Customary Law of Ja Rai People in Ka Bay Village Ho Moong commune, Sa Thay district of Kon Tum province

  • Ka Bay Village, where Ja Rai ethic people are living, is a bonding community. The village elder and the village leader are well-positioned in implementing the customary law to secure the villagers’ lives and manage the village’s land and forest resources. Anyone who violates their law will be fined.  Punishment form is in kind and it varies depending on levels of violation. However, the highest level is to hand a buffalo with wine.  No cash accepted.
    How is customary law practiced in Ka Bay village?
    A’Đíu, village leader, told that “Recently we have used our customary law to expel a migrant couple [1] for making water source polluted. As soon as we [2] found the couple using the upstream water source for washing and bathing, we decided to meet leader of the South Paper Mill Company. After the meeting with the Company, just one day later, the couple came to meet the village elder expressing their regrets for their mistakes. In fact, they really worried and wondered what kind of punishments would be made by the village elder!”
    The village elder said to them that “The mistakes you caused were very serious. All our villagers use this water source for daily drinking. It is now polluted affecting to our health. Thus, according to our customary law, you are punished by handing a cow or a buffalo”. Such a surprise for the couple when hearing this, they cried begging for forgiveness as they were poor migrants and not aware of their action.  Looking at the miserable couple, the elder discussed with The Village Management Board for a level of the punishment. As a result, it was agreed that as the couple was poor, the level of punishment would be lower, a 50 kg of pig, 10l of wine and a pack of tobacco. The elder and the Village Board confirmed that “our law is strong and clear, no more mercy if you repeat the mistake”.

    Ka Bay Villagers

    Accompany the couple, a representative of the company proposed cash payment, instead of in kind payment. The village elder immediately refused. The couple had to follow without any reaction. Then, they quickly moved out from the upstream with expensive lessons learnt.
    The reason that village elder confirmed for not punishing in cash but in kind because he did not want to violate the state law and wanted to make sure that the village was not doing wrong thing. The state law often uses cash for punishment which is not complied with the customary law.
    Traditional Education Value
    A’Đíu said that after getting pig, wine and tobacco from the couple, all villagers were invited to the Community Rong House to have a lunch together. The village elder and village leader told to all villagers that “We don’t want to eat these things, but we have to eat them because this is to remind all of us for not polluting the environments and not violating our customary law”.
    Customary law of Ja Rai people is a power for securing the villagers’ livelihoods. It is also very helpful for education for the young and generations.
    8/2015, CIRUM

    [1] The couple is hired as labourers by the South Paper Mill Company
    [2] There is A Village Forest Protection Group (sub-LandNet) in Ka Bay village. Mr. A’Diu is village leader and he is also a LandNet coordinator