like substance. The tradition involves chewing a bit of chalk in combination with Daun Lekoq (betel leaf).The goal is to clean the teeth and make them stronger. Often people would chew tobacco afterwards.
Inak Jawariah tasted a piece of soil we brought from up the hill and confirmed that this wasindeed Batu Ampan, she talked about. She mentioned that some people used to smoke or bake it before eating, sometimes even with sugar, but some people prefer to eat Batu Ampan raw. We discussed that eating Batu Ampan raw could be less safe as just yesterday we were looking at the scientific papers that talked about microbes in the edible clay. Herman Johdi laughed and told that people in the village do not care about what scientists say. They know better what is good for them.
We brought two bags of BatuAmpan back to Pasirputih, and still wondering what to do with them further: add to a soup, make a sculpture or just eat them raw in order to get connected to local grounds.
Geophagy is the practice of eating earth or soil-like substrates. Geophagy among animals, as well as geophagy among human is widely scientifically researched. In Africa, South America and Asia soil eating is still a common cultural, spiritual or healing practice.There is an ancient tradition in Indonesia to eat clay as a snack or a medicine. This tradition is getting forgotten. However, edible clay is still sold on the cultural markets. In Europe and USA geophagy is officially regarded as a psychological disorder, known as pica, which is included into DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
 In some location it’s called Tanaq Ampan
 The betel (Piper betle) is the leaf of a vine belonging to the Piperaceae family, which includes pepper and kava.
Text and Photo:
Masha Ru (RU/NL) is a creative with scientific background. Masha’s projects combine mathematics and scientific research with a personal approach, anthropological and cultural aspects, spiritual elements and indigenous knowledge.www.masharu.nl