‘Time Bomb’ Ticking on Bali’s Customary Law

‘Time Bomb’ Ticking on Bali’s Customary Law


Governor I Made Mangku Pastika and the Bali Police both say the conflict between customary law and official national law are making it very difficult for authorities to deal with disputes at community level.

Customary law has made a comeback following devolution of power to regencies throughout the country in pursuit of the government’s policy of regional autonomy.

In Bali, local communities continue to rely on customary laws in preference to official law in a wide variety of cases.

Bali Police spokesman Gede Sugianyar said social conflicts — such as the long-running “village war” at Lemukih in Buleleng — continually plagued Bali and police are unable to handle them satisfactorily because customary law was often invoked.

He warned that Bali must find a lasting solution to the growing number of conflicts stemming from traditional Balinese institutions and their related customs, locally referred to as adat, because short-term actions taken to quell them had created a social time bomb.

“The temporary solutions have indeed to a certain degree managed to calm the public. Yet, such calmness does not indicate that every member of the community is satisfied with the solutions. It means that conflicts could occur again in the future; it is a matter of time,” Sugianyar said.

Sugianyar and Governor Pastika were speaking at an inter-religion forum of youth groups held in Denpasar last weekend.

“Customary disputes can only be settled through customary solutions because, the reality is, our laws do not have much of an effect,” Sugianyar said.

He said at least 30 customary disputes had been officially reported this year. Each had been by conflicts over problems official laws could not settle, such as the use of land for cemeteries, people changing their Hindu castes, and other matters related to religious belief.

Hinduism forms the basis of many of the island’s customary laws.

Governor Pastika told the forum communal conflict in Bali generally related to economic and educational issues and to personal disputes that could not be resolved privately.

He said the provincial government had so far failed to find a way for official law to work in these circumstances. And while Hinduism abhorred violence and conflict, such disputes continued to mar the island’s reputation as a pleasant and safe tourist destination.

In his session with forum members, Sugianyar cited the Lemukih land dispute in Buleleng, which last broke into open violence in October, as a direct example of how traditional customary laws were pitted against official law.

At Lemukih new settlers arrived with land certificate titles that long-time residents disputed. The resulting conflict led to 13 alleged arson attacks.

Also in October two banjars in a Badung regency village went to war with each other over customary matters. Several people were injured.

The head of the Forum for Harmony between Religious Believers, Ida Bagus Gede Widyana, told the meeting that customary disputes should be settled using customary laws and the police and secular laws brought in only if there was violence.

“But the problem is also that many of the customary conflicts are carried over from previous generations,” he said.

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