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Vital to re-examine Dayak ‘adat’ on land

 | August 15, 2013

Dayaks should take a page from the works of the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal which deals with native Maori land claims, says a former Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister.

KUCHING:  Former Deputy Chief Minister Daniel Tajem has called for an urgent meeting of all Dayak elders, academicians and native organisations to examine the adat or custom on native customary rights (NCR) land which is prohibitive to the community’s socio-economic development.

His call comes in the wake of the recent contentious ruling by the country’s highest court.

“We cannot override or set aside the decision of the highest court in the country, but what we can do is to examine our adat within the context of development and commercialization and to initiate some changes,” he said.

Tajem, a well known lawyer on NCR land, was commenting on the Federal Court ruling last month. The court ruled that NCR lands could not be purchased through sale and purchase agreement neither could it be sold to another Iban from another longhouse.

The court also ruled that NCR land could not be sold to non-natives.

Hundreds of thousands of hectares of NCR land are now under joint-venture which the court had ruled  as illegal and thousands more had been sold through purchase agreements.

“We in Sarawak inherited the legal system from the British and if the court’s decision is against the core of current opinion, it is only the legislature that can initiate the change of the law within the context of current thinking.

“But what we should do now is to call for a meeting of our elders who are well-verse in adat, our lawyers and professors and other academics who are dealing with socio-anthropological studies.

“Dayak organisations such as Tun Jugah Foundation, Dayak Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sarawak Dayak National Union, Sarawak Dayak Iban Association, Dayak Bidayuh National Association, Sarawak Dayak Graduates Association and other Dayak non-governmental associations should participate in this forum.

“We have to work together with Majlis Adat Istiadat Bumiputera (Council of Native Customary Laws),” he said.

Use Maori model as guide

Tajem, who studied law in New Zealand, said that the Dayaks should take a page from the works of the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal which examined documents, history and talked to all people knowledgeable in native Maori land claims.

The tribunal is a permanent commission of enquiry charged with making recommendations on claims brought by Maori relating to actions or omissions of the Crown that breached the promises made in the Treaty of Waitangi.

“We should adopt this approach,” he said.

Tajem insisted that if the Dayaks want to see some changes in their adat which has been practised for centuries, then it is up to the community to initiate some changes and not others.

“After examining the adat, then probably the Majlis Adat Istiadat could take up the case and amend the angle of the adat which is very prohibitive towards the development of native land.

“We should call for a meeting urgently as it affects all the Dayak communities otherwise the communities will continue to live in stagnation,” he said, pointing out that he had spoken to some Dayak leaders on the issue.


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