Iban Adat Law and Custom

Iban Adat Law and Custom


Respect to all

Tuai rumah
Tuai umai tauka tuai burung
Tunggu enggauke ngudi menoa – mungkul brapa


BERANDAU/BETUGONG VS BECARA (dispute settlement)

Utai besai gaga mit; Utai mit gaga nadai.

Make large things small; A small thing becomes nothing.

In other words, every leader must attempt to resolve disputes in such a way as to assure a maximum degree of consensus between the principals involved, and, if the matter is a petty one, that is “a small thing”, he seeks, through private meetings, to make it “nothing”, and so avoid public litigation.

In a petty case, the Tuai Rumah may even offer to compensate the aggrieved party himself, or may encourage the friends or relatives of the disputants to do so, in the interest of bringing about a quick and mutually acceptable resolution of differences.

There is an additional saying, which the Penghulu or Tuai Rumah may cite, namely, that the law is like a cobra (adat baka tedong): it is harmless, if undisturbed, but if stepped upon, it may bite; that is to say, a person who in­sists upon litigation runs the risk of being found in the wrong and fined (i.e., “bitten by the law”).

However, if a case cannot be settled informally, the tuai rumah will then call a bechara. A time is set and the two parties are notified, witnesses and members of every family in the community are informed, and, if necessary, messengers are dispatched to call people back from their farms.

On the ap­pointed evening, after dinner, the tuai rumah spreads mats on his section of the gallery (ruai).

As people gather, the principal disputants are called forward and made to sit facing each other before the tuai rumah and senior family heads.

The tuai rumah then calls upon the disputants to present their accounts, beginning first with the plain­tiff.

After each party has spoken, the testimony of witnesses (saksi) is given and discussion is open to questions.

Finally, after each side has stated its case, the hearing is opened to a general discussion which continues until the tuai rumah is satisfied that the issues involved in the dispute are clear and that each party has had an opportunity to air its case fully.

He will then call upon several of the elders present to express their opinions. In stating their views, the elders, who are recognized for their knowledge of adat, are expected to cite precedent and draw parallels with previous judgments made in similar cases by former headmen and regional leaders.

Having heard the views of the elders, the tuai rumah proceeds to make His judgment.

In doing so he carefully cites the rules of adat relevant to the case and, upon the basis of the courts’ deliberations, judged one party or the other to be at fault.

He then sets the fine to be paid by the party he finds in the wrong, fixes the time in which payment must be made, and informs the party of its right to appeal against his verdict to the Penghulu’s court.

If one of the disputants is dissatisfied with the Tuai Rumah’s judgment he may lay the matter before the Penghulu. As a rule, the Penghulu will only agree to hear a case that has already been heard by the plaintiff’s tuai rumah that is to say, the regional chief accepts cases only on appeal, after he has been assured that the matter has been heard in the disputants’ home community.

If the Penghulu agrees to review a case, he sends out his official tungkat to notify the two parties, their tuai rumah and witnesses, so that they may all be present on the day fixed for the hearing. He will also call upon elders from his own community to be present to assist him in judging the case.

Saribas adat stipulates that a Penghulu must be assisted by at least two elders to insure the impartiality of the courts’ judgment and he may seek the advice as many others as he likes.

The deliberations ordinarily begin in the morning, but are otherwise similar to those of the tuai rumah ‘s court, except that after the two parties and their witnesses have stated their case, the Penghulu will call upon the tuai rumah for their opinions.

In rendering a final judgment, the Penghulu will choose his words carefully so as not to anger the party he finds in the wrong.

He will specify clearly the reasons by which he arrived at his verdict, saying that in accordance with the views of the elders and the recognized rules of adat, he is compelled to levy a fine, which he then fixes, upon the party at fault.

Again, the litigants are informed that they may lodge an appeal with the District or Native Court within two weeks. Otherwise, he declares the matter settled.

Both the Tuai Rumah and Penghulu, as we have said, will ordinarily at­tempt to persuade the parties in any dispute brought to their attention to resolve their differences privately, or, if this is not possible, they will seek to contain the dispute and prevent it from developing into serious litigation in accordance with the principle of making what is large, small.

There are a number of pressures on the disputants that favor their efforts. For one, the disputants will frequently not wish to have their dispute made public, and, if the guilty party knows that he is in the wrong, he may simply pay a fine directly to the Tuai Rumah in order to avoid the embarrassment of an unfavorable bechara.6 Also the severity of fines increases as cases move from the Tuai Rumah’s court, through the Penghulu’s court, to the Native or District Court, and this, too, discourages needless appeals.

This is not to say, however, that the principles of adat are not important to the Iban, for a com­mon saying is “that by traveling with the adat stick”, the tungkat adat, “one is able to stay to the right course”, that is, in the path of right conduct.

However, the principles of adat must be tempered by common sense in the overriding interest of maintaining harmonious relations. (“When you sleep, let memory be your pillow, when you travel, let adat be your walking stick” meaning “Enti tindok, bepanggal ka pengingat, enti bejalai, betungkat ka adat”.)

If either party knowingly fails to appear, after having been summoned to the court, he or she is liable to fine. The matter is generally treated as an in­sult against the man empowered to hear the case. Refusal to attend the Tuai Rumah’s court carries a fine of sigi jabir and failure to answer the Penghulu’s summon is fine, five katies.

Those who show contempt of the court, by disturbing the Proceedings, or by verbally abusing the judge after having been found at fault, are also liable to fine. Anyone guilty of behavior disrespectful of the court, is fined at once, before the hearing is allowed to continue.


Kelam/Selam ai
Nyelamke ai/ Nyabong manuk.
Becelok betong
Becelok api




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