Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Glossary: Law, Customary (Adat)

The study of customary or traditional law in the Austronesian region was greatly advanced by the Dutch and is usually classified under the Indonesian term adat.

Among the widespread features found in common through much of insular Southeast Asia was the concept of the "right of disposal" and the function of the "ground guardian" or grondvoogd in Dutch.

The ground guardian represents the village or clan that has rights over a specific territory with regard to cultivation, forest mining or collection or any other exploitation of the land (or water).

In Bali, the area under the jurisdiction of a mountain temple drawing their water from the same source is known as banua. As might be expected, a banua can cover rather extensive territory.

The hydraulic water associations of Bali and the Ifugao (waterschappen) are likely derived from earlier organizations based on the division of lands using rivers.

Some remnants of this dualistic division can still be seen in the region around Pinatubo. Among the Kapampangans (Pampangos), the boundaries created by rivers (and seashores) were known as danay.

For example, two towns are situated next to each other along a river. The parts of the towns on the same bank (sapa) are danay with each other, but not danay with the parts of the same town on the other bank.

Those together in the same danay share a regional relationship as opposed to those on the opposite bank. In some cases, for example, exogamous clans might not marry someone who is danay (living on the same bank) with them, but must marry someone from another danay or the one opposite their own.

Thus, the traditional eight rivers of Pinatubo would divide the region into eight danays.

When regions were banded together across danays, the term sulip was used, which means the land opposite the sky (banua). Banua in Kapampangan means "sky, celestial year" rather than "land" as in Bali.

In ancient times, the peoples speaking Ayta, Kapampangan and Sambal languages were fused into one group that spoke a single proto-language. Most likely this language was spoken near Pinatubo, as these people are all dispersed around that mountain.

They all derive their main water sources from Pinatubo as does a great portion of the entire island of Luzon.

Some aspects of the organization that existed in this region, I believe, are still ascertainable. The sea approach to the area, judging from local legends and other factors, was probably controlled at or near Batung Dalig "Table Rock," indicating a sort of megalithic marker, in Masantol. Any pilgrim wishing to approach the holy mountains, or merchants looking for the deerskins, beeswax, tropical woods, alluvial metals or sacred jars of the Sambal region, would have to pass here first.

In a sense this was "Sapa" the symbolic river-bank at which one has to check in with the gatekeeper (Apung Iru) before crossing over to the "other side."

The guardians of Pinatubo also generally were expected to have mystical powers in the same sense as Frazer's "departmental kings of nature." In the lands further north, for example, this type of priest-chief is known as mambunung or manbunung. The mambunung was expected to control the weather using magical supplication to the ancestral spirits on the district mountain.

In Pampanga there is some evidence of an elemental office similar to the "King of Water" in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The name of the legendary Lacandanum, a titanic hero with a human body and crocodile head, means "Prince (or Lord) of Water."

Today, the related surname "Laquindanum" still exists among people in the province especially connected with the town of Lubao and the neighboring region of Bataan.

In Kapampangan, a nation is signified by the word daya meaning "blood" as opposed to "nation" which refers to where one is born (related to the word "nativity"). "Ing Daya Kapampangan" means the Kapampangan nation, although practically language is as important as blood in determining nationhood.

However, the Kapampangan language did not likely exist more than two thousand years ago if it is that old. Previously these people were one with the people of the Sambal region both in language and blood, so when they split apart they continued to recognize the relationship through intermarriage and through their ethnic names for the Aytas and Sambals -- Balud and Baluga.

The government and customary legal system had two components -- one derived from the meritocracy or datus, and the other based on hereditary offices or pagbansag. The datus were established among those who had proven their leadership ability. Some "honorary" datu titles also existed among the pagbansag that did not require demonstrated ability but also generally carried little executive or military power.

The pagbansag were usually spiritual and legal offices that were responsible for making the law, settling disputes and controlling nature.

Governmental and legal proceedings were conducted at meetings known as tipon. In cases of national emergency, a tipon is arranged by all the danay and one of the pagbansag generally presides and acts as hari "king."

Some elements of the tipon are apparently preserved in the discursyo (public discourses) held in the riverine towns. Although the modern discursyo generally appear to discuss community norms in relation to the Christian Bible, much of the ceremonial trappings including respect gestures known as sikclud and a good bit of customary adat survive. The proceedings resemble in many ways the preserved indigenous councils found further south in Mindanao although they no longer serve a legal purpose.

When the Spanish arrived there is evidence that a tipon took place at least among the Kapampangans if not among all the people around Pinatubo. A fleet led by those from Macabibi (Macabebe), and joined by the son and nephew of the king of Tondo, initially resisted the Spanish at Bancusay, while the other communities in Pampanga fortified themselves.

In the forests of Sambal, the Spanish encountered prolonged resistance and some areas were never pacified. In fact, the Spaniards relied mainly on converted Kapampangan soldiers for forays into the wilderness of which they had little knowledge.

Adat was, and in many cases still is, a fusion of magico-religious and temporal law that was expected to settle everything from land/water rights to the prevailing weather.

Paul Kekai Manansala


Aragon, Lorraine V. Fields of the Lord: Animism, Christianity, and State Development in Indonesia, University of Hawai`i Press, 2000.

Bergano, Diego (1690-1747). Vocabulario de la lengua Pampangan en Romance, Imp. de Ramirez y Giraudier, 1860.

Legazpi's Report to the Viceroy dated Manila, August 11, 1572 (Doc. 44, Vol. 17 Nav) cited in Historical Conservation Society, General History of the Philippines, Manila: Historical Conservation Society, 1984.

Van Vollenhoven, C. "The study of Indonesian customary law," Celebration Legal Essays by Various Authors to Mark the Twenty-Fifth Year of Service of John H. Wigmore", William S. Hein & Company, 1919.