Strengthening Legal Pluralism in Indonesia: The Effects of Local Acknowledgment of Kasepuhan Adat Communities in West Java and Banten Provinces

Strengthening Legal Pluralism in Indonesia: The Effects of Local Acknowledgment of Kasepuhan Adat Communities in West Java and Banten Provinces
This study of legal pluralism in Indonesia focuses upon the way in which the continuing practice of customary (i.e. adat) law articulates with wider regional and national legal orders. The aim of this research is to understand how local government regulations (or their lack) as a formal local acknowledgement of adat communities, as well as the accommodation of adat villages in the Indonesian Village Law (6/2014), affect or potentially support the operation of multiple legal orders in the context of the unified Indonesian legal system.
This study uses the approaches of legal anthropology, socio-legal study and the politics of law, as well as ethnographic methods involving qualitative and comparative techniques. The field research was conducted in 2018 in one Kasepuhan community in Sukabumi District in West Java province and two in Lebak District in Banten province.
Findings show that the recognition of adat communities at the local level in conjunction with acknowledgement of adat village status can strengthened the role of adat law within the Indonesian plural legal order. However, this research suggests that such impact has been mostly felt in regard to territorial law and politics in the village, as affected by the adat revival movement and global Indigeneity programs. While local government acknowledgment is essential, it does not extend beyond basic recognition of community existence, law, and territory. To gain substantive autonomy and flexibility in exercising adat law, adat communities must pursue more advanced mechanisms, such as recognitions of adat forest or adat village status.
Strengthening adat law must come with the community’s acknowledgement and for this purpose, Indonesia offers conditional recognition through an administrative system and bureaucratic formalisation. Adat communities must provide evidence of identity elements listed by the government, including proof of living adat law, which presents a paradox, given that adat law was not recognised by the state legal system for years. In practice, the process is highly politicised and administrative, and characterised by an asymmetrical power relationship in which the state is able to impose conditions that the community must satisfy. As such, the burden of proof to demonstrate the continuing existence of adat law lies with the community. A consequence of adat law itself is its conversion from the unwritten format into a written format, which raises a question how such conversion will affect the dynamic characteristics of adat law.
The three communities studied had varying responses to these mechanisms for recognition; Ciptagelar, a part of village management, still has not been acknowledged in a local regulation (peraturan daerah) as required to gain adat forest recognition, while Karang has already attained adat forest recognition, and Guradog is in the process of applying for adat village status. Although the communities are similar kasepuhan adat communities, they have applied a range of different strategies in keeping with their objectives, local administrative requirements and government policy, as well as the local political landscape. Strategies to strengthen adat law include resistance, hybrid legal systems, and the local prioritisation of adat law over state law. Nevertheless, all communities displayed a thorough understanding of the plural legal system, including both state and adat law. Also, in all cases, the community members expressed loyalty to the community, positioning adat law as paramount and crucial for their lives, livelihood and maintenance of social harmony. Therefore, there will always be two dimensions (formal-governance and society-community) of understanding which are complementary to each other in discussing legal pluralism through different lenses.
This study shows that in discussing the legal pluralism situation, the focus can no longer be simply limited to the interplay between or among the legal systems in securing the practice of customary law. This aim can be achieved through various channels. Legal pluralism is not a static concept describing the presence of multiple legal systems within a territory. Rather, it is processual and dynamic and is continuously contested and renegotiated, and influenced by a wide range of factors, including inherited understandings and stigmatisation by non-state law and the ability of the nation-state to manage diversity. The complexity of legal pluralism demands an understanding of its political dimensions, power relations, global processes, community practices, and legal history, all of which serve to contextualise its contemporary developments and help to anticipate future trends.


Tine Suartina

Defended in

1 Jan 2022 – 30 Nov 2022

PhD defended at

The University of Western Australia, Faculty of Arts, Business, Law and Education, School of Social Sciences


Social Sciences


Southeast Asia