Musibah: Entitlements, Violence and Reinventing Tradition in the Kei Islands, Southeast Maluku

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"The Kei Islands of Southeast Maluku are renowned for their strong and vital customary law (adat). Revealed in seven edicts, with several sets of sub-clauses, Hukum Larwul Ngabal ranks among the more fully elaborated, formalized adat law codes of Maluku. It has survived four centuries of sporadic warfare, the conversion of most of the islands population to Islam and Christianity, a half century of colonial rule, the turmoil of the early Republican era, and the order and progress of the New Order period. The former Bupati (District Head) of Southeast Maluku, Haji Hussein Rahayaan, had the words Larvul Ngabal emblazoned in two-meter letters on a concrete wall over a major intersection in the district capital Tual. He was fond of exclaiming, 'When we speak of law in Kei, we mean first and foremost Hukum Larwul Ngabal. After that there is the religious law of the al-Quran and the Bible, and thirdly the formal law of the Republic of Indonesia.' "For three months in early 1999, all law ceased to function in the Kei Islands. Intercommunal violence had broken out in the provincial capital Ambon in January that year, quickly escalating into a bloody civil war that has killed more than 5,000 people and displaced roughly 500,000 more. Once held up as a model of religious and ethnic harmony, communities in Ambon, Ceram, Buru and other islands in Central Maluku have become both perpetrators and victims of savage assaults and vigilante justice. The main dividing line between the two sides is religious identification, though religious issues were not at the core of the fighting when it first erupted. "When it began, few people believed that this conflict would spread to Kei, Tanimbar or the Southernmost Islands. Of the disbursed archipelagos comprising the District (Kabupaten) of Southeast Maluku, only Aru experienced any fighting during the opening months of the conflict."
IASC, common pool resources, customary law, conflict, governance and politics, violence