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Report of the Conference ‘Adat law 100 years on: towards a new interpretation?’ now available

This international conference, held in Leiden form 22 to 24 May 2017, focused on adat law in Indonesia a century after the Adat Law Foundation (Adatrechtstichting) was set up in Leiden by the famous professors Van Vollenhoven and Snouck Hurgronje. In the decades that followed the Adat Law Foundation published dozens of studies on adat law based on one of the largest research projects ever conducted from the Law Faculty of Leiden University.

Full report available here

On 22 May more than a hundred researchers, professionals, students and other interested people attended the Seminar that opened the Conference. Among them were many Indonesian academics who felt as if making their ‘pilgrimage to the sacred source of adat law’ in Leiden. Although this comment refers to the long history of adat studies in Leiden, the conference actually was mostly about adat in Indonesia today, tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow. Ambassador Puja of the Republic of Indonesia stressed in his opening speech how adat is still very important in identity matters: "Until the end of my life I will always have my adat and it cannot be separated from who I am.” He added that one of the most serious reprimands the elders in his home island Bali can give is by saying “tidak tahu adat,” which is synonymous to having no self-respect nor respect for one’s ancestors. Ambassador Puja stated that he believes adat will remain relevant for centuries to come. 

In national Indonesian policy there has been a move towards recognition of land rights of adat communities, but that policy is not without challenges. Development projects put land under pressure, due to national policy priorities for producing food and energy. Land issues across Indonesia have resulted in thousands of conflicts and millions of hectares of disputed lands. These conflicts involve forest areas, mining, plantation, and infrastructure development priorities. Although land underpins economic development for Indonesia, in December 2016, for the first time in Indonesian history, the national government recognized the land rights of nine adat communities from various parts of the country. Additionally, 12.7 million hectares of state forest are scheduled for social forestry. But how will it work out in practice?

In the second and third day of the conference 45 participants attended the closed workshop in which researchers from Indonesia, the Netherlands, The United States, Malaysia, Japan, United Kingdom, Germany, Poland, Italy, and Australia presented their research. The conference themes included adat in relation to religion, land, representation, local politics, women, and family- and inheritance law. The last panel critically discussed adat teaching and how its content and style can be updated. The panels illustrated that analyzing the current use and meaning of adat requires an approach that also takes account of social, economic and political contexts. In the full report that you can find here there is a detailed overview of the keynotes and the  topics and findings of the panel sessions. The report ends with conclusions and follow up suggestions, among which 3 special issues of academic journals and the next Conference in Indonesia.

This conference was organized by The Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law, Governance and Society (VVI) and KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies. We thank the following institutions for their financial contributions:  the Adatrechtfonds, Vereniging KITLV, Leiden University Fund (LUF), Asian Modernities and Traditions of Leiden University (AMT) and the Van Vollenhoven Institute (VVI). We also thank all presenters who have made this conference a success. 

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