In the name of adat : regional perspectives on reform, tradition, and democracy in Indonesia

TitleIn the name of adat : regional perspectives on reform, tradition, and democracy in Indonesia
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsHenley D, Davidson JS
JournalModern Asian studies
Date Published04-07-08
ISBN Number0026-749X
Call NumberTA 3660
Keywordsadat, customary law, customs and traditions, decentralization, democracy, ethnicity, Excerpta Indonesica, HISTORY, indigenous population, INDONESIA, Land rights

After the fall of Soeharto, most observers either expected decentralization and the dismantling of the authoritarian state to initiate a process of democratization, a commitment to upholding human rights, and a strengthening of civil society, or the opposite, characterized by disorder and disintegration. Unexpectedly, however, the main outcome of Reformasi has been the rediscovery or reinvention of local 'adat' (custom, tradition) list on pre-modern sources of identity. This article traces the origins of this trend and investigates the reasons for its ability to attract and mobilize support, drawing on evidence from a variety of regions including West Sumatra, Bali, West Kalimantan, South Sulawesi, Flores, and identifying four major factors: the influence of the international 'indigenous rights' and environmental movements - a product of a change in ideological orientation of the political left from civic, electoral, welfare rights to environmental, ancestral, and cultural rights, and which inspired the establishment of Indonesian activist groups such as AMAN and WALHI; the ideological inheritance of the role of 'adat' in Indonesian political history; and the oppression of marginal groups under the New Order, as many 'indigenist' movements began with opposition by local farmers to land appropriation by government and big business; and the transition to be volatile and opportunistic state-society relations of the post-Soeharto era. The second half of the essay assesses the positive and negative sides of the current adat revival. While adat institutions can be effective in maintaining social order and integration at the local level, and may bring some actual benefits, particularly regarding issues of land tenure, the fact that they are invariably predicated on the distinction between community members and outsiders lies at the basis many negative aspects: adat is used as a justicifation for ethnic violence and exclusion, reinforces social hierarchies and gender inequality, and is too narrow in scope to be used for adjudicating disputes between parties of different origin.