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Adat law and why its important!

Updated: Jun 1, 2020

Indonesia is an amazing area full of interesting layers of history that have helped to mold it into the wonderful nation it is today. The legal system in Indonesia is a complicated thing not just to any foreigner but also to most locals! You can ask any local about the legal system and almost of all them will refer to Adat in some form. So that begs the question... what is Adat?

Adat law is very important to understand

To put it simply - Adat is a word used to describe customs in any particular area in Indonesia. As Indonesia is made up of over 500 different ethnic groups, Adat has a lot of different meanings to a lot of different peoples in Indonesia. For 350 years the Dutch ruled Indonesia as a territory before President Soekarno and his men declared independence at the end of WWII in 1945. Before this time the Dutch created 3 different legal systems that covered the different classes of people which inhabited the many islands under its control.

Dutch Indonesia

Three Legal Systems

European legal system - this was reserved for foreigners that lived in Indonesia and legal problems were usually solved by a Judge - much like the Western legal systems of today. This system used the Dutch language in all forms. To be a part of this system you had to be able to read, write and speak Dutch.

Islamic legal system - this was for the Muslim population and legal problems were solved by the senior Iman and based on what is found and interpreted in the Qua-ran.

Adat legal system - this was used for the 'natives' (Indonesians) and focused on solving problems at the local / village level. When problems couldn't be solved at the local level then it would be taken to the European system for a Dutch Judge to decide.

As you could imagine, the European system was expensive and 'natives' were disadvantaged as they couldn't afford it and most did not understand the Dutch language. This meant most problems were solved at the local level. If they couldn't be solved then the case would be heard again until a decision could be reached.

Adat law

Adat law is a very important element of Indonesian history and needs to be understood by any foreigner who wishes to conduct business in Indonesia. You will be exposed to Adat in some form or another depending on which island you are living on. Adat law covers all areas of law and is the preferred option to solve legal problems to many Indonesians. This is because Adat brings together the community to solve the problem for the greater good of the community.

Adat covers the collective. If you break a law under Adat you are breaking a law against your community. Your community includes: family, friends, neighbours and other people who make up your community. When you break a law under Adat you are dishonoring your family. This can cause a lot of embarrassment to family members of the accused and can lead to bigger problems unless it is dealt with quickly and in a way that is fair and just for all involved.

Community in Indonesia is not something that can be skipped over. Unlike in Western countries where you may live in an apartment building and not know your own neighbours, in Indonesia you know everyone in your community and they know you. They know your family and your history. In fact to move into certain areas you must either be a part of that community or be connected to it in some form. Otherwise you will not be allowed to live there.

Each island is different with different rules and different traditions. Researching the island you are interested in and understanding the local Adat / customs could be the difference between receiving the go ahead on a land development and being black listed from the island all together. Business takes time in Indonesia and as you should know from our previous blog posts - relationships are more important than anything in Indonesia. Business in Indonesia is to be looked at as a long term plan not a short term money grab. So slowly understanding the local Adat will help you in your planning, execution and hopefully success of your business activities.

Understanding Adat law allows you to live in harmony in your community and shows that you respect to the local traditions and customs of your area. The belief in traditional customs is very strong in all Indonesians - especially those that do not live in the large cities - however when those who do live in the large cities return home to their villages they quickly remember their traditions.

We discuss the Adat legal system in our seminars and show you why you need to respect these laws in order to be successful in business in Indonesia.

Our seminars connect you with the right network for each island in Indonesia and help educate and guide you in the local traditions so that you will run your business in a respectful way that is considerate of all traditions and Adat rules.

To book your seminar click here.

Until next time...

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