Working Paper 31
Recreating the nagari: decentralisation in West Sumatra
Franz and Keebet von Benda-Beckmann
Project Group Legal Pluralism
Year of publication
Number of pages
Working Paper 31
The paper deals with the process of decentralisation in West Sumatra and the stage it reached in early 2001. In West Sumatra the process of decentralisation has a particularly dynamic and interesting character. Along with the general decentralisation of central political authority and economic resources to the districts, a fundamental restructuring of local village government has been initiated. The policy of regional autonomy has been taken up "to return to the nagari". Nagari is the name of the traditional, pre-colonial political units of Minangkabau political organisation. Despite all changes and transformations during the colonial period and since Independence, the nagari and nagari government have remained firmly associated with Minangkabau political identity. This changed rather dramatically, when the Law on Local Government of 1979 introduced the uniform model of the desa as the lowest level of local government. The former nagari were split into several desa, administered by desa-heads embedded in the strictly hierarchical administrative system. When decentralisation became a major issue in Indonesia under the orde reformasi, this was taken up to abolish the desa system and go back to the nagari. The paper discusses the new role of adat and adat-leaders and councils within these political units vis-à-vis religious and governmental authority and ideals of bottom-up democracy and community rights. Decentralisation and the return to the nagari has led to a new interest in adat as a legitimation of political authority and rights to natural resources. The process is not only interesting for those interested in West Sumatra and Indonesia. It is of wider interest for the anthropology of law, because it is a current example of a changing constellation of legal pluralism induced by decentralisation policies.