(2006) JLP 53-54: 239-270


Changing One Is Changing All:

Dynamics In the adat-Islam-state triangle


Franz and Keebet von Benda-Beckmannn




This paper explores the social processes in which the triangular relationships between adat, Islam and state rules are maintained and changed throughout time in West Sumatra. It is argued that, since the incorporation of Minangkabau in the colonial state, changes within one set of this relationship have tended to trigger changes in the others as well, but that this has occurred around shifting political issues. Over time new ‘hotspots’ develop in which the meaning of the relationships between the different legal systems as well as the moral values they represent are reconstituted. The paper focuses on the most recent period of renegotiating the relationships triggered by Indonesia’s decentralisation policy. This soon included the restructuring of village government, the role and validity of adat leadership struggles over rights to village commons, and a debate about the proper role of Islam. The paper discusses how negotiating relationships in one arena may affect the relationships in others. It is suggested that legal systems – and therefore constellations of legal pluralism – may have characteristic ways in which changes in one domain of social organisation, such as village government, affect other domains, such as resource use or inheritance. This is facilitated by factors such as the systemic character of legal systems and inter-system relationships, degrees of social and functional differentiation and institutionalisation, and density of multiplex and multifunctional relationships and institutions.